Archive for the ‘Home Affairs’ Category

Statistics and Lies.

June 4, 2013

Returning to the topic of politicians lying, I have to say that I whole heartedly agree with the Guardian’s  Peter Wilby when he writes that ministers  who misuse statistics to mislead voters must pay the price,

Nearly all ministerial resignations are connected with not telling the truth: submitting false expenses, covering up a speeding points swap, receiving favours from lobbyists. But telling untruths about official figures is somehow regarded less seriously.

Andrew Dilnot who is now  head of the UK Statistics Authority, should, Wilby, says have

…the power, in the worst examples, to require a full Commons censure debate on a minister’s conduct – with an expectation that, if he or she failed to offer an adequate defence or show contrition, resignation would follow. That would guarantee press attention and ministerial trembling. Big lies about big numbers require big deterrents.

The Tories are lying quite openly – now there is a surprise. Part 2.

May 12, 2013

The Tories are lying quite openly – now there is a surprise.

 
For yet anotherexample their blatantly mendacious ways, see Nick Cohen’s piece Lies, damned lies and Iain Duncan Smith, in today’s edition of The Observer

Duncan Smith’s belief that the welfare state holds down the very people it is meant to serve is pleasing to Conservative ears. To maintain his supporters’ illusions, he has to lie. Last week, the UK Statistics Authority gave him a reprimand that broke from the genteel language of the civil service. The work and pensions secretary had claimed that his department’s cap on benefits was turning scroungers into strivers – even before it had come into force. “Already we have seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the cap move into jobs.” How sweet those words must have sounded to Conservative ears. The government was forcing the feckless to stop sponging off hard-working taxpayers. (Taxpayers are always “hard working” in British politics, in case you haven’t noticed. We never try to get by doing the bare minimum.)

It seems that the Statistics Authority disagreed.

The figures did not show that, the statistics authority said. More to the point, they could not possibly have shown that. Duncan Smith’s claims were “unsupported” by the very statistics his department had collected.

It appears that  Andrew Dilnot, the chair of the statistics authority, is so concerned Duncan Smith’s habit of manipulating statistics to suit his own purposes that he thinking about sending his inspectors into the Department for Work and Pensions.

As journalists know, Duncan Smith’s modus operandi is well established. His “people” – all of them scroungers, not strivers, who sponge off the taxpayer from their Whitehall offices – brief reporters with unpublished figures. The Tory press uses them, and, as the Financial Times explained, when his spin doctors meet an honest journalist, who asks hard questions, they end the call and never ring back. By the time the true figures appear on the DWP website , and informed commentators can see the falsity, the spin, the old saying applies: “A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.

I’d like to think that there will come day when Duncan Smith – and his kind – will be exposed for what they are, but, as they say, I’m not holding my breath.

The Tories are lying quite openly – now there is a surprise.

April 25, 2013

Commenting on the underhanded way in which the Department of Work and Pensions has gone about scrapping to the £320 million a year funding it made available to so that 20,000 severely disabled could live as independently as possible, Zoe iliiiam notes notes that  the DWP lied about the purpose of closing the independent living fund. It didn’t admit that the money wouldn’t be there after 2015 until it was legally required to.

  Whenever this government comes out with an idea that sounds, for British politics, unusually unjust or barbaric or ill-conceived, it usually has its roots in the US (free schools, food stamps, dash for gas, shares for rights, privatisation of health services). What I mind the most is the readiness with which the government will now lie: the prime minister will lie about the national debt; the secretary of state will lie about immigration, the chancellor will lie about benefit claimants, they’ll be rapped over the knuckles by the Office for National Statistics or Office for Budgetary Responsibility, take their punishment and go straight out and lie again. So, in the words of Nicholas Tomalin, talking about politicians in a (real) war: “Never forget that they lie, they lie, they lie.”

Here are some examples of the lies that are cirdulated without apology.

Ask people where that  money that the governmet spends on welfare  goes and you’ll find  the assumptions is that it’s on unemployment or incapacity benefit. Apparently 41% of people think that the entire welfare budget goes to unemployed people paying out unemployment benefits.

In fact, half of UK benefit spending actually goes on state pensions. Jobseeker’s allowance is £4.91bn in 2011-12. That is a mere  3% of the  benefits bill that the government has to foot .

A vast of the  British public reckon benefit cheats are a massive problem.  A recent opinion poll showed Brits typically believed 27% of the welfare budget is lost to fraud.

The reality is less dramatic. The DWP publishes official estimates of fraud in the welfare system. The most recent publication estimated overall fraud at 0.7% (yes,0.7% ) of the benefits bill. Mind you, if you say £1.2bn,is lost on fraud, then you haved to allow that people are going to feel understandiblyunhappy. But then we should remember benefits can be underpaid as well as overpaid,  and that last year it is  estimared underpayments (arising from errors by either officials or claimants) added up to £1.3bn.  

 

Debt and what should be done about it.

April 23, 2013

For what i consider to be a few no very preposterous suggestions, read  Robert Kuttner‘s The Debt We Shouldn’t Pay which appears in the current issue of the New York Review of Books.

Public debt was not implicated in the collapse of 2008, nor is it retarding the recovery today. Enlarged government deficits were the consequence of the financial crash, not the cause.1 Indeed, there’s a strong case that government deficits are keeping a weak economy out of deeper recession. When Congress raised taxes in January at an annual rate of over $180 billion to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, and then accepted a “sequester” of $85 billion in spending cuts in March, the combined fiscal contraction cut economic growth for 2013 about in half, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Moreover, some of the causes of public deficits, such as Medicare, reflect to a large extent inefficiency and inflation in health care rather than profligacy in public budgeting.

Here comes a point that’s now been lost sight of both in most countries tha are now been fed the austerity cure: 

It was private speculative debts—exotic mortgage bonds financed by short-term borrowing at very high costs—that produced the crisis of 2008. The burden of private debts continues to hobble the economy’s potential. In the decade prior to the collapse of 2008, private debts grew at more than triple the rate of increase of the public debt. In 22 percent of America’s homes with mortgages, the debt exceeds the value of the house. Young adults begin economic life saddled with student debt that recently reached a trillion dollars, limiting their purchasing power. Middle-class families use debt as a substitute for wages and salaries that have lagged behind the cost of living. This private debt overhang, far more than the obsessively debated question of public debt, retards the recovery.

We may think that debt – however incurred – has to be repaid: it a moral duty on us as individuals and as a society. Then again maybe there is a time when we have to think again.

In the case of a broad downturn,2 debt ceases to be purely a moral question, and becomes a pragmatic one: Will it help the overall economy for the law to demand that debts always be paid in full? Was it economically sensible to throw debtors into jail? Is it sensible now to force troubled corporations or banks to liquidate? To compel sales of millions of homes in a depressed market? To destroy the economic potential of entire nations so that they can service old debts that were incurred corruptly by previous governments or banks? Society properly discourages borrowers from taking on imprudent burdens, and the prospective loss of property or even liberty functions as a deterrent. But in a general collapse, debt forgiveness may become necessary if the economy is not to sink further.

He reminds the reader that debt relief and forgiveness has not been unknown, even in recent history. During the Great Depression and Roosevelt era

… the US government became serious about debt relief, with a series of policies that refinanced distressed home mortgages, reformed and recapitalized banks, extended relief to bankrupt consumers, financed a huge war debt at below-market interest rates, and wrote off some of the international debts of allies and enemies alike. (Britain, America’s closest ally, received near-total forgiveness of wartime Lend-Lease debt.)

Germany, today’s enforcer of Euro-austerity, was the beneficiary of one of history’s most magnanimous acts of debt amnesty in 1948. The Allies in the 1920s made the catastrophic error of helping to destroy Germany’s economy with reparations and debt collection policies. In the 1940s, after a brief flirtation with World War I–style reparations, the occupying powers agreed to behave differently: they wrote off 93 percent of the Nazi-era debt and postponed collection of other debts for nearly half a century. So Germany, whose debt-to-GDP ratio in 1939 was 675 percent, had a debt load of about 12 percent in the early 1950s—far less than that of the victorious Allies—helping to produce postwar Germany’s economic miracle. Almost every German can cite the Marshall Plan, but this larger act of macroeconomic mercy has disappeared from the political consciousness of Germany’s current austerity police.

Kuttner is wise enough to know the chances of countries such as Ireland having their debts relieved are remote.

The question of who gets debt relief reflects the distribution of political power—and power normally lies with large creditors such as banks.

 Just so.

Margaret Hilda Thatcher (13 October 1925 – 8 April 2013)

April 9, 2013

A staff blogger, writing in The New Statesman just over four years ago came close to writing, a near perfect summary of what I believe Margaret Thatcher’s  legacy to be.

 Margaret Thatcher: still guilty after all these years

 It is 30 years since Margaret Thatcher entered No 10, setting in motion a revolution that would destroy the quasi-socialist political consensus of the postwar decades and, after much strife, turn Britain into the country it is today: riven, atomised, debt-stricken, hugely unequal, its prosperity excessively dependent on financial services, its public spaces degraded, and its towns, at least at night, the preserve of the binge drinker and the brawler.

Many of us may have grown more wealthy during the Thatcher and the New Labour years but, somehow, we seem as a society more spiritually bereft, more restless, unhappier even. This is not to deny that Britain, at the end of the 1970s, was dismal. We had a failing Labour government, which had already begun to experiment with monetarism and to cut public spending; a union movement that had become too complacent and too powerful, a huge obstacle to reform; a punitive taxation system that served as a disincentive to enterprise; a wider culture that was largely racist, homophobic and misogynistic. The political and social cultural consensus had to be broken, one way or another. And, in retrospect, the necessary transformation, or counter-revolution, could only have come from the right. The Labour Party was too exhausted, and soon, irresponsibly, it would split in defeat and self-hatred, opening the way for 18 years of Conservative rule.

Yet how brutal and destructive that counter-revolution proved to be, as whole communities were destroyed, especially in the industrial heartlands of northern England, Wales and Scotland, communities that have not recovered to this day. And how unbending was the doctrine that came to be known as Thatcherism.

Thatcherism, as our columnist Martin Jacques reminds us on page 10, was akin to a Bolshevik movement: a group of ideologues emerged from the margins to seize control of the very centre and effect radical change. The path was fixed. There could be no turning back. All opposition had to be crushed. The human casualties were as necessary as they were inevitable. Mrs Thatcher may have purported to believe in the High Tory, Burkean values of tradition, organic hierarchy and the accumulated wisdom of past generations, but she was no pragmatist or gradualist. “Economics are the method,” she said; “the object is to change the soul.” No Marxist would have disagreed.

And Mrs Thatcher did change the soul – of the country, of its people and of the Labour Party. New Labour was as much her creation as it was Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s. Today, her shadow still looms large over British politics: it is to the fury of at least 125 Labour MPs that one of her most lasting legacies – that of privatisation – is now threatening the Post Office. Remarkably, on its return to power, not only did New Labour refuse to reverse any of the utility privatisations, it extended them with the selling of air-traffic control.

Mrs Thatcher herself was a moralist. She believed in probity, thrift, personal responsibility, the family. At the beginning of her premiership she spoke of the need to bring harmony where there was discord and of the need to heal. At the end of her premiership, however, after three general election victories and 11 years in power, she had created, with bloodshed and war, a thin-spun, debased consumer society, the engines of which were vacuous acquisition and an obsession with celebrity. That remains the case today.

Yet we should never forget that Mrs Thatcher was adored by millions, not least because of her resolution and courage. She was a conviction politician; you knew what she believed in and, because of this, she was trusted. She demonstrated that ultimate power could be gender-neutral. And encouraging working people to buy their own council homes was hugely popular, as was her brand of English nationalism.

A theme of this special issue of the New Statesman is forgiveness. Writing on page 12, Oona King asks, rhetorically, if she can forgive Mrs Thatcher for all that she did and said. For Paul Routledge, whose article begins on page 26, there is no such self-questioning. There is only certainty – Thatcher is, and always will be, the unforgiven.

Our view is more nuanced. We recognise that the Labour Party was defeated at the end of the 1970s and that a social transformation was necessary. Our final verdict, however, must be this: Margaret Thatcher is guilty as charged

 As long as her shadow looms over British Politics – and it does and will for some time to come – we must let that verdict stand.

Shaming the poor at will.

March 3, 2013

In a thought-provoking article published in today’s issue of The Observer, columnist Barbara Ellen, using the findings of  a multi-faith sponsored study called The Lies We Tell Ourselves. which highlights myths surrounding people and poverty, explains how shaming the poor has become the new blood sport

 The report argues that the government is “deliberately misrepresenting” the poor, blaming them for their circumstances while ignoring more complex reasons, including policy deficiencies. Moreover, they feel that this scapegoating is the result of collusion between politicians, the media and the public.

The reader does not have to wholly believe her assertion that it  does seem so long ago that most people would think twice about villifying fellow citizens for being down on their luck to see that she means that  thses days it appears “to have been sanctioned as a new national bloodsport, regularly slipping under the PC-radar as little else manages to.”

Is this our new default setting – that the needy are greedy? This chimes with a slew of government policies that appear to be founded on notions of bulletproof self-reliance, making no allowances for circumstances or sheer bad luck, and which many would require huge amounts of help to put into practice, never mind sustain. Meanwhile, the more fortunate are invited to pour scorn upon anyone who fails.

One could argue saying that it simply the “more fortunate” are the only ones invited to pour scorn on the failures ignores the fact that some of those pouring scorn are not always  especially fortunate themselves.  So what we have is the almost-poor being encouraged to  blame those below them for the situation they find themselves in.

Ellen has a neat explanation about how this came about.

 How does this kind of thing escalate? That’s easy. At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, the poor are poor. They have no money, no voice, no representatives, and no means to establish their own public profile. Poverty is a big domino – once it falls, everything goes. In such circumstances, if a group of people are “deliberately misrepresented” then there’s precious little they can do about it. The churches got it right – if anything, the truth seems so much worse that it must surely be time to put the shame back into poor-shaming.

All I would add here is that the same could be said about those who who are almost poor.  They are encouraged to echo the those who are fortunate because while they may not have no money,  they almost certainly have “no voice, no representatives, and no means to establish their own public profile” Nor does it look like they will have in the very near future.

Is conservatism the result of the genes?

February 17, 2013

 Sometimes we try to explain why it is that fear seems to be more a feature of how conservatives seem to think of everything than it is of  liberal or left-wing thinking. They fear big government. If science makes a breakthrough of some sort or other, conservatives inevitably fear that or its being disruptive. If in education changes are made that disrupt a narrow channel, conservatives feel that the whole system is crumbling. They are generally resistant new ideas and so on because, it seems, of fear. Well, it may be that explanation this may, in part, have been found by those conducted a study for the American Journal of Political Science. Some of the conclusions they arrived at were reopoted on in the Saturday edition of Salon.

A new study in the American Journal of Political Science looked at the relationship between fear and political ideology, and it found that people who experience higher levels of fear tend to be more politically conservative than those who are less predisposed to feeling afraid. While the researchers emphasized that their findings in no way suggest that every conservative is more fearful than every liberal, the study did identify a relationship between a fearful disposition and increased support for anti-immigrant and other segregationist policies.

One of the study’s co-authors warns that we should not get carried away with the idea that all conservative people are fearful.

It’s not that conservative people are more fearful; it’s that fearful people are more conservative,” Rose McDermott, professor of Political Science at Brown University and co-author of the study, said in a press release.

The study does not, it has to be emphasized, suggest that it’s all in the genes.

As the study’s co-author Peter Hatemi, associate professor of Political Science, Microbiology and Biochemistry at PennState, told Chris Mooney at Mother Jones: “Nothing is all genes or all environment.” But together, these things make us who we are.

There is no reason for us to believe that if we are biologically predisposed to go in a certain direction, we must continue in that direction. Biology does not have the final say on which party you support or how one votes election day.  Education, in its broadest sense, plays a huge role in the way we develop and evolve.

As we experience more of the world and gain exposure to different cultures, people who are different than ourselves can become, well, less scary, researchers say.

So rather than creating an immutable link between biology and ideology to forever bind us to a single party, the study actually suggests that people can change overtime, overcome their natural predispositions and maybe even come around to new political ideas.

The problem is that it is the natural predispositions that are nurtured.

Displacement of the poor…..

February 14, 2013

The forced displacement of according to an identifiable policy is, I’m reliably informed,  an example of “population transfer”. Is this an example of “population transfer”?

A council is planning the largest single displacement of poor people from London in the wake of the coalition government’s controversial welfare reforms, singling out more than 700 families to be moved up to 200 miles away.

Camden council said that it would shortly be contacting 761 households, comprising 2,816 adults and children, because the coalition’s benefit cap – which limits total welfare payments to £500 a week for families – will mean that they will be unable to afford their current accommodation or any other home in the south-east.

The Labour-controlled council warns that the majority of these families have three children and, once the cap is imposed this summer, will need to find on average an additional £90 a week for rent to remain in their homes – which means “sadly the only long-term solution for some households will be to move”…..

We come to this sorry pass when we have to seriously consider whether what we are seeing within our borders is “population transfer”, “development-induced displacement” or, my own preference, “disaster-induced displacement”.

The Dick (Cheney) and Tony (Blair) love-in

August 31, 2011

Ewen MacAskill, reporting for The Guardian from Washington,  tells us today the Dick Cheney, in his autobiography*, “lauds Blair’s role in the ‘war on terror’ ”

In his autobiography published on Tuesday, the self-declared Darth Vader of the Bush administration pays tribute to the former Labour leader. Not only was BlairAmerica’s greatest ally during the Bush years, says Cheney, but his speeches about the “war on terror” were some of the most eloquent he had been privileged to hear.

If  Cheney’s praise were for anyone other that our deliriously serf-righteous ex PM, then we’d expect it to be ignored. Blair is what he ever was – a man covinced that his own feelings about how right he was about prosecuting the “war on terror” – is likely to wallow in Cheyney’s approval.

Nothing about Cheney has changed either.

He regards the invasion as justified, seeingIraqas a nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. “With the benefit of hindsight – even taking into account that some of the intelligence we received was wrong – that assessment still holds true,” he says.

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*The 565-page autobiography  In My Time by Dick Cheney is published here tomorrow.

Terror suspects and Human Rights.

May 19, 2010

Both the country and the government were once again discussing the question of how far and to whom human rights should again when yesterday two terror suspects, Abid Naseer and Ahmad Faraz Khan, successfully appealed against deportation to Pakistan.

 A special immigration court, chaired by Mr. Justice Mitting, and basing its judgment on to which the accused were denied access, said that while  Mr. Nasser was an al-Qaeda operative, neither man should be deported.

 But in both cases, Mr. Justice Mitting said it would be wrong to return the men to Pakistan because:

….there is a long and well-documented history of disappearances, illegal detention and of torture and ill-treatment to produce information, a confession or compliance.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, got the nub of the dilemma we face, when she said: “It’s no surprise that on the day that this issue about deporting a terror suspect comes up that people start wobbling over the Human Rights Act.

“But here’s the thing – sending people to torture is not just unlawful, it’s wrong.

The belief that it is categorically wrong is one from which we cannot waver, no matter how tempting it may be to do so. There should be no excuse for it, not even the one that the people being sent have been found guilty -as nether of these men has  – by a properly constitituted court of law.

The Democrat peer Lord Carlile has to be “sending out the wrong messages” when he said that “we do not want people who have been held to be terrorists walking our streets.” He should have said that we do not want people found guilty in the courts walking the streets.