At the start of Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party, so many of the siren voices of the party right queued up to tell us he wasn’t very good at Prime Minister’s Questions.
This was true – and the same had been true, of course, of the newly entrusted David Cameron. We shouldn’t expect novices to excel at fringe sports.
But these days it’s increasingly hard to make a judgement. Ed’s delivery has improved, and he lays a good trap, as long as he doesn’t fall into his own (splitting his questions).
But the utter failure of this government makes it hard for Ed not to absolutely devastate Cameron.
It is now impossible to tell where Ed being good at PMQs ends, and where the Government being maliciously stupid and arrogant begins.
The long politics of economic dishonesty
The people who now run this whole shebang have been through a series of stages of dishonesty. First, in 2007, when Labour was apparently engaging in a ridiculous overspend, the Tories said they would spend just as much. At least they left us this superb video.
In 2008 they sensed an opportunity to permanently weaken the idea that excellent public services should be an election breaker and announced a full reverse on the position of the spending to fund them. Which is convenient, because generally since the 1970s they have wanted a lower tax burden, weighted towards the well off, rather than to spend public money. Convenient for them then, this juncture!
“BUT”, they told us, “THERE WILL BE NO CUTS TO ‘FRONTLINE SERVICES”. Even by 2010, David Cameron even went as far as to say:
“But what I can tell you is any cabinet minister if I win the election, if we win the election, who comes to me and says, “Here are my plans” and they involve frontline reductions, they’ll be sent straight back to their department to go away and think again.”
And to be fair to him, Brown was saying the same thing, probably dishonestly – but we’ll never know.
Where we are now
At the moment, we’re seeing very high unemployment, we have had a hike in VAT (yet another pre-election lie on the part of both coalition parties), and we are seeing cuts in benefits.
Anyone with an understanding of economics can tell you that both reductions in benefit and reductions in the overall level of employment have depressive effects on wages for those in employment.
Wages have been stagnant for some time, in part as a result of this, and in part as a result of the crippling lack of domestic demand that has also been caused by the cuts. Finally, there is the crash in European demand caused by – yes, you guessed it – economically ruinous cuts. This is topped off by a hike in the main source of flat tax revenue, VAT.
On pretty much every major question of politics, Cameron has placed families into a ‘multiple crush‘.
Food banks are a sure effect of economic failure
Britain has seen a six-fold increase in the number of food banks, many of which are already at breaking point. The resources which they depends on are by means of voluntary philanthropy – not solid earning power, or democratically assured by the taxpayer. It is bad to be in a situation of dependence, but to a certain extent we all depend on jobs, and/or various subsidies. What’s very bad is having to depend on something that is firstly inadequate, secondly possibly temporary, and third, in the gift of somebody else whose decision to withdraw such a gift is not more widely accountable.
The excuses are thick and fast.
First: there is the idea of ‘dependence on the state’ – a Bad Thing for the right, and an occasionally inevitable in real life. Evidence for this as a mass phenomenon is scant and highly questionable where it is available.
Thing is, I have yet to see someone argue why lines of miserable poor people depending on voluntary charity is in any way preferable to them having the economic conditions to work for a living – or failing that, assistance from wider democracy at a local or central level.
The argument about benefit dependency is thus clearly a bogus political priority which is being deliberately repeated, and the only desirable end I can see that being for is distraction for the population and as a wedge issue for the opposition. It deserves challenging far more strongly than Labour do.
Second: there is the much more brazen argument that food banks are better than either a functioning economic cycle of spending and growth, or at least better than a welfare state.
I don’t see how such a point of view is defensible from the point of view of the people who have to use these meagre services. As such, I also don’t see how a net loss to the poor / utter immiserisation is defensible in terms of human compassion or indeed effectiveness – if we’re talking about how we effectively deliver aid. You can’t argue for these on grounds of pragmatism, unless the thing you’re trying to be practical about is making sure people don’t have to pay more tax. If it is, please just be honest?
Third: there are the most stony-hearted smirking jackals of the right – the people who tell us that food banks are, in themselves, a Good Thing. People like this never meet people that have to use them, of that I am convinced.
People arguing from this perspective tell us that food banks are a Good Thing. They confirm Good Things about people and community spirit, they say.
This completely ignores the fact that food banks are a consequence.
Nobody would set them up if there weren’t a lot of people going very hungry.
And remember, six times as many people are now visiting them.
Something has changed, and now something is wrong. I would suggest that at its most worrying it is ‘poor people not having enough money for food’. Not a demanding argument to make.
This is so obviously a direct result of a lack of jobs, a lack of pay, and increasingly a lack of a social safety net to make up for it – something the individualists of both blue and yeller seem to welcome with some glee, as if starving someone to play out your worldview is somehow not reprehensibly self-indulgent.
Food banks are to a healthy society and economy what wounds are to healthy flesh. It takes an especially ignorant and opportunist kind of person to smile at how marvelous it is that the blood sometimes clots.
Fourth: the coalition argues that their changes to tax make all of this OK. It doesn’t.
Food banks are a political failure
Food banks are a political failure. Especially if you promised to match social-democratic spending plans. Especially if you promised not to cut frontline services. Especially if you promised not to hike VAT. Especially if you promised economic recovery. Generally, it’s not looking great.
There is a very fundamental truth for individual affected by all this, and it’s very simple.
Your income tax coming down is absolutely no good if unemployment, a wage squeeze and a VAT hike come together to stop you eating.
If people are going to be brazen enough to argue that food banks are a Good Thing, let’s leave them to that very obviously dodgy assertion. There is one that is much more solid.
Thousands of people relying on random acts of goodwill for basic foodstuffs? That’s a Bad Thing.
The chummy group of politicians in charge are the same people who are OK with it, to put a smile on the hunger lines. This says a lot about whose fault this lamentable societal failure is, and what needs doing as a result. Get rid.
There is nothing that makes me more angry with this Government. It was left with an economy that was damaged, damaged in a way that all parties broadly agreed with before the crash – but when Labour left office it was recovering.
In turn the coalition has left us with food banks, kids going hungry, and a big smirk to go with them.
In 2010, I watched my country vote itself down a big black hole in the ground. A fair chunk of the people I meet who now agree with me voted Tory.