I get the sense, these days, that we are living adrift; that these are times where opinion is up for grabs. No one seems to have a solid claim on what’s right, what’s wrong, or how things should be. Instead there is power and there is the lack thereof. Those who have it enforce their worldview by economic force; those who don’t are being viciously marginalised with increasing fervour.
Maria Miller’s job prior to the culture brief she handed back yesterday was to shut down the Remploy factories her government had decided were no longer worthwhile. With that a swathe of people otherwise not cut out for society as it is through no fault of their own are set adrift. This is a woman with an expression like a waxwork dummy; of all the Tories in the current bitter crop, she always struck me as a particularly stony buttress.
These are ideological times. They are times where people do not seem to know themselves what should be done. Mrs Miller didn’t seem to know what to do while racking up mortgage debts of £45,000 other than to charge them to the taxpayer. I find this staggering. How many people don’t know what is happening with these kinds of sums? Most of us might overlook a few pence here or there; I don’t really care if she claimed for a bag of crisps. I do care that she was allowed to claim for a house that her entire extant family seemed to live in, which itself seems bogus. Why would she choose to live with her parents when she could easily afford not to with her own husband and kids? I doubt she did.
She has had to pay back a tenth of that money and ‘had’ to resign from her job – no, wait that’s not entirely true. She resigned from cabinet. She is still an MP; still someone paid to represent the public. Giving up her job as culture secretary is meaningless quite frankly (the media are already, largely, right wing scum as it is, they won’t want for her help). Paying back a tenth of the money she made illicitly is equally meaningless. What message does that send (at the same time the government wants the power to steal the homes of benefit fraudsters)?
Also on the 7th, in the Guardian, the latest slice of DWP pain comes from Esther McVey, queen of the Gish Gallop and harpy in chief of DWP hyperbole. In fact this is quite telling: there is to be increased conditionality for jobseekers who will have to provide evidence they are looking for work (including a CV) before they can even make a claim. Now this is something that’s been in the pipeline, to be fair, but McVey reveals this is ideological by saying that, as the labour market recovers (hah!) it is reasonable to expect more of people claiming benefit. So it’s acceptable for ministers to safely reap the benefits of office, but a claimant that, doesn’t have a CV through lack of computer access for example, is denied the help they need from the organisation that should be helping with that. If they can’t even start a claim then they won’t even get access to the Work Programme that McVey thinks exists for that purpose; a most vicious circle indeed.
“With the economy growing, unemployment falling and record numbers of people in work, now is the time to start expecting more of people if they want to claim benefits. It's only right that we should ask people to take the first basic steps to getting a job before they start claiming jobseeker's allowance – it will show they are taking their search for work seriously.”
So anyone that needs help to find work will be caught out by not being able to access that help because they can’t look for work effectively enough – which is why they are asking for help. Not only that but why is conditionality dependent on the state of the labour market? What this means, again, is that the government is blaming the unemployed for their circumstance. This is the same tone taken by Simon Heffer last weekend in the Mail when he said that the ‘feckless’ (the first word of the entire article including the headline) should have food stamps and not ‘cash’ (use of the colloquialism doesn’t go unnoticed – it further implies a particular attitude on the part of the poor). If someone loses their job, the surrounding economic conditions are irrelevant to them and certainly not their fault. Why then should they be placed under more scrutiny because they lost their job during boom times and not bust? The answer: because we assume they cost themselves the job (which, if true, could happen under any economic condition). This assumption betrays the ideology involved. That there is an election doesn’t get by unnoticed as well: “dear Hobbiton, we’re tough on scroungers!”
And like Hobbiton, the hairy footed pipe smokers of middle England love nothing more than the hypocrisy of sitting back with a pipe or pint of Old Toby (Toby Young?) and calling everyone else feckless.
We don’t have a government; we have a religion one born of wealth privilege and capitalism.