Welfare reform round up, the mean and the stupid
Matthew Norman, in a quite brilliant article about the government's welfare reform proposals, wrote that:
"To watch a minister with a plumply padded pension and a free widescreen telly and, of all creatures, an investment banker threaten those on £69 per week is to observe the unspeakable in pursuit of the unemployable."
For every minister and investment banker turned government adviser, there are hordes of ambitious if not very bright young men, hoping one day to reach these dizzy heights, and joining the unspeakables in their pursuit:
Lawrence Kay is a "part-economist, part-politico" who works for Policy Exchange, the think tank which called for people in northern cities to all move to London, Oxford and Cambridge to get jobs. He welcomed the government's welfare reforms, criticising the 'desire for unconditional love in the British welfare system, an approach that has been much tested in the past 30 years'.
This was a very novel article, as I had not previously realised that what Maggie Thatcher and Norman Tebbit were doing wrong in the 1980s was showing too much 'unconditional love' to the unemployed.
Moving on, Greg Rosen, Chair of the Labour History Group, wrote an article in the Scotsman explaining how the welfare reform proposals 'is a return to Old Labour's roots'. Inexplicably, this article has received much praise from Progress, an organisation which was set up to try to ensure that the Labour Party never went back to its Old Labour roots.
(Un)Happily, the Scotsman requires you to register to read Rosen's article. His argument is conducted at the level of 'if Keir Hardie were alive he would agree with me.' For example "Hardie would have been as appalled by the apparent ability of Karen Matthews and her ilk to milk the system as so many are today. But he would have been reassured by James Purnell." This is the Keir Hardie whose denunciations of the capitalist system made John McDonnell or George Galloway look like timid social democrats, and amongst whose criticisms of capitalism was that it meant that 'modern women' 'think themselves disgraced if they have more than two or three children'.
What is really obnoxious about Rosen's article is that he must know that the 'Old Labour' analysis of the causes of mass unemployment, and policies needed to sort it out, is completely different to that of Purnell, but he's nonetheless prepared to write this stuff so that his political allies can reassure MPs that the proposals are true to Labour's traditional values.
The purest form of mean and stupid, however, is to be found elsewhere. Writing in the 'Cambridge Universities Labour Club' blog, someone called john buckingham has produced an absolute horror show of a piece. It starts off with a bit about how welfare reform reflects 'the morality of socialism' and goes downhill from there.
[EDIT: John has been in touch and left some comments, which make it clear that he's actually arguing from a rather different perspective than I had assumed - I don't agree with his arguments overall, but it is unfair to lump him in with people like Kay and Rosen or to accuse him of being a member of the James Purnell fan club.]
Buckingham writes that "those on benefits must be willing to take what's offered - there's far greater pride and potential in the grimmest of jobs than in no job at all". There speaks someone, it is fair to conclude, with an extremely limited knowledge of the world of work. Then there is a xenophobic bit about how "we have no duty to provide jobs for the Polish middle-class", apparently one of the ways to improve the welfare reform bill would be to limit intra-EU migration.
In common with many of the James Purnell Fan Club, Buckingham doesn't seem to be able to distinguish between "welfare reform" as a general principle and the specific set of proposals which have been put forward. So there is a lot about how, for example, there needs to be affordable childcare for all who need it, without mention of the fact that these proposals will not provide that, no mention of the multi billion pound give away of public money to private companies which is one of the main proposals, and denunciations of the straw man of those who think it is 'left wing' to oppose welfare reform.
The very worst and most disastrous policy decisions taken by the Labour government have in most cases been preceded by their supporters making arguments based on false historical analogies, enthusiastic support from some right-wing groups, and refusing to engage with the practical problems with what they are planning to do in favour of caricaturing the arguments of their critics. Hopefully this time will be different.