THE END OF THE AFFAIR

vlcsnap-2016-06-24-12h39m46s147So, where to start? Well, we’re out. I didn’t really see this coming, I have to admit. I thought it would be close, but I didn’t anticipate the result we’ve ended up with. David Cameron, barely twelve months into the first mandate a Conservative Prime Minister had received from the electorate in twenty-three years, has announced he’ll be gone by the time of the Tory Party Conference in October, leaving the path clear for Boris. A motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn has already been issued by Labour MPs. Nicola Sturgeon has more or less declared she’s preparing for another Scottish Independence Referendum. Martin McGuinness has called for a plebiscite on a united Ireland. I’ve a feeling we’ve only just begun.

There’s been a lot of fatuous waffle so far today about ‘standing together’, about ‘uniting the country’ now that the decision has been made; I don’t envy anyone entrusted with that particular task. The fact is that the result of this Referendum has exposed the bleedin’ obvious, that Britain in 2016 is more divided than it has been at any time since the ideological wars of the 1980s – not just economically or socially, but regionally and nationally. It somehow seems apt that the pound has plummeted to its lowest level in thirty years. Nigel Farage, understandably euphoric this morning, has achieved his lifetime’s ambition and one wonders if he’ll now turn into a pumpkin at midnight. He referred to the result as ‘Britain’s Independence Day’; he was partly right. This isn’t Britain’s Independence Day, though: it’s England’s Independence Day – independence from Scotland, from Northern Ireland, and (eventually) from Wales. What could turn out to be England’s very own Declaration of Isolation has possibly set the ball rolling for the dissolution of the United Kingdom.

How did we get here? A cynical conspiracy theorist could surmise the whole EU issue was a mere smokescreen for a Tory Party plot to oust Cameron and for the SNP to restage 2014’s Independence Referendum; if so, both have succeeded. Dave’s dangerous gamble, perhaps the key selling point of the Tories’ 2015 Election manifesto, is probably the most personally disastrous move by any serving PM since Ted Heath took on the miners in February 1974; he was really left with no option but to walk. The liberal wing of his party represents a small section of Conservative England and it’s reflective of Cameron’s utter ignorance of the world beyond his privileged little circle that he didn’t foresee he had presented the old-school True Blue corners of the country with a golden opportunity to give him a kicking.

But this hasn’t just been a rejection of David Cameron’s brand of Toryism; it’s also been a rejection of all so-called metropolitan politicians of either colour who have ignored and neglected their traditional core support for decades. As divisive as she was, Margaret Thatcher was the last Prime Minister to take the concerns of the ordinary working man and woman into consideration. Cameron has indeed been the heir to Blair, treating anyone that didn’t fall into his preferred demographic with contempt, thus leaving huge swathes of the nation without a voice or party in Parliament. UKIP’s success in both long-time Tory and Labour heartlands – and the phenomenal rise of the SNP – has made this all-too evident. Donald Trump’s emergence across the pond has happened for similar reasons.

The Remain campaign was dominated by celebrities masquerading as those who (like Huggy Bear) are in synch with ‘the word on the street’. Well, they clearly weren’t listening to that word, because the word was ‘Leave’. Maybe if Eddie Izzard had tried to engage in debate with Farage on ‘Question Time’ instead of shouting at him like a hysterical Anne Robinson, those accustomed to dominating a stage rather than sharing it might have come across as less remote to the people they profess to care about than the Westminster Mafia does.

The immense size of the turn-out for the EU Referendum has exceeded any turn-out since the 1992 General Election, and this is a crucial point. Persistent grumbles that there’s no difference between the two major parties have arisen from a belief that whichever party one votes for, nothing changes. The Referendum was different, however. Europe was pretty much a red herring in some respects, for this was a chance to vote against an entire political class, Tory and Labour, that a good deal of the electorate felt abandoned by; and the outcome speaks volumes. Many of those who made their way to the polling booths yesterday don’t bother making that journey during an Election, and this was something Dave didn’t take into account. He’s now paid the price for his aloofness, and no amount of unconvincing tributes to his premiership from the opportunistic old rival now ready to jump into his grave will excise his ultimate failure as a leader from the history books.

And the fact that Labour failed to take a lead in the campaign again underlines the cult factor of Jezza, an appeal that doesn’t stretch beyond the hardcore faithful. The Corbynistas, sentimental old socialists and their gauche social networking children, are the only people in the country who look at the Labour leader and don’t see a professional backbencher out of his depth; the Messiah couldn’t even motivate the Labour vote in his favour when his party isn’t as publicly split over Europe as the Tories. He performed dismally in his first opportunity to prove his mettle, so even if whoever succeeds Cameron goes to the country in the autumn, anyone not deluded by romantic nostalgia for the good old days of the left must be able to see Labour is doomed with him at the helm. What consolation for the Conservatives that must be.

I don’t believe any of those who most vigorously campaigned for a Brexit have the slightest clue about what happens when they take down the Union Jack bunting. The aim was always to get out, not to sit down and navigate a path through the aftermath. I find it hard to feel celebratory with the prospect of a future in the hands of Boris, Gove and Grayling. As I peer through the barbed wire on the White Cliffs and cast my gaze over the silver sea, all I can see is Le Pen and Trump and every other ‘outsider’ capitalising on two decades of neglecting the people by the ruling class. As a human being, I find these extremely scary times to be living in; as a writer, however, I reckon I struck gold…

© The Editor

AND IT’S GOODNIGHT FROM THEM

2 RonniesLast Sunday, BBC Parliament transmitted one of its occasional themed evenings, when it dips into the well-preserved political archives of the Beeb and offers viewers the opportunity to compare then and now. The theme this time round was, unsurprisingly, the EEC Referendum of 1975. We had snippets from news broadcasts and ‘Nationwide’, campaign ads from both camps, the full two-hour results programme from the day after the vote, and even an edition of ‘The Rock n Roll Years’ reviewing the sights and sounds of the year when the British public last had their say on Europe.

For those of us who have a strange addictive fascination with beige backdrops, purple ties and black-rimmed specs, these evenings are binge viewing experiences unlike any other. It’s also unmissable when the studio presenter cuts to a man on the street – in this case, two much-missed political reporters, Charles Wheeler and Vincent Hanna. A glimpse of the public crowding around behind them and occasionally being asked their opinion on developments is a curiously unique insight into not only the way Joe Public thought 40-odd years ago, but also how he looked. A cornucopia of Dickensian hairstyles, and not a piercing, tattoo or ‘casual’ outfit in sight; everyone looks like they’re on their way to a night at the theatre.

For me, the two stand-out programmes on Sunday night were the Oxford Union Debate and the ‘Panorama’ clash between Labour Cabinet Ministers Roy Jenkins and Tony Benn.

The former was televised to a huge audience in the absence of cameras at the Commons, and as well as a bizarre mix of students, from the anticipated King Crimson roadies to 20-year-olds who already resembled 50-year-olds, the case for both sides of the argument was put by Barbara Castle and Peter Shore (The ‘No’ camp) and Jeremy Thorpe and Ted Heath (‘Yes’). All four put their case across in a way that was largely devoid of the meaningless Birt-isms that plague political speeches in 2016, speaking plainly and passionately without recourse to a familiar collection of words in a specific, road-tested order that appear to say everything whilst actually saying nothing at all. Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, a year away from the scandal that cost him his job and killed his career, was immensely entertaining. Always a somewhat theatrical orator, he stole the show with a witty, flamboyant performance that nevertheless made the point in a manner that held the audience’s attention. It’s hard to imagine any of the contenders in the upcoming Wembley bash having either the ability or the allotted time to state their case with such panache.

As for the famous ‘Panorama’ heavyweight bout between Jenkins and Benn, it often reminded me of the equally famed showdown between former Leeds Utd boss Don Revie and his just-sacked successor Brian Clough, broadcast the year before. As Austin Mitchell did during that encounter, presenter David Dimbleby gradually sat back and allowed the opposing colleagues to simply get on with it. And they did, delivering a compelling master class in restrained antipathy. Benn had yet to fully develop the more eccentric extremism that contributed towards Jenkins’ eventual exodus from Labour five years later, and both men were true to their core convictions, able to argue the toss free from being consistently interrupted by an egocentric host clearly seeking his own chat show.

It’s a pity the programme makers of today haven’t used this example of televisual political discourse as the template for the now-customary leaders debates instead of the stop-start American Presidential model.

This format was in evidence on ITV this week, when David Cameron and Nigel Farage were invited to persuade the public that their personal vision of Britain either with or without the EU was the right one. Only, they didn’t go head-to-head; both had around 20 minutes to get their point across alone, as well as engaging with the token and obligatory studio audience and a selection of utterly predictable questions to which they gave utterly predictable answers. Farage was accused of racism by a black woman; Cameron responded to every question by falling back on his standard Churchillian script that only required ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ in the background to complete the patriotic picture. The whole exercise was flatter than a transsexual’s pre-op chest.

Tomorrow, we’re promised a six-way Remain/Brexit debate, which means even less time for the participants to get their scripted points across as well as the prospect of some truly foul-tasting broth; however, if Tuesday’s idea of a two-hander was anything to go by, it hardly seems worth investing in that as a means of seriously debating the issue. It’s difficult to believe that any don’t-know will have their mind made up by these essentially useless interventions into the argument on the part of an industry too rooted in the fast-cutting MTV school of broadcasting and the need to give every subject a Cowell-esque makeover for fear of audiences switching over. At least in the days of party political broadcasts, those that did switch over were confronted by the same programme on all channels. Viewers had no choice but to listen, and maybe minds were made up that way.

© The Editor

GOODBYE MR CAMERON

TwatsThat late Westminster rogue and eccentric Lord Boothby once observed that ‘the Tory Party are ruthless’ when it comes to disposing of a leader; there rarely seems room for sentiment if the rank and file have decided El Presidente has to go. Unlike Labour’s dithering with Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and (it has to be said) Jeremy Corbyn, the Conservatives get on with it. Rumours of coups or challenges don’t linger like a bad smell for weeks and weeks before evaporating into the ether, as is the case with their opponents across the dispatch box. Past records count for little when the decision has been made.

Iain Duncan Smith was axed before he’d even fought a General Election; Ted Heath was deposed even though he’d won one; John Major pre-empted the axe by resigning as leader and then successfully standing for re-election; and most notoriously of all, the Tories even toppled Thatcher from her throne after she had led the party to three successive General Election victories. None of this history bodes well for David Cameron. He became Prime Minister by default in 2010 and had to cobble together an administration by forming Britain’s first peacetime coalition since the Second World War; he may have won the Conservatives their first General Election for 23 years in 2015, but a meagre majority of 12 can easily be whittled down, especially when Parliament is now locked into fixed five-year terms.

Cameron perhaps anticipated future storms on the eve of the 2015 General Election campaign by announcing he didn’t intend to serve more than two terms at No.10. This threw up all kinds of excitable permutations on the part of media commentators as to what this premature retirement would entail come the unnamed day when Dave departed Downing Street. Would a leadership election provoke a General Election? Would the succession be smooth or bitter, depending on the successor? Then again, it’s possible Cameron’s inside knowledge of a forthcoming EU Referendum may have enabled him to prepare for an earlier exit than he might have wished for. Granting his Cabinet the suspension of collective responsibility was unavoidable if a fair debate was to be achieved in the weeks leading up to June 23, but it has also allowed simmering discontent with Cameron’s Premiership to bubble up to the front pages in a way that normal circumstances would never have permitted.

In comparison to Harold Wilson’s shrewd invisibility during the 1975 EEC Referendum campaign – when he kept a discreet distance whilst his divided Cabinet argued amongst themselves – Cameron has been at the forefront of this year’s Remain debate; it could be because, unlike 41 years ago, what was then called the ‘Yes’ camp seem less certain of a guaranteed victory now than they did in 1975. As Prime Minister, Dave clearly reckons the Remain team require his statesmanship clout if they are to sidestep defeat; having narrowly avoided being the man who presided over the break-up of the United Kingdom during the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, Cameron seems to believe if he can avoid a Brexit scenario when backing the opposite opinion, he might just extend his time at the top to a full second term. The prospect of the vote going against him would probably make his position as Prime Minister untenable, and his detractors within the Tory Party know it.

He has had as many critics in Tory circles as outside of them during his eleven years as leader; some, such as columnist Peter Hitchens, have attacked Cameron’s now-discarded claim to being ‘the heir to Blair’ from virtually day one and have never let him forget the now-embarrassing boast. One of the more recurrent criticisms of Cameron is that he doesn’t appear to stand for or fundamentally believe in anything; he himself admitted he was ‘not a deeply ideological person’ before finding himself with genuine power, and one has to at least condone his honesty, for this statement has never been contradicted by actions. After Thatcher, conviction politicians of the most bloody-minded persuasion have largely lingered on the backbenches as the desperate fear of being rejected by the electorate has permeated the highest echelons of British politics; whichever way the wind appears to be blowing, that’s the way our leaders are going. Even Corbyn has been forced to refute decades of Euro-scepticism now that he’s somehow at the head of the Labour table.

The manner in which the Leave section of Cameron’s Cabinet have personally aimed their anti-EU criticisms at him has the ring of a school ‘away week’ whereby the teachers reluctantly submit to a more casual relationship with their pupils and suffer the indignity of being addressed by their Christian name rather than the obligatory ‘Sir’. But there has been a remarkable savagery from some of the men and women Dave made Ministers that suggests the most vocal will be in for a frosty reception in the Cabinet Office on June 24 if the vote goes in Cameron’s favour. Having said that, I doubt any of them would have exhibited such a cocky lack of respect for their leader if they didn’t believe victory will be theirs come Referendum day. Whether they admit it or not, they’re already backing Boris; and if the whole campaign is to avoid being hijacked by a Tory Civil War, perhaps Dave should fall on his sword whatever the result. History’s judgement may well be a little kinder if he does so.

© The Editor

THE LAST OF MAY

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-16h26m48s78I must admit the view from this fence is making me rather nauseas. On one side, I have David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May, Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson trying to woo me; on the other, I have Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Gorgeous George, Nasty Nigel and Boris doing likewise. It feels a bit like joining a dating site and being offered two suitable matches – Ronnie Kray or Reggie Kray. Should I refuse the entreaties of either, the consequences will border on the apocalyptic. Every menace that can befall mankind awaits me – war, terrorism, recession, economic catastrophe, the prospect of England never hosting another World Cup (and that was so odds-on that it doesn’t bear thinking about). And I haven’t even mentioned the numerous journalists and media commentators who usually make me want to pull out my own fingernails lurking on either side. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right – or, to quote another well-known pop lyric, should I stay or should I go?

The one Armageddon scenario I actually can envisage as a likelihood is that if the UK does vote leave, the SNP will instigate another Independence Referendum; having said that, I think the SNP are looking for any excuse to do so, and will keep doing so until they get the result they want – regardless of the opinions of those Scots who don’t want independence. I should imagine Sturgeon and Salmond are praying the Brexit camp come up trumps; it’s just the situation they’ve been waiting for ever since their grapes turned sour two years ago. But Scotland isn’t the only part of Britain divided; traditional divisions in Northern Ireland are also falling into line with this pattern. Recent surveys suggest Protestants are more likely to vote Remain, whereas Catholics favour Brexit. Anyone believing an official separation from Europe will somehow serve to unite this kingdom anew is clearly too blinded by the desire to give the Mandarins of Brussels a shiner to contemplate the realities of the aftermath.

The current holiday from routine Parliamentary business has seen the Devil make work for many an idle hand during the recess. News bulletins have given air time to toadies singing the PM’s praises and denying the Cabinet split over the EU issue will leave permanent cracks in the united front, as well as others within the Government criticising Cameron with uncomfortable candour and even predicting he will be ‘toast’ if the country votes leave. How anybody can realistically expect Dave to resume working with a group of underlings who have aimed the kind of personal barbs at him that are usually reserved for the Opposition should he still be in a job come June 24 is residing in a land consisting of clouds and cuckoos. Few can carry a grudge like politicians.

I apologise to a degree that this bloody subject has come to dominate the blog of late; but it is such a unique occurrence for a Prime Minister to dispense with collective responsibility within his Cabinet that it makes for good copy. To see Ministers let off the leash, actually saying out loud what they genuinely believe rather than toeing the party line and reading from a script penned by the whips is both a rare insight into the personalities behind the bland, spin-doctored facade and a chance to hear the kind of home truths that are generally the preserve of Westminster mavericks with nothing to lose. I’ve never previously known this happen, not even in the botched ‘Alternative Vote’ cock-up of a few years back; and my seven-year-old self was largely oblivious on the one occasion we’ve been here before.

As has been mentioned more than once, my age at the time of the last occasion in which the Great British Public had their say on the funny foreigners across the Channel negated any interest or real knowledge of what was going on; but had I been asked who the Prime Minister was back then, the name Harold Wilson would have come to me as quickly as any other question I might have been posed. My niece, who is three years older than I was in 1975, was presented with the same poser last week (courtesy of me) and she didn’t know the answer; granted, she didn’t know who the President of the USA was either – which surprised me more, considering Obama’s frivolous celebrity – but is that nature or nurture? Anyway, whatever that says about the society she and we inhabit is immaterial when it comes to doing what Bucks Fizz advised when they themselves made a strident entry into Europe 35 years ago.

For every argument I hear in favour of remaining, an equally valid one is made for leaving. I’ve watched and read as much as someone with a life can over the past couple of months and will no doubt continue to do so right up until the moment I embark upon my trek to the local polling station. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m undecided, for I believe I’m not the only don’t-know out there. Perhaps if one of the camps took a leaf out of the Al Qaeda manual and promised a Paradise with umpteen available virgins as a reward for the right vote, that might swing it. But then the police would be obliged to get involved, and I think they’ve enough ‘historical sex crimes’ to keep their quiet lives busy for the next couple of decades, some even coincidentally stretching back as far as 1975.

© The Editor

LOCAL VOTES FOR LOCAL PEOPLE

SAM_1498Persistent hounder of many a bounder, TV journalist Michael Crick once described the General Election as ‘our World Cup’, with the ‘our’ being the small coterie of correspondents and commentators whose careers are devoted to documenting developments in the British political arena. If that’s true for the major event held on average every four/five years, local elections must then equate with some minor tournament staged during the summer, the kind of poor relation that is exclusively available on some obscure subscription-only satellite channel nobody has ever actually seen.

Most of us could probably name our MP (at a push), whereas councillors are a far more anonymous breed. At one time, there appeared to be a proliferation of regional titans who were never slow to remind the electorate that they’d once run around without shoes on their feet, hard men – and occasionally women – carved from local stone and prepared to pocket a few backhanders to put their towns on the map. Many, such as Newcastle’s T Dan Smith, became embroiled in scandals that were a side-effect of their rapacious ambition, eventually paying the price with prison sentences and the consequent end of careers in public office. Yes, they were rogues, but there was a certain begrudging admiration for their refusal to be cast as pale imitations of their Westminster superiors. When compared to the bland double-glazing salesmen and primary school headmistresses who constitute today’s moribund councillors, it’s no wonder so few potential voters can be sufficiently fired-up to trek to the polling station.

Not that this will be evident as live TV coverage bigs up today’s elections once the results begin rolling in, mind. It’ll still be presented as ‘David Cameron’s first serious test since the General Election’ or ‘the first chance to gauge the public’s opinion of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership’ or numerous other ‘firsts’. The broadcasters love it, and they’ve not even had the EU Referendum to get their teeth into yet; not that through-the-night broadcasts of this nature aren’t occasionally entertaining, however – fun to dip in and out of, a bit like the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s even acquired a crass Americanism to inject a dash of glamour into proceedings – Super Thursday, as opposed to not-bad Wednesday and bloody awful Friday.

Lest we forget, the engrossing allure of local elections isn’t quite sufficiently engrossing to support the hype, so it’s handy we also have elections to the assemblies of Wales and Northern Ireland as well as the Scottish Parliament and one or two mayoral shindigs, most prominently the one darn Landan way, between renowned Bollywood devotee and man of the Asian people…Zac Goldsmith; and Sadiq Khan. Hell, there are even a couple of Westminster by-elections to add to the list. Come on!

Head-and-shoulders above the rest, though, have to be the elections for the local Police and Crime Commissioners. When the Tories introduced this extra layer of police bureaucracy in 2012, the turn-out amongst the electorate was a canny reflection of the public’s appetite for the new innovation: between 10% and 20%. One cannot but suspect had the damp squib proposal by the Blair administration for regional English assemblies got past the drawing board at the turn of the century, the enthusiasm on the part of the electorate would be similarly euphoric.

Having said all that, there are certain aspects of the day’s machinations which might prove interesting as pointers to where the major parties go next. Will the recent anti-Semitic accusations affect Labour’s prospects? Will the divisive European issue damage the hopes of the Tories? Will the internal coup that has been brewing ever since Corbyn rose without a trace be given the excuse it needs to move into action? Will the whole exercise serve as a warm-up for which way the wind may blow come June 23? Only one way to find out, you lucky bloody insomniacs.

And on a less cynical note, here’s a silly video…

© The Editor

THE WEAK IN WESTMINSTER

vlcsnap-2016-04-10-16h58m44s60Last week was not one of the finest David Cameron has enjoyed during his six-year tenure at No.10. After a disastrous budget, the resignation of IDS and a faltering Remain campaign had all served to add to the PM’s woes, then came the files of Mossack Fonseca. Confirmation of something everyone already suspected was exacerbated by his evasive attitude, eventually coming clean and releasing his financial records to the press when he realised his earlier avoidance of the truth made him look as though he had something to hide. As his Cabinet colleagues (or at least those not in the Brexit camp) have been constantly reminding us, Dave didn’t do anything legally wrong by profiting from his father’s offshore banking business; but it doesn’t look good on a moral scale. Then again, who associates morals with Honourable Members?

On the opposing benches, Jeremy Corbyn has stirred from his afternoon nap and has started adding his voice to the chorus of criticism as the Labour Party furtively clutches at any straw that might be to their advantage. I can’t remember a previous Labour leader in opposition so averse to getting his face on camera; if Iain Duncan Smith was the Quiet Man during his brief spell as Tory leader, then Corbyn is the Invisible Man. Does he believe that doing a Howard Hughes somehow gives him alluring mystique or has it yet to dawn on him that being a party leader means giving up the kind of preaching to the converted he indulged in for all the decades he was a professional backbencher? Corbyn might have a long-standing personal interest in the various ‘anti this or that’ factions operating on Labour’s fringes, but giving a speech at a rally before those for whom he can do no wrong as Keeper of the Socialist Flame is not what the rest of the country wants from an opposition to an unpopular government.

The narrowness of the Labour vision under Corbyn, with his brief experiment of a Shadow Cabinet airing opinions contrary to his own having been quickly discarded, appeals solely to nostalgic veterans of the 80s who worship the memory of Tony Benn and gullible novices too young to remember life before Blair. Labour has become the political equivalent of a band who were once chart-toppers and are now a cult act that nobody bar the diehard fans are remotely interested in. The new recruits in particular display the obstinate refusal to accept another point of view to their own that is characteristic of the tribal teenager and are responsible for the endless desperate online petitions demanding the resignation of Cameron every time he puts a foot wrong. Some are also guilty of worrying anti-Semitism of a kind that blames Israel for every ill in the Middle East, despite the fact that none of the mass murderers of Middle Eastern descent that have brought carnage to the streets of Europe in the past year or so practice Judaism.

The SNP in their Third Party shoes seem to imagine that simply pointing to their impressive numbers is enough, as though that is the beginning and end of their contribution to the Commons bar the occasional token grumble. Mind you, they are hampered as a powerful collective voice by the absence of their leader from Parliament, content as she is to play in the Scottish Premier League, wiping the floor with a glut of weaker and smaller teams like a Holyrood equivalent of Celtic. A big fish/small pond scenario suits Nicola Sturgeon because it makes her appear more important than she actually is, but it does somewhat reduce the potential of her party at Westminster.

And then there’s the Liberal Democrats. Oh, dear. What can one say of the depleted Lib Dems and their leader? Tim Farron is almost as invisible as Jeremy Corbyn, though I would imagine this isn’t through choice. I can picture Farron constantly trying to get on television and in the papers, yet being denied access to the enclosed VIP section of the political club by a burly bouncer telling him ‘if your name’s not on the list, you’re not coming in’. It’s hard to envisage what difference a party with a paltry eight MPs can make with the exception of a crucial Commons vote; the real strength in depth for the Lib Dems is in the Lords, where they have shown they can do considerable damage to unpopular government proposals. Not that this has much effect on day-to-day business in the House that really counts, however.

David Cameron announced last year that he had no intentions of running for a third term as Prime Minister; whether or not he foresaw that a humiliating defeat at the EU Referendum could force a premature departure is debatable, but a good deal personally hinges on the outcome of events on June 23. If the Brexit camp claim victory – something the majority of Fleet Street would certainly favour – Cameron’s position could be untenable, more so than it is courtesy of ‘revelations’ of his pre-Downing Street tax evasion or even of his alleged adolescent penchant for inserting his private parts into porcine orifices.

Any cloud-cuckoo Corbyn groupies who think Dave’s downfall will open the door to their Messiah, however, clearly haven’t considered a certain wild-haired Mayor who is no doubt reciting a winning speech in Latin as we speak. One could advise them to be careful what they wish for, though I’m guessing they’d probably respond by calling anyone daring to dispense such advice a homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, corporate Zionist elite-loving Tory scumbag.

© The Editor

A MENTAL CASE

CameronNew Year, New Grandiose Statements. David Cameron’s been making loud announcements over the past seven days; this week he’s been banging on about immigrants and the need to speak the lingo as crucial in embracing the culture. The British Citizenship Test is crammed with the kind of historical references to this country that half of the natives wouldn’t be able to answer on account of great chunks of British history – especially that nasty imperialist empire-building stuff – being excised from the curriculum for fear of offending ethnic minorities, despite the unavoidable fact that most owe their presence here to the existence of the old colonies. Perhaps any aspiring Brits who fail rather than pass the test should be awarded citizenship in that this is a more of a mark of their native credentials.

Last week, the PM expressed his desire to eradicate estates from the landscape – not the green and pleasant ones he and his horsey chums ride across when hunting foxes, of course, but the so-called sink estates that the plebs live on. He probably learned about them from watching ‘Benefits Street’. He complemented this newfound concern for those whose desire to escape the miserable poverty of such estates has been scuppered by his administration’s ruthless cuts by making a pledge to invest £1 billion in various forms of mental health care; it attracted the kind of headlines a Prime Minister usually attracts when announcing a new policy in which a lot of money will be splashed about, but his sudden public declaration of concern on the issue of mental health seems very much at odds with the policy his government has pursued over the past five years, especially with those mental health sufferers whose conditions render them unable to hold down a regular job and are faced with little choice but to claim benefits.

The Work Capability Assessment was introduced by Gordon Brown’s Government in 2008, and a Tory-friendly policy that demonised and degraded disability benefits claimants was eagerly taken on by the incoming Coalition in 2010 as a canny way of tackling the deficit. Media horror stories that portrayed any benefits claimant as scrounging scum helped create a climate in which sympathy and genuine assistance were bound to be in short supply, thus giving government the green light to ride roughshod over disability and mental health campaigners. The controversial outsourcing of testing benefits claimants’ capability for work to the French company Atos ended in August last year, but for all the negative publicity Atos received in the media following a series of baffling decisions to pass severely ill claimants as fit for work, the fact is they were under immense pressure from the Government, particularly DWP Tsar Iain Duncan Smith.

Stories emerged a couple of years back from ex-Atos employees that the essential nature of the task entrusted to them was to bring down the unemployment figures and to alter the unhelpful conclusions of fitness testers should they find a claimant genuinely unfit for work. Statistics later revealed that from 2011-2014, 2,380 claimants died – several by their own hands – less than two months after their claims came to an end courtesy of Atos.

With their offices picketed and their employees receiving death threats, Atos have attempted to distance themselves from the damage done in their name since their contract was prematurely terminated, and their website states that contract was rewritten by the Government to conveniently hand over responsibility for the disability benefit aspect of so-called welfare reforms. Granted, there may well be an element of passing the buck, but the DWP called the overall shots, and it seems pretty evident now that Atos were merely obeying orders. After all, the dodgy US insurance company Unum has been issuing advice regarding disability claimants to successive British Governments since the 90s, and played a key part in designing the testing system that the DWP then implemented and hired Atos to carry the can for.

Awarding the contract to Atos in the first place was hardly a move that spoke of concern about mental or physical disability on the Government’s part; the lack of medical or psychiatric qualifications Atos employees possessed, not to mention zero empathy with the claimants’ condition, said it all. Would one hire a lifetime teetotaller to run an AA group or someone whose drug experience stretches no further than swallowing the odd Anadin to work as a counsellor in a rehab clinic?

It was evident early on that the vulnerable on the bottom rung of society’s ladder were once again in line to bear the brunt of an economic situation they hadn’t caused and their lives were being placed in the hands of a company that didn’t even pay Corporation Tax. Following the suicide of one claimant Atos had decided was fit for work, the coroner overseeing the case surmised that Atos had come to this decision without taking any of the doctors’ reports into consideration throughout the 90-minute assessment. Who is most qualified to judge whether someone’s mental or physical condition prevents them from stacking supermarket shelves or cold-calling members of the public?

The former Chief Economist at the Cabinet Office, Jonathan Portes, said the assessment programme Atos carried out for the DWP was ‘the biggest single social policy failure of the last fifteen years’; with a record number of appeals lodged with tribunals, increased antidepressant dependency amongst those who have been subjected to the assessment, and a string of suicides, the programme is an appalling example of a government whose alleged concern for mental health sufferers is clearly secondary to boasting of falling unemployment figures. For David Cameron to then don the mantle of a man who cares does tend to stick in the throat a little – not that an alien body lodged in the windpipe would prevent anyone being passed as fit for work, though.

© The Editor