Home » Posts tagged 'Jeremy Corbyn' (Page 2)
Tag Archives: Jeremy Corbyn
It’s totally clear to me now having spoken to several MPs who had not voted for Jeremy Corbyn originally, who then said, “Believe me we wanted to make it work!”, those MPs had no intention of ‘making it work’ whatsoever. They invariably incite the most petty and vindictive examples of where it is ‘impossible’ to work with Corbyn’s office, such as not picking up the phone over lunchtime. We got a whiff of this over the entirely over the top way Seema Malhotra reacted to somebody from estates using a keycard to inspect an office one would customarily have vacated weeks before on resignation. We also got a whiff of this with the way Wes Streeting attacked Shami Chakrabarti for become a member of the House of Lords, together with full innuendo of the ‘apparent bias’ without explaining the full test given by the Porter v Magill case (i.e. how it would look to a reasonable observer KNOWING ALL THE FACTS.)
The smear was even more excruciating to watch on BBC News 24 as it implied that somebody of Chakrabarti’s standing in the legal profession (wiki education and training here) would not have been aware of what the ‘apparent bias’ test isbut somebody with minimal legal training like Wes Streeting would (wiki education and training here). Instead of focusing on why heads of publicity in David Cameron’s office had received high honours for doing their job, including stylist work for SamCam, Streeting went on a tirade against a lawyer held in extremely high esteem for her impartiality, professionalism and legalistic advocacy. The proper arena for these smears for Streeting is the Bar Standards Board, if he really feels there is a case to answer.
If there is a genuine complaint over the independence and impartiality of the work done by Chakrabarti, it has to be done through the correct channels not by smear on TV news (which is exactly the same means of communication used to discredit Corbyn.) The most relevant clause in the current code of conduct for barristers from their code of conduct is 301.
Overall, it’s dreadfully easy to pick up a picture of the sheer degree of nonsense with which John McDonnell MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP have had to deal with. These #Labour171 are not professional MPs, but the majority of Labour MPs are nasty, vindictive idiots who need the publicity of TV studios to make their vacuous post corporate life publicity work.
But this TV interview from the HardTalk series with Lord Mandelson from 3 November 2015 is very revealing. Bear in mind that the leadership election result had only been disclosed publicly on Saturday 12 September 2015.
And the disarray of Mandelson’s answers explain fully why Owen Smith MP’s campaign is in utter disarray, even if you discount complete own goals like standing up for female lib while claiming simultaneously, albeit in a half-jokey way (according to him), to “‘smash’ Theresa May back on her heels”. Owen Smith MP came later to defend the need for promoting gender equality within Labour, having deprived the only female candidate in the leadership contest from going in competition with Jeremy Corbyn MP.
You see, I can’t find anyone at all – and I’ve searched pretty comprehensively – any Owen Smith MP supporter who can explain at all how Owen and Jeremy materially and substantially diverge on policy. Apart from Trident, which could be offered as a legitimate answer (but bear in mind Corbyn got a huge applause for arguing that Trident was not the most appropriate defence spend given current problems), there are no massive policy differences. Jeremy Corbyn MP has maintained that he is a reluctant Remainer in the European Union, seeing a strong case for certain legislative protection from EU laws including human rights and a good working relationship with people in Europe. Corbyn managed to get about 10% more of his party members to vote Remain than Cameron – Corbyn did more media appearances rallying for remain than the rest of the shadow cabinet put together. But it is worth noting that there is a substantial number of members of the party, who completely unlike the parliamentary party, wanted ‘out’ on Europe, and like Frank Field MP think a second #Brexit vote would serve no utility. I lost count of the number of times Owen said, “I agree with Jeremy“, in the hustings from Cardiff.
In the HardTalk interview, Lord Mandelson trots a complete argument for why the current leadership bid by Owen Smith is a complete nonsense, and a waste of everybody’s time, when Labour MPs could and should have been concentrating on the Conservatives. Mandelson talks about “my party”, when in fact it is “our party”, and then describes Jeremy Corbyn as “far left” when his policies, which apply to a world of 2016 not 1983, on getting rid of PFI, tackling the lack of social housing, tackling aggressive tax avoidance, stopping rampant privatisation of the NHS, producing a national investment bank to build up infrastructure in harmony with many European countries, re-nationalising the rail industry, are policies which are hard to disagree with. These are in fact policies which successors to New Labour could have produced themselves between 2010-2016 if they were so desperate to produce their own successor. Even Blairites concede that they need to win in the world of 2016 not 1997 now. Mandelson says critically of the Blairites “but in fairness to Corbyn, the modernisers had failed to modernise themselves.”
So Mandelson refers to poor poll ratings of Jeremy Corbyn MP – but without any reference to the general unreliability of polls (take for example their uselessness in the EU referendum or the 2015 general election). Or, for that matter, he does not refer to the pretty dreadful poll ratings of Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband. Mandelson views Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership chances entirely through the prism of a ‘beauty contest’, when it is clear that Mandelson is ‘no oil painting’ himself. Mandelson trots out the need for electability, the Hilary Benn ‘winning’ argument, when Labour were annihilated in Scotland in 2015 (down from 41 MPs to 1 MP), disasters in 2010 and 2015, and a declining % of the vote for Labour from 2005 roughly onwards. Mandelson appears to resent that “the doors were thrown open to new members”, all of whom were vetted, and did contain many people returning from Labour having been totally pissed off with Labour during the Blair years. Mandelson refers to the other three candidates in the 2015 leadership election as “business as usual”, when that is precisely what Owen Smith MP appears like. Owen Smith MP flip flops from one position to the next, whether it’s on PFI or 100% state ownership, and there is absolutely no consistency in his policies from week to week.
Mandelson said of Corbyn in September 2015:
“Nobody will replace him, though, until he demonstrates to the party his unelectability at the polls. In this sense, the public will decide Labour’s future and it would be wrong to try and force this issue from within before the public have moved to a clear verdict.”
Mandelson then describes Corbyn as “not the election winning person he presents himself as he pretends to be” – but there’s the rub. Corbyn critics were desperate for Corbyn to put a foot wrong, but this opportunity did not present itself in the Labour or Bristol mayoralty elections or in 4 by-elections (which Labour all won including increasing its share of the vote in three). Mandelson continues “we have to be ready..with serious new fresh policy ideas to win support from in the party and then in the country“. But there has been no alternative vision from Corbyn critics – if they really want to be ‘electable’, is it, for example, their plan not to do something about the rip-off PFI, just ignore aggressive tax avoidance, think the debacle in Southern Rail is ok, do nothing about rip off energy bills, do nothing about the disaster in social housing, or to promote yet further privatisation of NHS and social care? Would that do it for Mandelson and his ideological-terrorist sympathisers?
Without a hint of irony, Mandelson continues:
“We’re not going to win this time with brilliant public relations. We need a renewal of policies”.
“We need to organise not only in our grassroots but also in communities where we want to win”.
So – let’s get this straight – Corbyn has done what he’s been done, i.e. produced a ‘national debate’, and mobilised new supporters and members of Labour, and he’s being criticised for this?
Mandelson then goes onto sneer at “quantitative easing”, in the context of a wacko Corbynomics policy, when the Bank of England announced a further boost of quantitative easing only this week as described in the Guardian:
“Plans to pump an additional £60bn in electronic cash into the economy to buy government bonds, extending the existing quantitative easing (QE) programme to £435bn in total”
Mandelson admits, “we ceased to be exciting”.
I think it’s worse than that – despite early successes such as the Human Rights Act and the national minimum wage – and especially after Chilcot – New Labour has become a very toxic brand, so much so Ed Miliband MP couldn’t wait to wash his hands clean of it (whilst signing up to ‘austerity lite’ and having few exciting visionary policies of himself.)
And months and months of a time period where Mandelson and colleagues could’ve planned for ‘their moment’, it is quite incredible that no credible candidates have been stumped up at this point in time. It could be that good candidates like Lisa Nandy MP or Sir Keir Starmer MP, if we believe the Labour PLP at face value, would rather Labour MPs to succumb to their fate as per the Battle of the Somme, rather than put themselves forward and genuinely ‘save Labour’. Mandelson continues with the meme, ‘we have to decide as to whether we want to be a party of government rather than a party of protest‘, when it is perfectly clear Mandelson and his merry band of ideological-terrrorist sympathisers are getting off on the high of being a Blairite party of protest within the Labour Party.
So Owen Smith MP is likely to lose – badly.
A pity really – despite being a Pfizer ex-lobbyist etc. I think he’s quite a fun and pleasant person. But there were always two stalking horses in this particular contest.
And will the Labour MPs then unify under Corbyn?
Will they hell…
Whilst literally a derivative of metals, ‘vitriol’ according to the Oxford Dictionary, means bitter criticism or malice.
I quite enjoyed the pantomime of yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, the last appearance in that context from David Cameron. The body language on the front row was somewhat tense between Theresa May MP, about to be invited by the Queen to form a new government later that afternoon, and George Osborne MP, about to be sacked by the new Prime Minister.
Osborne, the Chancellor or ‘Chancer’ as he affectionately came to be known, had an atrocious record in government. This included at various points downgrading of the national credit rating, missing of all his self-set targets, and a ballooning national debt which in a few years of his tenure had even superseded the total which Labour had amassed in thirteen years.
Craig Oliver, close to the Cameron government, called Cameron the ‘quiet revolutionary’. It was a genuine belief, it appears, of that incoming Government in 2010, that they were coming together in the national interest to deal with a large financial deficit left by Labour. Much of the Ed Miliband time in government was spent in critics of Labour drawing attention to this deficit, without Ed Balls doing much to address how it came about, arguably leading to his personal defeat and the Labour Party’s defeat in 2010.
And yet the economic performance of Osborne was bad. He was personally blamed in the sense that he was boo-ed at the Olympics. David Cameron, as it happens, was boo-ed twice this week, first with his mother at the Wimbledon final on Sunday, and second yesterday with Sam and children as they left Downing Street.
However, approval ratings of Cameron ‘as a leader’ have been consistently high. Even there was no putsch to get rid of Osborne, despite his atrocious performance. Cameron could always point to other aspects of the macroeconomy, but mainly a record level of employment. The qualification to this routinely trotted out by Labour was that this was mainly due to zero-hour contracts, but the Conservatives were able to combat this criticism with various statistics. Not once was it ever conceded that a record level of employment might have been due to a free movement of persons, something which you could credit the EU for.
Nobody openly asked for Osborne to be sacked. There was no coup against Osborne. Osborne and Cameron, despite the reality of the situation, were keen not to portray any psychodrama as had dogged the days of Brown with accusations of throwing Nokia phones. Such a schism would have done much to destabilise a Government, now with a wafer-thin majority. Any destabilisation might have set in process events which could cause a motion of no-confidence in the Prime Minister leaving due to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (although this statutory instrument was first devised to stop the LibDems from leaving the coalition.)
The contemporary meaning of vitriol these days is ‘bitter criticism’ or ‘malice’. Through the way that the defamation law works in England, you can’t sue me if I say something that’s true, or fair comment; or said perhaps in a court of law or parliament (even if the accusation is a strong one like being a ringleader of a pornography ring). But defamation is defeated by malice.
For supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, which includes non-exclusively ‘Corbynistas’, it has always been difficult to tell how much of the criticism is motivated by malice. People who haven’t experienced first hand the working style of Jeremy Corbyn will find it difficult to opine on his team building ability. However, when you get criticisms like ‘the leader’s office won’t even pick up the phone’, one is forced to wonder how much experience such critics have of the real world. I, for example, normally find it impossible to get hold of anyone in a large organisation. I don’t think I’d even know where to start in finding someone at the BBC or the NHS , let alone parliament.
Therefore, it has become easy to approach criticism of Jeremy Corbyn, even if valid roots, with much cynicism. For example, when you have Lucy Powell on the airwaves talking about how Corbyn doesn’t leave the bunker, or Angela Eagle saying he is shut behind ‘closed doors’, this produces massive cognitive dissonance with the numerous images of Corbyn addressing confidently large rallies in public.
Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership hustings appearances are available for all to see on You Tube. In fact, I recommend you watching them with the benefit of hindsight of who actually won. It’s obvious how the presenters undermine his existence at these debates by “begging up” the three other candidates (Kendall, Burnham and Cooper), of good New Labour stock compared to him, in both unspoken ways and spoken ways (“Jeremy Corbyn sneaked onto the ballot and had the fewest nominations by far“).
Corbyn has never been popular in the parliamentary party. In his heyday, he amassed 36 nominations, and this included Dame Margaret Beckett who was later to yield a verbal machete to him saying she had been a ‘moron’ a term widely used by John McTernan. McTernan mysteriously had become the self-selected expert of campaigns despite his heavy recent defeats in Scotland and in Australia. McTernan’s mission was to make Jim Murphy the Scottish heir to Blair, but of course that went belly up. The number of people who did not vote ‘no confidence’ (who logically do not necessarily hold confidence) was 40 the other week.
The late not so great Margaret Thatcher used to have a phrase ‘oh he’s one of us’. Corbyn is clearly not one of them, not having graduated through Fabian Women (joke), or Progress. He did not go to Oxford or Cambridge.
Corbyn has voted for what he has perceived as ‘good law’, and in fact these tend to be the same examples Blairites use to describe their successes. such as the Equality Act or the national minimum wage. He has, however, voted on principle against the whip on matters he disagrees with, including the Iraq War. Tony Blair somehow managed to give an hour’s speech the other day in response to Chilcot without proferring an apology for the hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths, or the argued lack of due process in going to war including rigid observance of international law.
Corbyn was attacked for his perceived lack lustre performance in the EU referendum campaigning, even though he says he toured flat out to argue for the benefits of staying in a reformed Europe. This was exactly the same pitch as the Prime Minister’s, knowing that most of the country were fundamentally 50/50 or by a smidgeon ‘reluctant Brexiteers’. Cameron achieved 10% less than Corbyn “remainers” in their parties. Margaret Hodge MP representing a constituency profoundly Brexit blamed Corbyn and launched the no-confidence motion in him. But everyone knows that there were unresolved local issues in Barking and Dagenham, due to community disquiet about immigration.
All of this narrative is to frame Corbyn as a ‘failure’, and personally responsible for 52/48 vote in the EU Ref. But there were many other actors in the EU Ref, such as Alan Johnson MP whose own campaigning really was dismal. And the ‘failure’ narrative is catalysed by the idea that somehow voters are gullible or stupid, and it’s Corbyn’s fault not to have put his heart into setting out the case. Or even worse, many of his own voters are actually closet racists, and wanted to leave the EU, but Corbyn’s relative silence had somehow tipped them over the edge. It could be possible, for example, for all the best will in the world that many Labour voters consider themselves internationalist rather than attached to the EU – for example, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper specifically referred to themselves as ‘internationalist’ as regards the UK’s place in the world in the Labour Leadership hustings last year.
This is not only profoundly insulting to Corbyn but also to the voters in the UK who voted for Brexit. Worryingly, it seems to be phenotypic of an arrogance, or at least out-of-touchness, of a part of Labour political class which does not really understand the immigration issue. Labour MPs are either intensely stupid or highly fraudulent to ‘blame’ Corbyn for that. Hilary Benn also might like to ‘react’ to the fact that the Conservative Party have just appointed two SoS Dr Liam Fox and David Davis MP as International Trade and Brexit ministers respectively – are the Tory Party getting chummy with UKIP voters because they think this holds the key to winning?
The reality is, nonetheless, that there have been moves afoot to undermine Corbyn and to get rid of him from day one. This is not paranoia. This is evidenced fact. Yesterday, John Mann had stated openly that he had been approached by a member of Owen Smith MP’s team about a possible leadership challenge six months ago. There has apparently been a Gmail list so people can co-ordinate action against Corbyn. All the media papers have taken a strong line against Corbyn, even though he has met all his local election challenges and has had a number of high publicity policy successes (e.g. on working tax credits).
We know that the Corbyn team has been undermined from day 1, and even before the actual announcement of the result of the election. As Tony McNulty MP correctly pointed out the other day there is a difference between ‘lack of solidarity’ and ‘people who simply disagree with you’. But it has to be remembered that potential key players has refused to work with Corbyn even pre-dating the result including Cooper, Reeves and Umunna. This of course has been incredibly frustrating for the Corbyn team.
The premise for the rejection of Jeremy Corbyn’s positioning is that his policies are radical, dangerous or plain weird. The outstanding problem is they are hugely popular with vast swathes of the current blossoming membership of Labour – for example improving the quantity and quality of social housing, doing something about the unconscionable poor value for money PFI contracts in the NHS, tackling at long last the failure of numerous success governments in tackling aggressive tax avoidance, not using austerity as an excuse to impose policy damaging the most vulnerable in society (such as welfare benefits for citizens who are physically disabled).
There is little real appetite to airbrush genuine serious inclusion problems in Labour which pre-date Corbyn. Unfortunately, some of the accusations of anti-semitism have been confused with genuine criticisms of the Netanyu government. It has been deeply unpleasant for people like me on Twitter, who are not anti-semitic at all, to be accused of being immoral for appearing to support Jeremy Corbyn.
Another “guilt by association” is the conflation of being a supporter of Corbyn with being a member of Momentum – and the meme that all members of Momentum are violent and aggressive Trots. Such high standards of guilt by association are not held, for example, for Thatcher and Pinochet, or certain people in Saudi Arabia Tony Blair has been photographed with with less than great records on human rights.
The ‘not one of us’ legitimises a reluctance to integrate with Jeremy Corbyn, meaning that there is little outward motivation it seems for the Labour parliamentary party to work with their leader. This is of course incredibly demoralising for people who have legitimately voted for Corbyn. Not all ‘entyists’ are people who know nothing about politics – many are indeed ‘returnists’ who have finally found a political philosophy they can agree with, from which they had felt disenfranchised.
For all the talk of Hilary Benn of winning, who has a vested interest in protecting the reputation of the policy of New Labour, there were serious flaws in policy in the New Labour era. One clear example is a target-driven culture, together with a rush to regulation and imposed financial constraints, which led to problems such as Mid Staffs, arguably. But there were others, such as disabled citizens feeling Rachel Reeves MP had very little interest in standing up for their interests. The decline of social care had become legitimised under New Labour, which is a massive problem as the NHS and social care operate in one ecosystem. This is all objectively captured in Labour progressively losing shares of the vote, even while ‘winning’. And the implosion in Scotland is undeniable.
The ‘not one of us’ narrative is incredibly pervasive. One of the attacks of Cameron, one of his more popular ones, was the report of his mum saying Corbyn’s choice of suit in #pmqs was unprofessional.
Corbyn yesterday was wearing a much more expensive suit, and Cameron was happy. It is uncertain what other personal sacrifices Corbyn has had to make to placate the mass media, like brushing the Queen’s hand when he became a Privy Councillor, nodding at a respectable inclination to the Queen, singing with gusto the National Anthem, and so on. These are not reasons to hate Corbyn – merely bully-boy excuses.
Margaret Hodge has repeatedly referred to the culture of ‘intimidation and bullying’ under Corbyn, and yet it is precisely a culture of intimidation and bullying demonstrated by Labour MPs touring TV studios trying to humiliate publicly Corbyn. They could spend more time doing their actual work.
All of this is a far cry from the murder of Jo Cox only recently. But for Hilary Benn ringing round collecting signatures of people who couldn’t work with Corbyn to relay to Corbyn in his face, Benn probably would not have been sacked. And the ludicrous situation would not have occurred where the NEC by only four votes allowed Corbyn to go automatically onto the ballot paper. It is pretty certain Corbyn will now win, with 171 parliamentary MPs having declared ‘no confidence’ in him. It is even more likely that he will win if the Eagle and Smith votes split the opposition. Owen Smith MP is not naturally attractive to core Labour voters because of his stance on NHS privatisation. Much core support for Labour has been lost of late in their lack of perceived defence of public services.
“The member of Parliament for Pontypridd, Owen Smith, has been outed as a supporter of greater private involvement in the NHS, only hours before his wife Liz Smith asks for the support of the people of Llantrisant in voting for her.”
“Prior to standing for election Owen Smith worked as a lobbyist for drugs firm Pfizer. During that time, Owen Smith called for more involvement of such private firms in the NHS. “We believe that choice is a good thing and that patients and healthcare professionals should be at the heart of developing the agenda,” he said on behalf of the firm.”
“Asked to explain why he sought public office whilst earning a six-figure sum from Pfizer, Owen Smith said Pfizer were “extremely supportive” of him seeking to enter Parliament. Speaking about the early-day motion to reduce the involvement of Pfizer in the NHS, Owen Smith added: “We (he and Pfizer) feel that their (other wholesalers’) campaign to mobilise opposition to our proposals is entirely motivated by commercial self-interest.“”
On PFI, Smith declares, “I’m not someone, frankly, who gets terribly wound up about some of the ideological nuances.” These ‘ideological nuances’ have instead caused much taxpayers’ money to leach out into the private sector at an unconscionable rate, stripping the NHS bare of money for frontline staff.
If it quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.
So – if the party is intensely relaxed about City-friendly policies, and the culture of the parliamentary party is fundamentally different to the membership, the logical conclusion is that the leaders for the overall party and the parliamentary party are not necessarily the same. But in a case of ‘who gets to keep the china’ in divorce proceedings, there is a legitimate question of whether Unions should sponsor MPs who are perceived to undermine the leadership.
“Representatives from the CWU Bristol branch, which has 3,000 members, voted unanimously to halt payments to all three MPs last Wednesday and the decision was ratified this week. Their plans were announced at a pro-Corbyn rally on June 29.
Wotherspoon said: “If someone wishes to stand against the leader there is a process for that – and there will be an election, which is entirely fair. We would expect Jeremy to be returned with an increased mandate.
“These MPs did not bother to meet with their local parties or supporting trade unions before getting involved in this failed coup, who would have overwhelmingly opposed such action.””
Be in no doubt – Corbyn is the victim of real toxic leadership from other Labour MPs and ‘media friends’ of theirs.
Whereas his critics are making much noise, Corbyn looks set to a peaceful ‘quiet revolutionary’.
But he will need to neutralise at least the vitriol of others aimed at others, like the very dangerous levels of nastiness at female MPs – from a class of misogynist terrorists. The very least is that he should expel them after due process from the Labour Party if at all connected. The stand on this has not been strong at all, giving the impression that Corbyn does not actually care (which is presumably not the case). Also, there has been very little in the way of detail for Corbyn’s policies as opposed to grandstanding on pretty unobjectionable socialist (but moderate) policies. Much of the fear that these policies are extremist I feel could be mitigated against if Corbyn had a crack team of intelligent policy people who could work out how to operationalise his strategy, for example on negotiating PFI or tackling aggressive tax avoidance. This does mean a universe more substantial than the leaders’ office, and possibly substantially more resourcing unless there has been a boom in Paul Mason post capitalism. Corbyn and McDonnell have made huge inroads in economic policy, despite some casualties, but health and social care would be a one to target next. Furthermore, it will be necessary to draw on existent work, including the anticipated work on #Brexit from May’s government and the civil service. If #Brexit is going to be the big issue in the next four years, there might NOT be much time, money or inclination to turn the UK into a socialist superstate nirvana anyway.
The situation is rather tragic actually, but, as someone who has voted Labour for the last 26 years for all of my adult life, I can say confidently it is all of the parliamentary Labour Party’s making. Just look to see the humiliation Corbyn had to go through with the NEC, when the rules were perfectly clear that he would be entitled automatically to be on the ballot.
I’ve lost count of the number of times when the UK Labour Party have stated ‘only 24 more hours to save the NHS’. As somebody who has always voted for Labour in fact since 1992, I take no pleasure in saying that Labour now must prove that the NHS is safe in its hands.
If you believe that the NHS is a cherished institution, or even a ‘sacred cow’, with massive public goodwill, it might seem strange that the Secretary of State for health, Jeremy Hunt MP, plays so fast and loose with junior doctors’ pay. A reason that Jeremy Corbyn MP, the current leader of the opposition and leader of the Labour Party, is so despised, apart from not turning up to gala rugby matches or singing the national anthem, is that he has effectively torn up the rule book. It’s no longer a case of ‘balancing the books’ – and let’s face it Osborne has been dramatically unsuccessful in even doing that – but it’s a case of making sure the customer doesn’t get ripped off from rail privatisation or has a decent living wage.
A favourite line of attack for Progress, the think tank which caters well for Labour believers who believe in modernity, is that ‘money does not grow on trees’. This is of course a full throated lie when you factor in that George Osborne himself got out the printing press recently, and did rather well out of it.
It has been convenient to misquote Liam Byrne MP as ‘there’s money left’ to perpetuate the idea of ‘living within your means’. That is except for the investment bankers who were not living within their means, and had to suffer the indignity of one trillion pound of a State bailout to help subsidise their lavish bonuses and more.
The austerity in the NHS is better known as ‘efficiency savings’, except here money is leaking like a sieve. The Conservative mantra that you need a successful economy is utterly fraudulent when you finally acknowledge that national debt since 2010 has gone through the roof. It also becomes hollowed out when you consider the high number of NHS foundation trusts running a deficit, because they have not been – take a deep breath – given enough money to run the NHS.
This was of course the biggest lie about the word ‘sustainability’ which many came to know as code as ‘we don’t want to afford it’. This means that it became a tough public choice that we didn’t want to afford the pay of nurses or junior doctors, but we could somehow afford the unconscionable loan repayments to the City for shiny new PFI buildings.
The lack of ability of Labour, like the Conservatives, to do something about the private finance debt, not just talk about it in a public accounts committee, is staggering. The current crisis in agency staffing could have been totally avoided with better planning.
Jeremy Corbyn wishes to give an apology for the Iraq War. But this is not the only apology that Labour needs to make over policy, although other apologies are less serious. For ages, Labour peddled the myth that quality between autonomous foundation trusts could be driven up through competition. To acquire ‘foundation trust status’, NHS hospitals had to reach targets, and even if NHS CEOs ultimately failed they could move onto other equally lucrative posts.
To make the financial books balance however, it is sadly the case the legacy was that some Trusts did not run their operations safely. The issue of lack of planning, in an unsocialist way, also is evident in the way in which Labour embraced independent sector treatment centres; the argument ‘to increase capacity to deal with demand’ was an entirely synthetic one, given that the NHS has been increasing significantly in demand since 1946.
So it is quite possible that the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Labour is a stop to ‘more of the same’. This entirely depends on how much Corbyn’s private views are tempered by his shadow cabinet, and Corbyn has tried to bring dissenters into his tent to manage the situation in the same way Abraham Lincoln had many years ago.
To give Burnham credit, there was the beginning of a discussion of bringing health and social care together. Such discussions have nonetheless failed to reconcile how an universal NHS system can be bolted onto a means-tested social care system. The relics of personal budgets, which also have been identified as a practical way of devolving cuts and rationing, continue in policy, and have been furthered rather than extinguished by recent legislation.
Labour itself did much to wreck social care with privatisation, and, whilst we have had relentless cuts in social care funding in recent years which have also affected the way in which the NHS works, the problems started a long time before 2010. But Labour has for me much to prove on the NHS. It’s a long time since ‘the spirit of 45′, but Labour cannot just function as a shrill shroud waving protest party. It needs to have, at last, a sensible debate about all these matters which have been festering for far too long.
My decision to vote for Jeremy Corbyn was not easy. I have learnt to desensitise myself from the hyperbolic shrill of Twitter, and the numbskull hashtag bandwagon campaigns.
First of all, I am mindful that voting for Jeremy Corbyn will be seen by some as a betrayal of the legacy of the Labour Party having made itself electable in the turbulent years in the since the mid 1980s. I should not go so far as to say ‘a pig with lipstick’ could have won the 1997 general election, but I do agree with a sentiment expressed in Liz Kendall’s final speech that Labour did not really have an adequate discussion of what it stands for for a very long time. Whether you agree it or not, there is a perception that Labour to get itself elected is ‘Tory Lite’. This is perceived as huge insult to those who believe in the policies which swept Tony Blair to power in 1997 by some. But it is the reluctance of those same people to ignore how ineffective we have become in opposition which truly worries me.
Get this. I am physically disabled, and I had to apply three times including a tribunal in Grays Inn Road to get my disability living allowance restored. I found my experience with welfare benefits traumatic, but this cannot have been said to be anywhere as traumatic as those people who took their own lives. Like the MP who spoke elegantly in the debate on assisted dying yesterday, I am loath to say ‘commit suicide’ in the linguistic conflation with the criminal law, such as ‘commit manslaughter’ or ‘commit murder’. I cannot think it is necessary for you to be physically disabled to understand the mental pain which has been brought about by the welfare reforms. but it sometimes feels like it.
When three of the candidates abstained on the welfare reform bill, it really was a massive kick in the groin for me. If anything, Andy Burnham’s explanation of the ‘reasoned amendment’ made it a million times worse. I am not a subscriber to Len McCluskey and UNITE but I felt more than a smidgeon of sympathy when he said he felt like sending Harriet Harman MP the dictionary definition of “opposition”. This single vote was a game changer for me. I had to look very hard to support Andy thereafter. I think his idea to bring together health and social care is much overdue. The reason for this is that the problems in the social care system have a direct effect on the operations of the NHS. But it cannot be ignored by me that Labour did much to bring about the mess of privatisation of social services either. I do not agree with the Foundation Trust policy, introduced by New Labour, as it is my perception that there are NHS Trusts, such as Mid Staffs and Morecambe Bay, which were more interested in their Foundation Trust status than their record on patient safety, and the ability of the clinical regulators to bring anyone to account for clear misfeasance is woefully inadequate. Foundation Trusts, and what has happened, a high proportion of Trusts in deficit in a market gone wrong, is not a legacy of New Labour I can agree with. I am sorry to lay this at the door of Andy Burnham partly, and I would not have minded had it not been for his stance on the private finance initiative (PFI). Andy uses PFI to argue that Labour mended the roof while the sun was shining, but it is shockingly and absorbingly transparently the case that the loan repayments have been unconsionably poor value, as admitted by Margaret Hodges’ committee, something has to be done about it fast. The fact that there are City traders who trade in equity in PFI tells you something about the machinery New Labour put in place over the NHS.
Jeremy Corbyn spoke to my values. I get the fact that he is very old (but that surely should not be a problem unless you are profoundly ageist which I am not?) I think the fact that he disagrees with PFI is a factor, but so is the idea that you invest in people. I remain aghast at how many people seem to think that nurses pay is a trivial idea, mainly from people who have never done had a hard day’s work in the NHS ever. But let me tell you one thing which is very important – nurses’ mental welfare is very important, and rewarding nurses for their difficult job is a step towards that, more useful than yoga classes or whatever the latest out of touch managerial initiative from NHS England is. I think also it IS a problem that Russian oligarchs can buy up new builds in London, and Boris Johnson for example is prepared promote that, at the expense of shoving up house prices in London making social housing in London unaffordable for many. The Blair Twelve, for all their verbal masturbation about how disastrous a Corbyn government will be, have never offered anything constructive on social housing. This is not an issue of “Blairite vs Brownite” for me, it just happens that the abuse from some of those people who have been classified as Blairite has been for me completely unacceptable. Likewise, I think the abuse that Liz Kendall has received is simply disgusting, on account of her standing up for her opinions legitimately.
Economists disagree. I know a reasonable amount of economics, to the point I came top in economics in my own MBA. I think the way people have dismissed a ‘people’s QE’ out of hand distresses me, as it shows that they are more driven by securing their own ideology than potentially helping others in society. It does distress me even more that we have continued with the destruction of delivery of legal aid as we “cannot afford it”. Remember – Sadiq Khan MP, newly elected Labour Mayor candidate – was unable to pledge the reversal of cuts to legal aid when Shadow Justice Minister. And so it goes on. There’s a Labour refusal to say that the £20n efficiency savings, now £30bn, is now unworkable because of the desperate need to hang onto austerity. I have found Yvette speaking too much ‘shrill’ in the debates, and, apart from her interesting anecdote about her Haribos factory, I have found her uniquely uninspiring in the debates. Cooper for example had nothing of interest for me to say on the NHS or social care. And we do know that austerity has failed in numerous jurisdictions – Osborne’s own plans for austerity have failed numerous times, as our national debt has exploded far more than under Labour. Cooper may want to reduce the ‘people’s QE’ as ‘PFI on steroids’ but the way in which Labour implemented QE was itself ‘on steroids’. As Jeremy Corbyn rightly points out, signing up to the Conservatives’ economic plan in 1997 meant us signing up to PFI at the time, and a huge number of contracts were introduced under Labour (even thougjh the Major tenure originally introduced it in 1993).
I think Jeremy Corbyn is a good speaker. He is a Facebook friend. Sure, I ‘get’ the concerns about him potentially leaving NATO and wider foreign policy, but I note that he has never said recently he will definitely leave NATO. For me, he has spoken much sense on the refugee crisis. I expect his Shadow Cabinet to be kept in check by a strong Shadow Foreign Secretary, as I think Hilary Benn MP might be. I as it happens feel that Angela Eagle MP would make an excellent Shadow Chancellor. It’s clear that Scotland rejected Labour. I think the SNP is nationalist rather than socialist, and will do anything to further their nationalist ambitions. But I do think Corbyn does have a chance in speaking to disaffected Labour voters who voted SNP or UKIP recently. I think Corbyn is far from perfect, but he himself has urged the need for a united party, where policy is going to be driven by the grassroots. One of my own personal unpleasant experiences was in the Socialist Health Association where I felt it was impossible to have your contributions valued despite the wealth of experience you can bring. I have no truck with this method of working from the SHA, and I think the whole Labour machine has been like that.
I would like to give Jeremy Corbyn a chance. I am genuinely sorry to those of you who will feel offended by this.
And so, as Mahatma Gandhi said once, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
I remember watching the BBC Newsnight Labour leadership hustings when they first happened, quite some time ago. I recall Jeremy Corbyn MP being introduced derisively as the old candidate who’d only just managed to make it onto the ballot sheet. And yet as I listened to Jeremy’s responses it became clear to me that his answers were addressing that significant electorate; those people who felt totally disenfranchised by Labour in the last ten years.
The odd thing about ‘choice’, so exuberantly espoused by both the Conservatives and Labour Party, in recent years is that you come in for rather heavy abuse, some of it of a rather personal nature, if your choice disagrees with someone else. I really can’t rationalise how Tony Blair came to think it was acceptable to state that if your heart is with Jeremy Corbyn you need a heart transplant. But as the campaign has progressed, things have been increasingly desperate. Every man and his dog from New Labour, including Alastair Campbell and David Blunkett, have been wheeled out to deride Corbyn. I am particularly puzzled how David Blunkett came to think he could produce the deal maker for the Blair era, when he has been happy being paid as an advisor on corporate social responsibility for the Murdoch operations.
That the main Union leaders wish to support Corbyn does not surprise me. That Keynesian heavyweight Lord Skidelsky has produced a coherent argument to explain why ‘Corbynomics‘ is not as extreme as some present does not surprise me either. That serious heavyweights in economics wish to lend their support to Corbynomics is not a shock, in addition. This was to be expected with the huge social movement which accompanied the work of Prof Kate Pickett and Prof Richard Wilkinson, for example “The Spirit Level”.
What I was seriously caught out by is how wise leading commentators, particularly at the Guardian, were so keen to sneer at Corbyn. I can understand the thing about not wanting to jump on the bandwagon, but their position was totally untenable. There was little attempt to engage with the actual policies, or to query why so many members of the general public had engaged in what was patently more than a mass hysteria ‘Corbynmania’. This does disappoint me, as some of the commentariat included bright people, sympathetic to the aims of New Labour and the Blair governments, who really could not meet half way with Corbyn.
If it happens that Jeremy Corbyn wins, and let’s face it the polls have been wrong before, I am hoping that members of Labour will pull ranks to help Corbyn. I as it happens have voted in this election, as I was entitled to as a Labour member. Not being offensive, but it might have helped that I haven’t left tweets and Facebook posts banging on about how wonderful the Greens are.
Rupert Murdoch commented in a tweet that Murdoch seems to be the only one who seems to be very clear about what he stands for. Corbyn has had plenty of time to rehearse the arguments in the front of the bathroom mirror, but I dare say he has thought exactly why he felt unable to support tuition fees, Iraq, or the private finance initiative, even having been elected on the same ‘disastrous’ Michael Foot manifesto which first saw him elected together with Tony Blair.
The arguments are very well worn. If there is money for war, why is there no money for social care? The criticism should not be why Corbyn is able to go over the same territory as the 1980s politically, but why these arguments have particular traction now. It is simply the case that the opposition from Labour has been unacceptably weak on the destruction of social care, which is a calamity in itself, but also disastrous from the perspective of how the National Health Service functions.
Repeated apologies for misdemeanours and misfeasance from the past have their place, but only if correct and authentic. The candidates for the Labour leadership have clearly been unable to settle with united voice on the actual reason Labour should be criticised; despite ambitious spending on public services (such as Sure Start or the infrastructure of hospitals), it was unable to regulate the City of London stringently enough. It happens that the Conservatives agreed with this light-touch regulation, and levels of public spending too, but that is not really the point as they were neither in office nor in government at the time.
Labour has never ‘apologised’ for the Iraq War, despite the sequelae, presumably on the basis that it feels it has nothing to apologise for. But there were screw ups in decisions from Labour. Many in the general public find it inconceivable that the Labour leadership, apart from Jeremy Corbyn, aren’t making more of a noise about the destruction of the Independent Living Fund; and abstaining on the welfare reform bill is testament to how some feel there is no alternative to austerity.
Currently a large proportion of NHS Foundation Trusts are in deficit. Many feel that some Trusts, in chasing targets and wanting to become Foundation Trusts, became extremely dangerous from a patient safety perspective, and this legacy from New Labour must not go unchallenged either. Whether or not Jeremy Corbyn can actually win in 2020 is in a way irrelevant to the huge strides forward in re-establishing socialist principles back on the political map. It could indeed be the case that Sir Keir Starmer QC MP is parachuted in just before the 2020 general election, but the ‘political left’ should not by this stage feel disappointed about their progress here. This progress might not have been what Progress wanted, but giving disenfranchised people a voice is a meritorious goal too.
And he might even win with the clarity of his arguments, even if you disagree with them. So get over it.
I must admit that I was taken aback when Gordon Brown quoted a former ‘successful’ Labour Prime Minister thus, “And, in Harold Wilson’s words, Labour is “a moral crusade or it is nothing”. I wasn’t so much amazed that Brown had decided to name drop a Labour Prime Minister who was well known for making policy up on the hoof, and possibly more into style than substance, but the fact that Brown had quoted one of Tony Benn’s favourite quotes ‘of Harold’. To understand the general approach of Jeremy Corbyn, you could do no worse possibly than to watch the film ‘Last Will and Testament’, where like Brown, Benn sets out the historical events which have inspired his quest for social justice. Brown’s penultimate line of conclusion was “And follow what Bevan called that decent instinct to do something that will help the lives of people most in need”, but I think that it is through looking that through this prism you can begin to understand the pain at the lack of efficacy of Labour’s so-called ‘opposition’. For example, Labour has never committed to reversing the destruction of the English legal aid system and the network of English law centres, claiming that such plans would not be possible given austerity. Austerity itself is the reason the NHS is being driven to do ‘more for less’, except the whole world and his dog knows that hospitals get by with the basic of staff on on-call cover, and idea of stretching out existing resources into a seven day way is laughable for most professionals within the service. It is therefore easy for me to understand the immediate popularity of Jeremy Corbyn; that he is defying the neoliberal doctrine, ‘there is no alternative’, with an alternative to austerity. This indeed is not an unelectable formula – look at Scotland (even though one can rightly moot whether SNP policies as actually legislated are particularly left wing). One can argue about whether Corbynomics will work, but the sheer defiance of the ‘there is no money tree’ with quantitative easing is worth raising an eyebrow at least. I have no idea whether Corbynomics is pro-inflationary, but then again no one else unless he or she happens to be an astrologer.
I went up to the Labour Party Conference in 2010 in Manchester. I got to Manchester Piccadilly precisely at the time that they were announcing the Labour Party’s new leader – who was Ed Miliband. Ed Miliband had defied the critics, and had come from nowhere to ‘seal the deal’. This was to much happiness of those who at that stage hated the Blairite wing of the party. I as such do not hate Blairism in the same way that I do not hate any corporates. I do not see Blairism as a social movement, but as a group of some extremely bright people but also some rather sanctimonious disparate people who can see no wrong in Tony Blair. I think many people use Chilcot as an excuse to hate Blair personally rather than a reason, but then again whether the UK went into war legally is a serious issue. I was greeted accidentally by Michael Meacher MP as I entered the ground floor of a pub in 2010 for the Socialist Societies meeting. I asked Michael if he was happy at Ed Miliband’s election: he said, “Not happy – ecstatic.” But he then added, “We’ve got our party back.” And I was to hear this phrase often during conference. And yet he struck me for the remainder of his term as leader that Ed Miliband was never a socialist, but a social democrat. That’s why I thought that the attacks of Red Ed were deeply fraudulent – but clearly not as ridiculous as the bacon butty jibes. When Gordon Brown referred continually to ‘Labour values’, this inevitably was a ‘fist pump’ moment for many, but it is essential to deconstruct whether Labour values, as espoused say by Keir Hardie, have been at the heart of the private finance initiative, where you end up paying for state assets through unconscionable loan agreements, or whether it is particularly Labour values to flog off the State’s infrastructure which you’ve invested in for decades. Lord Mandelson was one of the principal architects of the Royal Mail privatisation, so was it really possible for Labour to ‘oppose’ this when the time came? Is it a Labour value to remain relatively supine about the relative lack of nurses’ wages for many?
What has been incredible for me has been the sheer vitriol aimed at Jeremy Corbyn MP. Representing a different part of North London to the one I’m in, I ‘get’ his views on social housing. When you consider that the Mayor of London, currently Boris Johnson, does not have qualms about selling ‘new buys’ in Paris, making property prices unaffordable for residents of London, you get his point. When you also realise that without any forms of rent controls, landlords are regularly receiving state subsidy to provide accommodation at a huge profit, you see where Corbyn is coming from. However, there are substantial problems with Corbyn’s pitch in various areas, such as possibly exiting NATO. I remain unconvinced whether he really wants the Labour Party to stay in Europe. We all know his ‘friend and mentor’, as indeed he has called him himself, Tony Benn said ‘No Non Nein’ in the original EU referendum. Benn’s socialist reasoning was that he didn’t want everything to be run from unelected people in Brussels, which saw his logical reasoning go into an unholy alliance with the late Enoch Powell’s. But there is a substantial grouping within the Labour Party who do not see Europe as the great competitive nirvana that multinational corporates espousing free movement of capital and labour can do. They see it as a body which does not protect adequately workers’ rights. Corbyn may wish to take the EU negotiations from first principles with Labour. The attack on Labour during the Scottish referendum was that it was indistinguishable from the Tories – the scope for history repeating itself with the EU referendum is there too.
Harriet Harman MP was adamant that Labour should not be opposing for opposing’s sake, and that Labour had to have a moral drive and logic to its opposition. And yet it is Labour which perpetually gives the impression of being utterly toothless and taking it regardless. Its response to the Budget was pretty unmemorable, apart from Chris Leslie for all the wrong reasons. Andy Burnham MP somehow seems to arrived at losing from the clutches of victory, in no way helped by Harman’s stance on the Welfare Reform Bill. Burnham in ‘abstaining’ instead of giving an impression of firm opposition in the form of a ‘reasoned amendment’ which accounted for ‘collective responsibility’ looked instead as if he didn’t give a shit about the devastating effect of welfare cuts, including for the disabled community. Prof Germaine Greer in BBC’s Any Questions unsurprisingly therefore arrived at the conclusion that she expected HM’s ‘Loyal Opposition’ to oppose. There is clearly a feeling now that Labour should not oppose in a long-winged convoluted fashion. It is pretty hard to escape the conclusion that if you want to afford the NHS (not fraudulently articulated fraudulently in neoliberal language as ‘unsustainable’), you have to be willing to pay for it through general taxation. And yet Andy Burnham wants to set up a ‘Beveridge style Commission’ to arrive at this answer. His reasoning for this was presumably because his cherished National Health and Care Service, a great idea which would do much to make a ‘parity a reality’ (one of Burnham’s slogans before he railed against slogans), did not receive its democratic mandate. But there are vast swathes of NHS policy which seemingly do not operate on the basis of a democratic mandate, take for example the suggestion from McKinsey’s of £2 bn or so efficiency savings, or PFI. TTIP is yet another policy arm which, to give him credit, Burnham has been to Europe to oppose. Labour was not in government during the negotiations, but there is a general feeling that Labour did much to put in place the market infrastructure which made subsequent privatisation of NHS relatively easy.
(Cartoon by @BarkerCartoons)
As for Gordon Brown’s ‘Labour values’. where was tub thumbing Brown given the precipitous and disastrous privatisation of social care? It is a honest and settled view of many that social care funding is now on its knee, having not been ring fenced for the last few years. This simple fact makes Cameron’s view that England is the best place to live with dementia frankly delusional. A lot of reasoning behind Labour’s stance has been that it’s been ‘austerity lite’. Whilst socialism does need lots of money to succeed, or as the critics say ‘someone else’s money’, the state infrastructure does need a modicum of investment – even if the return of the investment is later to the City of London, as will inevitably occur when CrossRail or HS3 are flogged off. Tuition fees is another golden example of where a universal right to higher education has been marred with a requirement of an ability to pay. They say that somebody can easily land himself or herself a £60K debt bill at the end of university education, and I can well believe that. I am grateful for my university education, but equally I understand that university education is not the ‘be all and end all’ (for example we might wish to extend legal apprenticeships). I don’t like the A level system, as it’s my opinion it reflects more how well you’ve been taught than anything else, but there is so much mileage to be gained from my ‘I wouldn’t start from here’ arguments.
I do not happen to agree with the ‘savage’ attacks from the BBC in framing Gordon Brown’s speech as a devastating attack on Jeremy Corbyn MP. For example, Brown quoted Mandela in reference to the notion of the need for hope especially after years ‘in the wilderness’. My interpretation of what Brown was trying to say, albeit with a twang of ‘Don’t blame me if it all goes horribly wrong’, was that any Labour leader must receive the popular vote to get elected in the first place; but once elected it will require a huge effort from all sides to make Government work. I think this is particularly the case for Jeremy Corbyn. At one level, the popularity for him is not the same as left populism, it might be argued, and that the echo chamber Corbynmania and packed out lecture halls are not representative of the Labour voting public at large. We’ve been there before with a heightened sense of optimism, for example Milifandom. You don’t have to go far back in time to get constructive knowledge of polls which have been totally wrong – it could be all the ‘hard entryists’ into Labour do not vote for Corbyn at all, though I have no idea what a million Toby Youngs or Dan Hodges are like. There is a huge risk that Labour is about to enter an extended period of mockery, but you have to remember that Labour had relatively little hope of winning 2020 in any form anyway. Tony Blair is to blame in my opinion definitely for not having done the ‘succession planning’ properly; or you can argue that he is in fact an incredibly successful politician for having pulled the ladder up from underneath him. I think Blair has left in many areas a very formidable legacy as a social democrat, for example LBGT equality, public services reform, devolution, national minimum wage, but the essential problem with all of these policy planks is that we remain utterly clueless about the destination of travel. But the same can be said of Gaitskell or Wilson. But not Attlee – and therein lies some of the trouble. And as Nye Bevan said, “It’s not where you’ve come from, it’s where you’re going to” – or “If you remain in the middle of the road, you’re bound to get runover.”
Islington Law Centre, Islington People’s Rights and Islington CAB, organised a “Justice for All” open morning at the Islington Law Centre on Friday 3rd June 2011. Students from the BPP Law School were strongly represented at the meeting, particularly the BPP Pro Bono Unit. Jeremy Corbyn, MP for North Islington, whose appointment to the Commons Select Committee has been widely praised is pictured here (on the left), with @legalaware from the BPP Legal Awareness Society, based at the BPP Business School (middle).
At worst, the reforms represent the end of legal aid for social welfare law. The Law Centre is paid for by legal aid, and grants locally. However, in large city areas such as Birmingham and Glasgow, there will be many people who will not have access to legal aid.
Jeremy Corbyn MP (furthest right) and Cllr Catherine West (middle), the Leader of Islington Council, were invited, and attended as, the main speakers at this event by Ruth Hayes, Director of Islington Law Centre (furthest left). The meeting was to discuss concern the deep concern that the Government’s proposals for legal aid will deny hundreds of thousands of people access to justice. This event was a chance to find out more about current legal advice provision in Islington, understand what the Government’s proposals would mean for low income Islington residents, and add your voice to the campaign. The event targeted primarily at an audience of staff, volunteers and members in community organisations and other front line agencies, whose own service users may rely on legal aid to find out about and exercise their legal rights. Cllr West provided that councillors have a vital role in explaining access to legal services, which can feed into making legal policy in the Council. Catherine emphasized that this reinforces a community culture.
Jeremy has always been a strong advocate of putting the case for Parliament. He felt that it is very important to change the debate from a pressure by the legal profession, into pressure by people who are worried about access to justice. Jeremy emphasised that we are currently in the midst of the Consultation on legal aid, and he personally is involved now in the Select Committee for Justice, as stated above. He said a big thank you to Islington Council for opening the Islington Law Centre in Upper Street. There is no competition in provision of legal aids, but there is a desperate need for support and advice. All of the stakeholders appear to be co-ordinating legal information effectively.
In his short thesis, he wished to expose a few myths. The national budget for legal aid is about £2bn, which is not much compared to a nuclear missile. The Government is trying to cut £350mn from there, which is a substantial cut. They happily claim that barristers and solicitors are paid a huge amount on legal aid, because of the “greed of the legal profession”. Some barristers do command high fees in the High Court, and there is a very small number of high profile cases. However, legal aid does support a lot of law centres nationally; and many law centres have ceased to function. Claimants are now lost in the system, because a number of law companies have disappeared. There is a lot of work being done on minimal money.
According to Jeremy, the Government also argues that more can be done through mediation. Jeremy believes that this is difficult – for example, in a contentious immigration case, legal aid can be applied for in relation to detention aspects. Jeremy believes that this is dealing with the symptoms, not the issue. Every case of disability living allowance is being analysed in an aggressive way; about two-thirds, however, are successful on appeal. This does not appear like a sensible use of public money, as the process is very traumatic. Finally, the Government also puts great store on mediation of ‘solved problems’; however, mediation does not often work, and is a “pipe dream”. You need good quality legal representation in certain cases of family aid. Legal aid provides the basis of doing that. That is why Jeremy is angry about the criticisms on the basis of cost. Legal aid can be considered as the ‘fourth pillar’ of the welfare state, and has to be paid for. Access to justice should be available to all, not just those who can afford it. The Government has had to delay the closing date on the consultation, because of the sheer volume of consultation reports. Jeremy will be arguing as central to the Commons Justice Select Committee that access to justice is very important, not just large corporations.
There is a petition, to be closed before next week. Jeremy advised the submission of the large numbers of petitions early next week, perhaps with a hand-in to the Ministry of Justice within ten days.
The Islington Law Centre will be celebrating its 40 years’ anniversary shortly, and offers a full range of legal services in ‘social law’, including education law, employment law, housing, law, immigration and asylum law, and welfare benefits law . The Law Centre offers a range of provisions, including initial advice, appeals and representations in higher courts. It has an open-door policy, and does not charge clients for its services. Three days a week the clinics are staffed by City law firms. The City law firms have urged the need for such volunteering activity to continue. The BPP Law School pro bono has been heavily involved in such work. A range of services could be threatened, however. The future could mean that there could be no welfare benefits service at all, and without legal aid there will not be opportunities for claimants. Similarly, the volume of debt cases is massive, and there will not be legal aid work available unless a claimant’s home is at risk; this will create huge strains for people. Employment law means that claimants often do not have access to large trade unions, often in small businesses with complex conditions. In education law services, some families report that the young people were so distressed, that they were actually suicidal. Such law work was held on Saturday, as a result of people who were now working, because they had re-integrated into society. The scope for housing law is limited, meaning that a lot of agencies will not survive. Immigration is a real concern in Islington, including the loss of representation by some firms such as Fisher Meredith. Asylum cases will still be in scope.
There will be a ‘telephone gateway’ to access to legal aid, problematic for people with insufficient credit, or have communication difficulties as a result of disability. It is the intention that about 75% legal aid cases will be dealt with by phone, taking away the genuine community component of legal aid. A lot of cases are multi-factorial, e.g. housing, debt and immigration, making such telephone consultations sub-optimal. A national phone service makes no use of local knowledge, diluting the effect of local specialist knowledge which can offer detailed, excellent, practical local support. A telephone service, in summary, is therefore iniquitous. It turns out the Equality and Human Rights Commission are seeking to implement a telephone advice, which is impossible for complex cases, particularly for claimants with communication difficulties. Jeremy represented the situation as a recipe for disaster, and needs to be properly supported as appropriate, for example with translation services.
“Islington’s People’s Rights” does offer an outreach service. The majority of welfare benefits work involves outreach, in mental health, disability, addiction, and other vulnerabilities. The changes proposed in legal aid will have a huge impact. A lot of claimants are going through an assessment, often at first stage, but increasingly at second stage, following appeal (despite failing at assessment despite a strong case). The impact of legal aid ceasing for welfare benefits and debt will have a devastating effect on that client group, and cannot be underestimated. If you are losing your home under 30, you might escape this lack of scope. Certainly, people are not optimistic about the effect of the reforms on the work with vulnerable members of the community. The need for services continues to get greater,
Lorna Reid, Welfare Benefits Advisor in the Islington Law Centre, drew special attention to the phrase, “undeserving poor” against, say, people with serious vulnerabilities such as medical addiction problems. Islington Law Centre currently has a success rate in turning over 80% of cases on appeal, and there is an increase in jobseekers’ allowance. A vast number of families are being pushed below the poverty line, people who cannot keep up with their debts, and their health suffers. The Council has run a successful form-filling clinic; 78 of 182 people had their claims were followed-up, and satisfied on the first claim (each claim takes about three hours). Without that additional help, there is no ‘form filling’ clinic. The demonisation of the poor in terms of language used by Iain Duncan Smith, e.g “lifestyle choice” is considered by Jeremy as ‘deeply offensive, rubbish and nonsense’; poorer people, who are trying to do their best in life, should be allowed to be demonised.
The author would like Jennifer Ball, from the Law Centres Federation, who has been pivotal in inspiring him about the importance of pro bono publico.