Monday, 31 October 2011

Knee-jerk idiocy from the Church of England

Today I had a rather horrible experience. On my commute to work, I popped into a newsagents to buy a muffin (I forgot to have breakfast). But in there, I had the misfortune to glance at the headline of the Daily Mail:


What this story is about is the apparent intent by the Church of England to threaten Internet Service Providers to withdraw its multi million pound investment in the industry unless they clamp down on internet pornography. Now, aside from the fact that it seems odd for an organisation to be planning to end multi million pound (out of over £4 billion od assests) investments while at the same time moaning because of protesters outside St Paul's costing it £20,00 a day from it's gift shop, this is a very dangerous story.

It is dangerous for a multitude of reasons. First of all, the Church of England has now business attempting to force its own version of morality on the population. We have a secular state and the Church has no right to try and force 60 million people, most of whom aren't Anglicans, to conform to the narrow views of morality held by a few old bishops.

That alone would be enough to make me outraged at this.

But beyond that, what's also outrageous is what's said in the third paragraph of the article:

"Concern over the easy availability of vile images which demean women and corrupt the young has intensified following the disclosure that Jo Yeates’s killer Vincent Tabak was obsessed with websites showing sexual violence, bondage and strangulation."
Well let me just tell you a few things about "sexual violence, bondage and strangulation" porn. Pornography of this sort is mainly related to the Bondage Domination and Sado-Masochism (BDSM) community.

And, far from "demeaning women and corrupting the young", BDSM porn is probably about as sexually healthy as is possible to get.

You see, some people enjoy receiving sexual violence, or bondage, or mild strangulation, or some or all of them. And some people enjoy dispensing the same. In short, it's something that happens between consenting adults.

And, because BDSM often involves one person having control over the other, the BDSM community focuses incredibly strongly on what is referred to as "safe, sane and consensual". That means that before people engage in BDSM activities there is an inordinate amount of time spent on making sure that the activites do not cause any harm beyond what all parties are comfortable with and that they will not put anyone's life at risk, on making sure that what's happening is "sane", meaning that nothing will occur which has the potential to go too far, and that everyone involved consents fully. As part of this, a safe word is often used, meaning that the recipient can end the scene at any time that they become uncomfortable.

There's also a big focus on "after-care" to make sure that those receiving the sexual violence are okay afterwards.

This same approach extends to BDSM porn. I'm not going to ask you to go and watch it, but if you did you would find that BDSM porn usually involves the "actors" talking to each other before hand to establish boundaries and invariably has a section after the sexual activities after the actors have got cleaned up where they discuss what has happened and make sure that the recipient was happy with it.

Now, compare this to what BDSM people refer to as "vanilla" (e.g. non-BDSM sexual activity). A lot of vanilla porn will show women (or men) being tricked or blackmailed into sex. This might be an act but there's nothing to let the audience know that it's staged. Or compare it to two random strangers meeting in a club, getting plastered on alcohol and then going somewhere to have drink-fuelled sex when neither of them are really in a position to consent properly and where both might regret it in the morning.

In my opinion, it's the latter activities that are more likely to cause harm and lead to the demeaning of  women. BDSM is about activities enjoyed by all parties involved and which all parties involved have fully consented to. That's far more healthy and responsible than the kind of vanilla activities and regular porn that the Daily Mail presumably has no problem with.

But, aside from that, there are two other things to bear in mind. First of all, lots of people watch porn as part of a healthy sex life and don't go out and rape or murder people. Video games don't make people violent, listening to Marilyn Manson doesn't turn people into murderers and porn doesn't make people like Tabak commit murder. Nutter kill people, porn doesn't.

The other thing is that gay people spent decades fighting not to be descriminated against because of their sexuality. The fight is mostly won now (though problems still abound) but what does it say about our society of we allow one of our national institutions and a major newspaper to call for discrimination against other people because of their sexuality?

It's fucking simple. What happens between consenting adults is their own business. If you want to interfere simply because you disapprove then you belong back in the medieval era with the Spanish Inquisition. That the Church of England is taking this attitude just proves that it's still a medieval organisation with medieval values and has no relevance to modern Britain. I now sincerely hope it hurries up and dies out so that people can finally be free from it's meddling. Priests may have the right to tell people how they should live their lives but they will NEVER have the right to force people to do as they want.

If they procede with this idiotic idea then they are effectively declaring war on the liberal, tolerant society we have become. This is the 21st century. Mary Whitehouse clones have no place here. And, if they insist on proceding with this, then they will have a fight on their hands. Too many people suffered to stop the Church controlling our lives and I at least refuse to let their struggle be in vain.

Friday, 28 October 2011

An email that shames this government

I recently was forwarded this email by a long term ill person who recently went through yet another assessment for Employment Support Allowance. This is what he wrote to his MP. It is well worth reading and I ask you to share this with as many people as possible. People need to know what is happening.


Dear [redacted],

DWP has today surpassed itself and I am not sure which of the two emotions above will prevail. I have never felt so impotent, persecuted and depressed in all my life.

I will write to you more fully when I feel a little better, but there is one thing I would like your help with as urgently as possible. It relates to the part of a WCA that looks at walking, or mobility as it is now called.

Quite understandably the terminology has changed and I would hate to think that in the past wheelchair users had been written off because they could not walk. I don ‘t think this has been the case, but just as well to clarify anyway. Quite right, by and large, that people’s mobility is assessed against what for them can be regarded as “normal”. However, with me (and presumably thousands of others) this philosophy has been extended to an unbelievable extent. What I will describe next is from a conversation I had today with a Decision Maker (not the one who had decided for me) at the Wellingborough BDC in Birmingham. 

My mobility was assessed as unrestricted and I was awarded no points on this descriptor as “none of the above apply” (see attachment). In reality (as I noted on my questionnaire and explained at the WCA) I cannot walk even with my stick for more than 20/30 metres without a lot of pain and having to rest. However, as I now understand, the assessment was made from my ability to mobilise IN A WHEELCHAIR, even though I do not use one. The decision-maker decided that I could propel myself more than 200m in a wheelchair (if I had one). I asked about a chap who had no legs and was in continual pain, but had strong arms and the DM said that they would get no points too.

So, I asked him, am I better able to work in a wheelchair than without one? Somewhat awkwardly he had to admit yes. I pointed out that nobody, including the Atos HCP, had suggested I’d be better off in a wheelchair – GP, nurses, surgeon, consultant, physiotherapist etc – none of them. Another awkward silence.

I then asked about the 200m – even in a wheelchair, where was the evidence I could cover over 200m rather than say 100m or 50 m? His answer was that I can drive. When I asked him to explain, he said (almost verbatim) that if someone is able to turn a car steering wheel, in his opinion, they can also propel themselves over 200m in a wheelchair.

I then asked where in the DM’s manual it validated this connection. I asked this because I know that if you admit to going to a supermarket, DMs assume you can walk unaided without resting and without pain for 800m. (By now you will think I am making this up, but believe me it is absolutely true). He acknowledged the manual did not mention this point, it was just his opinion which he could not substantiate but thought it was abundantly obvious and fair.

I then asked if all of the other DMs held the same view and he did not know – some might, some might not. I then pointed out that this makes decision making rather subjective if not haphazard which was very unfair to claimants. He admitted the whole process is (of course) subjective and what else did I expect. However, they are all very experienced and always make the right decision.

So my main priority now is to get a wheelchair as I will then be more able to get a job. I have started the ball rolling which begins apparently with a referral from my GP to Social Services. I will feel a bit guilty about this as I am sure there are people far more needy than me. There is a wheelchair assessment process and god forbid I fail it otherwise I really will be in Catch 22.

I also need to think about all of the adaptations necessary to my car, home etc. to accommodate my new wheelchair. There are bound to be assessment criteria so again I hope I pass or I will have to fund it all myself.

I am actually quite annoyed with the NHS experts for not having identified this beneficial solution sooner and I plan to complain about their negligence to my PCT, although I will have to be quick because it is soon to be dissolved.

We then moved on to discuss the sitting/standing descriptor where I also score zero. After a short discussion, he acknowledged that 9 points might have been awarded, but as I still didn’t make 15, it was academic.

Although this is riddled with bias and false assumptions, it largely hinges on the interpretation of the top line of the attachment (in orange). He is saying that if there is nothing to stop me using a wheelchair (not having one doesn’t count) I could use one. The WCA manual refers to “Those individuals that use a wheelchair”, but nowhere suggests that wheelchair criteria should be used for non-wheelchair claimants.

There is no instant process of correction so I will find myself in the Tribunal Service queue for the next 6 – 9 months with absolutely no form of redress. Is this really what the Tory party is aiming for?

Remember, this is on top of the unilateral declaration that the workplace no longer requires bending or kneeling. I think a fairly clear pattern is emerging.

Please get back to me as soon as you can – I don’t want to wait the usual 4 weeks. Thank you.

Regards
[redacted]

PS I have the name of the chap I spoke to. He would only give me surname not even initial – said he didn’t have to. When I pointed out he knew somewhat more about me, in a very condescending and disapproving tone, he reminded me that it was me being paid benefit, not him. Up to this point I thought he had been to a small degree sympathetic over my predicament, but clearly I was just another benefits scrounger. So much for the support that Chris Grayling has promised! All I can do now is make this persecution as widely known as possible

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

More destructive idiocy from the DWP

Various disability organisations and blogs are reporting the disturbing news that the DWP is apparently considering reducing Employment Support Allowance payments (the main form of support for sick and disabled people) while claimants are appealing their assessment decisions.

Now, given that the DWP's own figures say that it takes on average 28 weeks for an appeal to progress from arriving at the DWP to the first appeal tribunal hearing, this means that sick and disabled people could routinely face a 7 month period where they don't receive the support they need. This wouldn't be a problem were it not for the fact that 40% of appeals that make it to tribunal are successful (when claimants have access to advice from the CAB that  rises to a 70% success rate). So, if the DWP goes ahead with this then this would mean that hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people be forced to go without the support they are entitled to and need for seven months! On average!

Of course, you might say that this is "speculation" or "baseless gossip". Well, that would be a fair enough comment were it not for the fact that DWP minister Chris Grayling was recently questioned about this precise matter:
Gemma Doyle: I thank the Minister for his detailed answer. Will he take this opportunity to refute press reports that he will cut the ESA of people who appeal against assessment decisions, especially in the light of the information that 40% of cases are being won on appeal?

Chris Grayling: What I expect to see as a result of the changes following Professor Harrington’s review in the summer is a significant reduction in the number of cases that go to appeal when the Department’s initial review and the reconsideration are upheld. In order to ease pressure on individuals, we have tried to ensure that there is a proper reconsideration service in Jobcentre Plus, so that they can produce new evidence at that stage and need not use the Courts Service at all. 
- Hansard
So, basically, he's refused to say that there aren't any plans to cut ESA payments to people appealing. Which is politician code for "these plans are being considered but I don't want to talk about it". And the truly outrageous thing about these plans are that, if implemented, they would be punishing a lot of disabled people simply because the DWP's contractror mucked up the assessment!

In short, this is yet another bit if idiocy from the DWP which could prove deeply destructive to the well being of the sick and disabled. If there's anyone in the DWP with any intelligence or sense of decency at all then they will put an end to this immediately.

And, if you're as outraged by this as I am, then you can put pressure on the DWP about another proposal which will hit disabled people by helping with the LY ESA campaign.

Irritating twaddle

So, I'm somewhat annoyed after having to read two bullshit, inaccurate stories in the media yesterday.

The first is all the stuff about the fall in the number of young people applying to university. Now, aside from the fact that we haven't reached the deadline for applications yet, the main annoyance is the way that not a single news story mentioned the real fall in application numbers.

It's very simple and it's not rocket science. If we compare the figures from this year to the same time in 2009 (we have to ignore 2010 due to the distorting effect of the pre fee increase bulge where people skipped taking a gap year in order to apply before the fees went up) then we'll see that the fall in applications is 2.4%. This isn't surprising given that the number of 18 year olds in the UK (e.g. the people who apply to uni) has decreased by 2.3%. That's right, the number of young people applying to uni this year is almost exactly the same proportion of young people who applied last year. This goes to show what nonsense all this speculation about what caused this "fall" is.

The other story which has got my temper up is one reporting a study by a group in America which shows that drinking fizzy drinks causes violence. This is based entirely on the fact that they found that people who drank lots of fizzy drinks were more likely to be violent. The problem with this is that it's bullshit.

As any 14 year old GCSE student should be able to tell you, correlation does not imply causation. Let me give you an example. If you look at the global population you will see that those who have microwaves are more likely to suffer heart disease. Does this mean microwaves cause heart disease? Of course it doesn't. The reason people with microwaves are more likely to suffer from heart disease is simply because ownership of a microwave occurs mostly in the developed world which has a higher rate of heart disease anyway due to the kind of lifestyle that you see in developed countries.

The only way you could tell if fizzy drinks cause violence is to take a large group of people, two thousand or so, and vary the amount of fizzy drinks they consume in order to see if they become more or less violent as a result. But this "study" hasn't done that and therefore their so-called results are nonsense. And yet the media is treating this as a bona fide story rather than the straight-in-the-bin twaddle it should really be treated as.

So, well done to the BBC, the i, the Independent and goodness knows how many others. You've successfully managed to show a level of statistical stupidity that would have made my 14 year old self face palm and which contributes nothing to informing the public. Well fucking done to you.

P.S. This is why I try not to read newspapers anymore - they only get my temper up.

P.P.S. For some accurate and interesting analysis of the student numbers figures, go read Just One More Ten Pence Piece here.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Tories got it wrong on cause of riots

The official governmental enquiry recently published its report into the cause of the summer riots. Unsurprisingly, the tories and right wing tabloid journalists blaming it all on a feral underclass of gang members was wrong.

As the Independent reports:
  • Only 13% of rioters were involved in gangs
  • Two thirds had eduational special needs
  • 42% had relied on free school meals
  • Nine in ten had failed to achieve five A* to C grade GCSEs
  • Over three quarters had previous convictions
What this shows is that the vast majority of rioters lacked education, lacked prospects and lived in poverty. While it doesn't excuse what they did, it is easy to see how people with no hope and no money decided to steal things when they saw the police standing by and letting people get away with it.

It also shows the folly of harsh sentences. If three quarters have been punished for breaking the law before then it just goes to show the truth in the mountain of evidence proving that prison sentences make people far more likely to reoffend than if they are given community punishments combined with rehabilitation.

As I said at the time, the only lasting solution to the riots will be to tackled the underlying social causes. This means improving education and reducing inequality. I think policies like the Lib Dem's pupil premium to provide more money for the pupils from poor backgrounds are a good step in the right direction but both the government and society need to do far more.

Monday, 24 October 2011

How you can help the LY ESA campaign

So, I've just got back from Liberal Youth Conference (#lyconf). It was a lot of fun and I caught up with some amazing people (and, or so my symptoms would indicate, caught a cold from them). But, aside from the fun parts, there was a more serious nature to it. I had a chance to catch up with LY Chair, Tom Wood, about LY's efforts to ensure the government listens to the ESA motion passed by Lib Dem autumn conference.

There are quite a few things I've learned, some of which I can't and won't repeat because I was told them in confidence, but here are two very encouraging things.

The first comes from a question I asked. Given that Tom has been following the committee stage of the Welfare Reform Bill in the House of Lords much more closely than I have, I asked him where they were on it. Apparently they are still on clause 25 of the bill. The clauses relating to ESA and sickness and disability benefits don't start until clause 50. And yet, according to the original timetable, they should have finished the committee stage of the entire bill two weeks ago. Now, the more controversial a section of the bill the more time for debating and amending it will take up. And, if only one amendment to the bill is made then it still has to be voted on and then passed back to the Commons for more amendments, debating and voting.

Now, I've worked out that, making some reasonable assumptions about how long it will take to debate the bill, it might end up not being passed for at least another 12 months. This is very important because, at present, the plan is for changes to ESA to be backdated by six months from the present. But, given that the time limit for ESA will be 12 months, and that the bill might not be passed until 12 months hence, then it will prove impossible to backdate the changes. So, assuming I'm right, this is some very welcome people who now won't have to face the rug being unexpectedly pulled out from under their feet.

The other good news is that, while progress on the time limiting of ESA itself is difficult to judge this early on, the government does seem willing to make an assortment of minor changes if they are brought to their attention and, ideally, if they can be done through ministerial orders rather than legislation.You see Tom Wood has been speaking fairly frequently to the Pensions Minister, Steve Webb MP, (who is the Lib Dem in the DWP) and his office and asked me if there were any additions related to but in addition to the motion which should be raised.

Off the top of my head I was able to think of four. But there are lots more minor changes which would be easy for the government to make but which would make life much easier for sick and disabled people. And this is where you come in. If you're sick or disabled, or no someone affected by sickness and disability benefits, then please leave a comment suggesting any minor changes you can think of. The key is that they've got to be relatively easy to implement, for example, ensuring that all assessment centres have disabled access.

Below is a list of issues which I've asked Tom to raise with the DWP. I'll update it as I get suggestions and pass them on to Tom.
  • Remove sanctions from the Work Related Activity Group
  • Make the Atos appeals and complaints procedure fully transparent and accountable
  • Remove clause 52 from the Welfare Reform Bill
  • End the routine opening of ESA50 forms containing deeply personal information by post office staff
  • Ensure all assessment centres are actually accessible and have sick and disabled friendly seating facilities
  • Stop the time limit in which to submit an ESA50 form from being cut from six to four weeks
  • Stop people six months away from being well enough to work being forced to attend information sessions on the WRAG even if they're not well enough to do so
  • Stop the new physical descriptor on the WCA which only looks at ability to "mobilise" up to 300 metres and ignores (lack of) ability to bend down, kneel, stand, sit, carry, type, write and read for prolonged periods

Friday, 21 October 2011

Are you serious?

According to newspapers apparently Surrey Police knew all the way back in 2002 about the News of the World hacking the phone of murdered school-girl Milly Dowler yet chose not to act on it.

Now, I have to say that that's not especially surprising. After all, it seems likely that there was a lot of collusion between the police and the media for years.

But what is surprising is that Surrey Police are the police force investigating whether the Met knew about phone hacking but didn't act on it. Seems a bit unusual shall we say?

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Gaddaffi didn't deserve to die like that

The Sun's front page tomorrow will be a picture of Gaddaffi just after he was shot in the head. I won't link to it but I will say that the picture is rather distasteful. At the end of the day, we're looking at a murdered human being. In death he looks just like an old, exhausted, dead man. Looking at it I genuinely feel sorry for him.

There's no doubt in my mind that he was a monster and a murderer. The pain, death and suffering he inflicted on his own people, the blood on his hands, means that he was beyond redemption. But I don't think anyone deserves to die like that. I won't shed any tears for him, but I can't help but think of Martin Luther King's words:
"I mourn the death of thousands of precious lives, I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy"
And for me, that sums it up. No one deserves to die unarmed, wounded, in cold blood after being dragged through the streets in front of a hateful crowd. No one, no matter what they have done, deserves that. Monsters should be taken prisoner, they should be treated with the same humanity that they refused to show others and they should face a fair trial which will give them the sentence they deserve. A process like that reveals all tyrants and monsters to be exactly what they are: pitiful, small, human beings who are pathetic without others to do their dirty work for them. The humiliation of such an ignominious end is the best punishment for someone like that; not the quick oblivion of death but to spend the rest of their lives in prison, knowing that their power is gone and that they have lost all that they ever had.

That is what Gaddaffi deserved, but not this. For all he did, he was a fellow member of the human race, and no decent human should murder another in such a fashion. I will not shed any tears for Gaddaffi but nor will I ever think that the way he died is anything to celebrate.

We need to cut fuel duty

I'm aware that this may be seen as going against Lib Dem green credentials but I am firmly of the belief that the Lib Dems should be pushing hard for a cut in fuel duty to bring the price of fuel down by at least 10p, and preferably, 20p a litre.

Now, I don't think for a minute that we should be encouraging to produce more CO2, but at the moment the recovery is stalling due to high inflation and a switch to a greener economy will be even harder if we go back into recession. Right now people are spending more and more of their money on the essentials and therefore have less to spend on the kind of consumer goods consumption which underpin our current economic model.

When fuel prices go up, the prices of everything else goes up. Clothes, food, anything that's transported by road will go up in price. Companies which rely on the road for transportation will see their running costs go up and won't be able to afford to give their staff inflation matching pay increases. And as prices continue to go up  and wages continue to stall and fall in real terms people will have less and less money to spare. They'll spend most of their money just to get buy and, without any confidence in the economy, they'll save whatever they have left over, creating a self-reinforcing of economic decline.

A 20p cut in the price of fuel would go a long way to immediately reducing inflation and putting money back in people's pockets. Already people have so little money that they're struggling to afford to be able to make it to work or to be able to pay the energy bills.

A cut in fuel duty will probably cost the treasury money in the short term. But the treasury is already losing income as people can't afford to buy petrol at all. And it's no good pricing people off the road when the public transport infrastructure isn't cheap or extensive enough to be a viable alternative. If fuel duty is cut then people will see the cost of living decrease, inflation will decrease due to the knock on effect and people will have more disposable income, breathing more life into the economy and increasing tax receipts overall.

If we Lib Dems were to make this argument then we would do two things. Firstly we would receive a great deal of credit from a financially strained electorate and secondly we would be taking a decisive measure to reduce the spike in inflation and boost economic confidence by putting more money back in people's pockets.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Short-sighted MP bashing

I started writing this blogpost on the train home from London. It was prompted by finding a copy of the Evening Standard on my seat and seeing its frontpage:
'SKIVING' MPS WANT ANOTHER HOLIDAY
The story beneath the headline is about how a cross party consensus is considering introducing a five day parliamentary recess in November in order to make up for the days of recess lost during the summer when MPs were recalled to deal with issues such as phone hacking and the England Riots.The article itself is all about quotes from various people all saying how terrible this is and how lazy MPs are.

Now, far be it from me to defend those MPs who go on expensive jollies at the taxpayers expense (e.g. very few) but I think this entire article is utterly short sighted and stupid. MP bashing maybe fashionable but criticising the length of the parliamentary recess is incredibly counter productive.

You see, the summer recess isn't some sort of massive holiday for MPs, it's simply the time when parliament isn't sitting. This leaves MPs free to focus on the other half of their job - doing constituency work and helping their constituents with problems.

Now, given that everyone claims they want MPs to spend more time with "real people", cutting short the parliamentary recess is precisely the way to get the exact opposite effect by reducing the amount of time MPs have to spend in their constituencies with the people they represent. And lets not forget, for MPs living outside London, with parliamentary hours of 9 to 5+, by the time they've got home they've got no time left to deal with anything but the lightest of constituency work.

I won't deny that MPs do go on holiday in the summer recess, but when they do it is usually at the start of the recess and is often their only major holiday of the year - I've never heard of an MP taking a holiday longer than two weeks at most, for example. Now, if people want to object to the recess then fine. But they should remember that shortening it will just mean that MPs spend more time in Westminster making laws and far less amongst the people they represent. And, feel free to speak up if you disagree, but, if MPs are as bad as everyone claims they are then do we really want them to spend even more time making laws to govern our lives?

A tribute to Liam Fox

No, I have not taken leave of my senses, I genuinely wish to offer a tribute to Liam Fox, the now former Minister of Defence who was forced to resign for allowing his defence lobbyist best friend to sit in on ministerial meetings without clearance. Oh, and also for trying to pretend nothing wrong had occurred.

But nonetheless I wish to say thank you to him. Because of Mr Fox having to leave the government in disgrace, the government is to push through with implementing tighter rules on lobbying, including a register of all lobbyists. This was in the coalition agreement but is only really going to be pushed hard now because of Fox's resignation.

Now, introducing proper regulation of lobbyists is a Lib Dem policy, one we've had and been committed to for decades while Labour and the Conservatives have made noises about it but failed to do anything when they were in government. But, thanks to Fox, this brilliant Lib Dem policy, which will bring greater transparency to government and help curb shadowy influences by the rich and powerful, is going to be implemented with the enthusiastic backing of Conservatives.

And, I have to say, the irony that Liam Fox, one of the more right wing Conservative MPs, has, by his own demise, also managed to promote Lib Dem policy, is one that is definitely not lost on me and which I find quite delicious.

P.S.

Friday, 14 October 2011

CAUTION: MP may be talking bollocks

Today most of the papers are reporting a story about two workers being fired because they are British (i.e. white). The Daily Express, predictably has turned this into the front page headline: "WORKERS BEING FIRED BECAUSE THEY ARE BRITISH!".

Now, aside from the fact that this firing happened in the past and is not an ongoing thing as the Express headline implies, the headline might be bollocks for another reason.

You see, the only source for this story is Henry Smith MP who said in parliament:

"Recently, I have been dealing with a case on behalf of two constituents who were dismissed from their job with a commercial cleaning firm called Jani-King, allegedly for being British.

"Can we have consideration for a debate on discrimination against British workers in this country?"

Now, the problem here is that the word used is "allegedly". There's no definite proof yet, one way or the other that this happened. Yet this tory MP has, purely on the basis of what two constituents told him, decided that this is evidence of "discrimination against British workers" on such a wide scale that it merits a parliamentary debate on the issue.

The firm which employed the two men, menawhile has said that the two men were dismissed following standard procedures.

Now, there's no more facts known about the story than these, yet an MP and some newspapers are acting as if the discrimination had definitely shown to have happened. I've got no idea whether the allegation of discrimination is true or not - if it is then I'm sure the tribunal will rule in the favour of the two men and the company will be in trouble for breaching the Race Discrimination Act. A law which, despite what morons like Richard Littlejohn would have you believe, does prevent discrimination against British people just as much as it does ethnic minorities (who, incidentally, normally are also British).

But the fact that the newspapers and a tory MP are moaning about this and calling for a debate over something that may not even have happened stands in stark contrast to the silence from tory MPs and the right wing press when it comes to the far more frequent discrimination against women and ethnic minorities.

Believe it or not, there is not widespread discrimination against white, British males. But there's a significant chunk of the press who fervently try to tell people that it is happening in order to try and provide proof to support their own prejudices. And, in the process, it acts as validation for organisations such as the BNP and the EDL. And, because of reporting like this, feeding into a myth of victimhood for white men, it's highly likely that some poor bugger will get his head cracked, just for having dark skin, by a racist thug who thinks that his views are justified because of headlines like "WORKERS BEING FIRED BECAUSE THEY ARE BRITISH!"

So, before you pay too much attention to this story, just remember: just because it's an MP who's claiming that something is happening doesn't mean that he's not talking bollocks.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

#whatLDsstandfor

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

What do the Liberal Democrats stand for? Well that's a question which some people have difficulty answering. So I thought it'd be a good idea to start a project where Lib Dems answer three questions so we can see where Lib Dem supporters think alike and if there are any common strands in concepts of what we stand for. More info is explained in the video below.


Just to reiterate, the questions are:
  1. What do you think the Liberal Democrats stand for?
  2. Why are you a Liberal Democrat?
  3. What are the three greatest Liberal Democrat achievements in government.
Please do get involved and spread this far and wide so we can get as many people involved as possible :)

Monday, 10 October 2011

A letter to Labour

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Dear Labour,

I'm writing to you because I've seen a lot of talk lately by various Labour party members on the need to do things like adopt a less authoritarian approach on civil liberties and backing a mansion tax in order to reach out to left wing Liberal Democrats and bring them back into your arms. The reasons given for this are because Labour might not get enough seats to have a majority at the next election and needs to be ready to accept the few shell-shocked survivors of the Liberal Democrats (because our massacre at the next election is inevitable) into propping you up so you can restore your rightful place as the sole alternative to the tories in governing the country.

Well, unfortunately, that's not going to happen. You see, I grew up under Blair and Brown and there is no force on earth that will ever make me forgive Labour for the way in which they screwed Britain over for the sake of vested interests in the media and the City. I'll never forgive you for the way you pissed on the poor and the sick and the disabled in order to appease the nutters writing Daily Express headlines. I'll never forgive you for misleading the public and ignoring the protests of millions of people in order to take us into an illegal war which cost billions of pounds, destroyed a foreign country, cost the lives of hundreds of British servicemen and women and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. I'll never forgive or forget the way closet fascists like Straw and Blunkett and Woolas trampled on ancient and cherished civil liberties, clamped down on legitimate protest, locked innocent people up as terrorists and turned the UK in to the closest thing to a police state in its history.

But most of all I'll never forgive you for throwing away a golden opportunity to make Britain better. You had 13 years where you could have radically changed Britain for the better. But instead you lied and spun and broke promises and you left my generation to face a lifetime of paying off and making good your failure.

So, when I see Labourites making half-hearted apologies, or talking about making half hearted steps to bribe people like me into supporting you, when I see those same people talking gleefully about how the Liberal Democrats are doomed (incorrectly, by the way, as ICM, the only pollster to correctly call the outcome of the general, local, Scottish parliament and referendum votes, has us on 15%), when I see them expressing their hatred of us for daring not to meekly fall into line to prop up a failed Labour government, when I see the sheer, unbridled arrogance of the unquestioned assumption that, by not being the tories, you automatically have a right to my vote, it makes me angry.

So, here's what's what Labour. You're not getting my vote. You're not getting my support. You're not even getting my sympathies. Until you finally realise and come to terms the massive roadblock to progressive action and ideals in this country, until you realise how tribal, insular and out of touch you are, until you stop putting tribalist scum like Ed Balls in your leadership, you and I are not just not allies, we are enemies. You are as much my enemy as the tories are and I look forward to the day when you get the reckoning you have earned a thousand times over.

So, in short, dear, dear Labour: FUCK. YOU.

Yours sincerely,
George Potter,
Child of Blair,
Liberal Democrat

Liberal Youth ESA campaign update

Following the passing of my motion on the Employment Support Allowance at Lib Dem autumn conference, Liberal Youth (who sponsored the motion) have been working with the DPC (Disabled People's Council) and Macmillan to campaign to get peers to amend the welfare reform bill to stop it having drastic and devastating effects on the lives of the long term sick and disabled. The most pernicious of these changes is the introduction of an arbitrary time limit, where sick and disabled people (including cancer patients) will only receive benefits for a maximum of 12 months, after which they'll be left to fend for themselves regardless they are capable of working or not.

I recently got an update from Liberal Youth on what exactly they've been up to with regards to their campaign and so, for those who are interested, here's what's been happening.

Since conference they've been working with Lib Dem HQ staff to identify other lords that will support changing the Welfare Reform Bill so they can organise a briefing for them. They've also had a meeting about using councils to pass motions against the ESA changes and to generate pressure from local government, while one of the LY executive has emailed a leading peer about ESA in order to try and get them on side as a "big beast" in the Lords.

They've drafted some text about ESA and the motion and what peers can do about it which they will try and persuade the whips office to send out to the lords and they're also working with disability charities to obtain their indexes of friendly peers and their contact details so that LY can speak to them about ESA.

Their main focus at the moment is on finding their 'Lords champion' who will be vital in the success of the campaign as they're crucial to being able to set up the Lords briefing. They've also got a comms strategy in place which will ramp up the profile of the campaign as things get closer to the vote in the Lords.

All in all, it seems as though they'll be bringing a significant amount of pressure to bear over the next two weeks and I really hope it will be successful. The strategy is sound, at any rate, the hard bit will be getting peers to truly take the message on-board.

UPDATE: Caron Lindsay has also blogged about efforts on this front at the Scottish Liberal Democrat conference. You can read her blogpost here.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Co-op party's big mistake

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice


This is a longer version of a post of mine which has appeared over on Liberal Conspiracy. To be honest I prefer this version, but if you're pressed for time and can't be bothered to read 1100 words then please read the LC version instead :)


I recently opened a bank account with Britannia, which is a subsidiary of the Co-operative Bank. I've also signed up to become an official member of the co-operative group and, as such, I'm expecting my membership details in the post some time soon.

But this got me thinking. You see, the co-operative movement has a political arm which is called (predictably) the Co-op Party. Now, I for one, think that the concept of co-operatives is a brilliant idea - customer and employee owned businesses directly democratically accountable to and splitting their profits amongst those same customers and employees. I also think that it's a great that the wider co-operative movement has its own political party to speak up for the co-operative philosophy in government. So don't think I hate the Co-op party.

But where I disagree with it is its strategy. Quite sensibly, in my opinion, it doesn't see the point in standing candidates for the Co-op party alone and just being another minor party with a tiny share of the vote. Instead, the Co-op party will stand joint candidates. This means that if someone has been selected to stand for parliament, and is also a member of the Co-op party, then the Co-op party will contribute substantially to their campaign costs and the candidate will stand under the name of both the Co-op and the other party.

Unfortunately, however, there is a caveat to this. No matter how supportive someone might be of the co-operative philosophy, they are only allowed to stand as Co-op candidates if they're a member of the Labour party or are not a member of any other party. This is because of the historical ties between the Labour movement and the co-op movement.

But where has this got the co-op movement? Well, at the moment, there are 29 "Labour and Co-operative" MPs in parliament, including the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls. And one Co-op party policy is to turn failed high street banks (such as Northern Rock) into co-op or mutual banks of the type which survived the banking crisis unscathed due to their sensible approach of dealing only with high street bank activities and not risky investment bank gambling. Now this is, in my mind, a great idea. In fact, it's a policy not dissimilar from a Lib Dem one to encourage more public services or state owned companies (such as the post office) to become mutuals or co-ops.

Now, given that Ed Balls was one of Gordon Brown's right hand men, you'd think he might have been able to persuade Gordon Brown to implement this policy. But, for some reason, he didn't. Never mind though, maybe Gordon Brown didn't want to listen, but now Balls is Shadow Chancellor then he's free to make his own policies - and Ed Miliband can't be holding him back because he appears on the Co-op party website endorsing co-operatives and what the Co-op party stands for. And yet, when it comes to the Labour party supporting the policy of turning failed banks into mutuals or co-ops: silence.

This is a very basic, very easy policy for the Labour party to announce in opposition. It's something that would be popular and which would chime with people's anger at "casino banking". And, if it comes down to it, they don't even have to worry about implementing it as, by the time of the next election, the economic situation will be much different and they can change the definition of failed banks in order to avoid doing anything - and that's if they're being really cynical and Machiavellian.

But they haven't. And, when you look into things further, you can't help but sense that the Co-op party is getting a pretty raw deal. They fund the election campaigns of a lot of Labour MPs (in some cases, almost totally) and, with the Co-op bank's generosity in letting Labour continue to owe millions of pounds of money borrowed from them, the co-op movement is playing a big part in keeping Labour afloat at a time when they are heavily in debt and are having trouble raising money. Yet despite all that, very few co-op friendly policies have been implemented by Labour in government since before the Second World War. There have been a few minor bits of legislation to the benefit of the co-op movement (such as setting up a method for co-ops to take over building societies like Britannia) but, by and large, it seems to me that a lot of Labour party MPs are happy to take co-op money but then do very little to represent the co-op movement in parliament once they've been elected.

And this I think is where the Co-op party has made a big mistake. By only allowing their candidates to be members of the Labour party they are effectively giving Labour a monopoly on their support. And, if you want to be cynical, a Labour party candidate, once selected, could well join the Co-op party just to get his or her hands on campaign funds. I'm not saying that's what happens, merely that that is a possibility that this situation makes possible.

But if you look outside of Labour you will find a lot of prospective parliamentary candidates who agree with the co-op ethos. I know several Lib Dems who are probably far more committed co-op members than Ed Balls, for example. And if you look also at the Greens and the SNP and Plaid Cymru and even, god forbid, a few tories, you will also find people who believe in the co-operative philosophy. I know I do.

But as it stands, people outside Labour, like me, who believe in co-operatism aren't allowed to join the Co-op party, not even as a supporter. And all this means is that the Co-op party is cutting themselves off from dozens of potential candidates who could otherwise be ardent voices for the co-op movement in parliament. In short, the Labour-only approach of the Co-op party is shooting themselves in the foot. They may be a few minor difficulties with allowing co-op candidates from other parties (such as what would happen if you had a co-op party members from two different parties both standing in the same election) but these pale into insignificance compared to the potential benefits it could bring. I mean, you know there's something wrong when even Caroline Lucas is banned from joining the Co-op party.

If the Co-op party is serious about getting the co-operative philosophy, and their policies, implemented in government, then they should revise the archaic monopoly they are giving to Labour. Otherwise I fear that the day of co-operatism will never come.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Statporn September 2011

The statporn is back! Huzzah!

According to google analytics, for the month of September 2011 the Potter Blogger received 2,313 visits from 1,473 unique visitors. Between them viewed 3,678 pages and spent an average of 1 minute 55 seconds on the site each visit. 42% of visits were by returning visitors, 88% of whom were from the UK.

I'd like to say a thank you to all of those who visited my blog and a very big thank you to all those who linked to my blog.

Out of the 21articles posted on my blog in September the most popular one was "The sick way Britain treats her sick and disabled".

So that's the end of the of this months statporn and it'll return again next month. Until then, you are safe ;)

Friday, 7 October 2011

I've made it!

Success! Through the intricacies of mutually reinforcing links, I have climbed to the heady heights of 80th top political blog in the wikio rankings. Now, this is just a bit of egotism but I have been hoping to get into the top 100 for a long time and it's rather pleasant to have made it. So, for the time being, I intend to bask in the smugness of being more popular than Lynne Featherstone's blog (though I freely admit that the content on hers is probably far superior to that on mine).

Shame the economy isn't doing as well...

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The fight on ESA has barely began


I recently received an email from a disabled woman named Hannah who is very frightened about the impacts of the Welfare Reform Bill (of which the changes to the Employment Support Allowance are a substantial part). Since the passing of the motion on ESA at our autumn conference there is a tendency to view the issue as sorted. Unfortunately this is not the case as the bill is still going through the lords and constant pressure is vital to ensure that the necessary changes are made. And, as this email reiterates, the Lib Dems are now the only hope for 3 million sick and disabled people. Very few other people are listening to them and we are the only voice they can possibly hope to have inside government.

Hannah's name and various other details in the email have been changed to protect her anonymity.

Dear George
Thank you once again for your response and the hopeful news but I can't allow myself to get all my hopes up yet and am still very frightened. My MP is unfortunately [blank] for [blank]. He doesn't seem to have a clue about Welfare Reform and just responds (when he can be bothered) to my letters with the standard Tory lines. I attended a local public meeting with him some months ago and he announced that 70% of people in the process of being transfered from IB to ESA had withdrawn their claim, his implication being that this was because they were fraudulent. I didn't feel that I could challenge this at the time as I sometimes feel quite intimidated by groups.
I would very much appreciate you forwarding a campaign update to me or indeed any other news regarding the ESA Time Limit in particular. I have already "adopted a peer". In fact I have written to all the Lords and MPs with email addresses (Anne Begg made reference to a letter that I had sent her in Parliament). My fear has made me absolutely obsessed with the ESA issue, I'm afraid. I contacted Libdem local council members prior to the Libdem conference asking that they support your motions. I must admit that I have been too paranoid about confidentiality if I go to the local press and it is one avenue that I have not explored. I do visit Diary of a Benefits Scrounger and the websites of other such organisations (Carerwatch is very good) as well as disability forums and organisations etc.
I contacted the journalist, Ian Birch who wrote an article about the Welfare Reform Bill and in particular the ESA Time Limit in the mental health magazine "One in Four". I have also contacted Amelia Gentleman from the Guardian who has written many articles in opposition to the WRB proposals but unfortunately in spite of my requests for her to write about the ESA Time Limit, she has never replied to me.
If you wish, I don't mind you using my details, but anonymously, if you think they might be useful to further the cause. If you need the details of any of my contacts, please say. 
Please keep up the good work - the Libdems are now our last hope.
Hannah

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

We need to stop acting like children

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

At the Lib Dem autumn conference last month we had some wonderful statements about the tories by senior figures within the party. We had jokes and mockery at their expense and we had some wonderful reminders of just how horrible the tories are.

Well, I won't deny that I enjoyed that. I find the tories as loathsome as anyone else, after all. But upon reflection I'm very worried that, as good as it feels, saying stuff like that could seriously damage the party.

Ever since the AV referendum we've been pursuing a strategy of differentiation with the tories. We've had Vince Cable sounding off at the tories, Tim Farron calling Thatcherism organised wickedness, their opposition to the Human Rights Act disparaged, and so on. But, as much as I might agree with that is being said, it hasn't helped us in the polls. Regardless of which pollster you prefer (go, go ICM!) our figures have remained pretty much static ever since the start of the differentiation strategy.

The tories meanwhile, appear to have got the hang of it. At their conference, bar the occasional jibes, they've been rather nice or neutral about us. If you look at Theresa May you see the perfect example of how to do differentiation. In an interview she said she, personally, would like to scrap the Human Rights Act as it stops the Home Office deporting terrorists and foreign criminals. The next day Cameron came out and backed her up, saying that he too would like to scrap the HRA but that they were in coalition and that compromises were necessary.

Now, aside from the fact that they are completely and utterly wrong, that the HRA was based on ancient British liberties and that the HRA protects us from inconvenient things like being shot by the police for calling Cameron a tosser, they actually handled it brilliantly. Here was a bit of red meat for the troops, this was what they wanted to do and they would do it if they weren't in coalition for the greater good of the country - which is code for "This is what a tory government would do, if you like the sound of it then vote tory next time."

Both Cameron and May got their policy difference from the Lib Dems across and yet did it while sounding mature and grown up, making it clear that this was a compromise because coalition but that they differed immensely from the Lib Dems on this issue.

In contrast, our sabre rattling looks childish. People won't see us and think, "Ah hah! They're completely different from the tories after all!", they'll think "Look at those childish idiots. They insult their coalition partners and yet still go along with policies they disagree with just to get their hands on power".

We all know that that isn't the case but that is the message we send out.

If we want people to see us as genuinely different from the tories then we need to act like grown ups. Where we disagree with the tories we just need to say so, explain why we do so, and make it clear what we would do things differently if we were  government on our own.

Our biggest failure is communication. We will never win back support by just making fun of our coalition partners. The only people it will please are those who already agree with us. We need to make it clear to people what our achievements in government are and show how we ideologically differ from the tories. And, to be quite honest, I wish as much effort was going into that from the leadership as went into coming up with speeches insulting the tories.

Lords meet to discuss ESA

At 3.30pm today, the House of Lords will meet in committee to begin the process of scrutinising the Welfare Reform Bill. The Welfare Reform Bill is the source of much of the concern of the ESA motion the Liberal Democrats passed at autumn conference the other week. Especially of concern is the introduction of a time limit of 12 months to welfare payments to the sick and disabled - after 12 months all aid is cut off whether the claimant has recovered or not.

You can watch the live feed from the committee room here.

One of the interesting things about today is that the location has changed at the last minute due to a massive campaign by disability organisations - the original location for the meeting was a place without disabled access despite several Lords pointing out that it effectively blocked disabled people from watching or attending the meetings which will decide whether many of them are facing destitution in a few months or not.

I'd strongly recommend you watch the meeting (though I'd suggest you add a bucket of salt to anything Lord Freud says). Sadly I won't be able to watch it as I'm at work but I'll probably do a post this evening about what's happened and what is happening.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Potter Blogger guide to political parties

Labour - officially socialists, fighting on behalf of the poor and working class when in opposition but screw them over when in power. Think that taking advice from bankers on how to regulate banks is a brilliant idea. Terrified of upsetting the Daily Mail or the Sun. Also think that shooting Brazilians on the tube and invading Iraq is the best way to protect us from the Saudia Arabian terrorists who are living in Pakistan.

Conservatives - the lone defenders of Middle England against the hordes of politically correct, fortnightly bin collections, the communist BBC and evil global warming promoting scientists who actually just want to charge everyone 2000% more for petrol and electricity. Style of government is "screw the poor, let's cut taxes for the oppressed middle classes e.g. those earning over £150k."

Liberal Democrats - variously social liberal or economic liberal. Mostly harmless and enjoy real ale and curry. Dislike Labour intensely and loathe the tories. Have lots of good, evidence based policies on how to make Britain better for anyone but no one outside the party can remember what they are. Hobbies include raising the tax allowance, opposing nuclear weapons (but not too loudly), supporting green policies, losing referendums on changing the voting system and getting 75% of their manifesto implemented in government but forgetting to tell the public about it.

UKIP - The only people brave enough to tell the truth that communist, fascist Euro-Nazis from Brussels want to kill the pound, ban English ale and flood us with filthy dirty foreigners. Think that snow in winter proves that  global warming is a scam and that we are actually heading towards another ice age.

The Greens - socialists who are a bit like the Lib Dems only vegan. Very much in favour of eco-friendly policies but also have a tendency to believe voodoo about homeopathy curing cancer. Currently to be found recycling election leaflets under the auspices of Caroline Lucas in their new dominion of Brighton. Favourite political strategy is splitting the Lib Dem vote and letting the tories in.

The BNP - want to nationalise everything and limit the vote to people who've served in the army. Want to pay everyone with a sun tan £50,000 to "go back to africa or muslim land or wherever it is you effin pakis come from".

The SNP - currently ruling Scotland. Want independence and are vaguely left wing with a love of centralisation. Hobbies include insulting judges for disagreeing with them and trying to stop any increase in devolution if they're not the ones who thought of it.

Plaid Cymru - Welsh equivalent of the SNP only less successful and not that fussed about independence.

The EDP - claim to be the English equivalent of the SNP but are actually BNP-lite. Absolutely hate the BNP though due to "personal reasons". Love St George and think that as long as we leave the EU, ban Scotland and make St George's day a bank holiday then everything will go back to being like the Last of the Summer Wine.

TUSC - coalition of various far left political parties that very few people have heard of. Each party in it thinks the other parties in it are traitors to the cause and they all think that everyone outside the TUSC is a fascist Thatcherite.

Northern Irish parties - quite a few of them but no one in the rest of the UK gives a toss. Have a weird system whereby two parties which hate each other and have incompatible ideas about the future of Northern Ireland are forced to be in government together. This system was used as a model for the Coalition government in Westminster.

Official final wording of Lib Dem ESA motion

The Lib Dem website finally has the link to the full text of the motion on ESA which was passed by conference. The version passed included an amendment which significantly altered the wording of the motion. The full text of the amended motion is below:


F6  Employment and Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments 
Liberal Youth
Mover:  George Potter
(Approved amendments to the motion included in bold text below.)

Conference notes:

i)  That eligibility for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) benefit is determined by the Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) which are currently carried out by Atos Healthcare, a private company.

ii)  That currently 70% of assessed rejections which go to appeal are subsequently overturned, though the appeal success rate is lower for claimants without representation.

iii)  That the way in which WCAs are conducted has been criticised by Parliamentary Inquiries and by the Tribunal Judiciary.

iv)  That the Liberal Democrat-Conservative Coalition Government has stated its aims to support people who are fit to work move off state benefits and into work and support those currently unable to work to prepare for work in the future.

v)  The on-going reviews of Work Capability Assessments led by Professor Malcolm Harrington, which have made recommendations on how the WCA process can be improved.

vi)  That the Government has so far implemented the vast majority of the recommendations made by Professor Malcolm Harrington.

vii)  The Government's Welfare Reform Bill proposals to simplify the appeals process for claimants.

Conference believes that:

A.  It is the duty of a compassionate society and government to provide the necessary support for those who are unable to support themselves.

B.  The old Assessment procedure, when claimants were assessed using a 'tick box' questionnaire, did not take into account the claimant's medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant.

C.  The new Assessment procedure must aim to reduce the number of cases which are overturned on appeal.

D.  That vulnerable cases like this, where a welfare recipient’s income is threatened, should qualify for free legal representation.

Conference calls for:

1.  The Government to continue to implement Professor Harrington's recommendations on reforming the WCA as a priority, in addition to an emphasis on:

a) Clearer Assessment criteria and descriptors, to make it more apparent under what circumstances ESA is paid.

b) Ensuring greater accuracy in Assessment, particularly for those with fluctuating conditions. 

c) A less stressful Assessment process. 

d) People with disabilities getting the support they need.

2.  Liberal Democrats in Government to oppose an arbitrary time limit on how long claimants can claim contributory ESA. 

3.  All ESA claimants going to appeal to be given access to adequate representation and expert advice, and for Government to reconsider the exclusion of welfare benefits casework such as this from the scope of legal aid. 

4.   A presumption that ESA claimants with serious and uncontrollable life-threatening conditions should be allocated to the support group rather than the work related activity group. 


5.  A review of ATOS performance in delivering the Medical Services Agreement contract with DWP in respect of the quality of medical assessments.


6.  Effective contract compliance for contractors carrying out ESA eligibility assessments to avoid poor performance, and a presumption that in future ESA eligibility will be carried out by the public sector or non-profit organisations. 


Applicability: Federal.