Time For A Conscience Tax, Margaret Drabble? #GE2015


“And herein lies one of the big problems with politics today: instead of discussing the issues at hand, the baying mobs on all sides are waiting in the wings for someone to say something imperfect, and they pounce, hurling insults and escalating debate into personal attacks and rudeness, and nobody is talking about hungry people or how to feed them any more.

Instead it’s all those big, bad Tories’ fault, or the church shouldn’t be commenting at all because they have a bit of gold kicking about, or it started under Labour …

And the longer we all stand on opposing sides shouting over each other, the longer the queues around the food banks get, and the longer the benefit delays, and the longer the queues at the jobcentre.”

Jack Monroe

As night follows day and a General Election approaches, the Guardian prints articles like that of Margaret Drabble in the Why I Will Not Be Voting Labour Next May Series.  The Why I Will Be Voting Liberal Democrat Series (its popularity faded somewhat after May 2010) has been discontinued in favour of the Why I Will Be Voting Green Series, this season’s political black for the ethical, middle class, liberally minded left wing voter.  God knows what these ethical floating voters will do, if the Greens support a minority Labour Government next May in preference to triggering another General Election that might give a George Osborne led Tory Party a working majority.

I expect I shall wait in vain for the Guardian to run a Why I Will Be Voting Respect or TUSC Next May Series (I tip my hat to both parties (as well as the SNP, Plaid Cymru, SDLP and the Greens) for sharing the agony and ecstasy of electoral politics).  I mean it is one thing speaking for the working class, but quite another mingling with them, is it not?  I mean, Tarquin old love, they think £3.00 for a bowl of ironic breakfast cereal in an café down in Tower Hamlets (the new Islington for the aspiring financially challenged?) is not good value for money.  I mean, you would think they would appreciate us bringing a bit of Notting Hill glamour into their dull, little lives.  I certainly did not expect to learn that they could spell condescending and patronising.  Where?  Oh, on the wall of the artisan’s water closet.  Yes, we ‘reclaimed’ the tiles from a skip …  Harry Enfield certainly saw these guys coming!

Drabble in her piece says Labour has lost her vote because of its policy towards the private education sector.  In explaining her position, Drabble manages to get in a reference to the Bedroom Tax.  I am sure the 900,000 or so victims of the tax will applaud Drabble’s principled stance about private education as they fall further and further behind with their rent (and into debt) whilst awaiting their next invitation to attend an Employment and Support Allowance Work Capability Assessment.  Labour not forming a government next May will mean no end to the Bedroom Tax and no reduction in the misery of regularly going through WCAs.

I would like Drabble to come and meet some clients I am trying to help.  Sadly they are some of life’s losers.  What can go wrong with their lives has gone wrong.  Some people are like lightning conductors for bad luck and they are a prime example.  Their grip on sanity has recently become tenuous at best.  They have principles, Drabble, that compound their problems.  They abhor getting into debt, a very old school working class trait.  They, not you, are representative of the people to whom the Labour Party should be devoted.

They incurred some unexpected and heavy expenses recently.  They have little money and the Social has not, to date, covered the whole of the bill they incurred.  The Co-Op (bless ’em), a fine example of working class self help of days gone by, are holding off seeking the balance of the costs whilst I, working on behalf of a Labour Member of Parliament, am doing my damnedest to force my former employer, the Department for Work and Pensions, into re-opening their case.  I am not, therefore, writing high minded articles for the Guardian going on about my principles and focusing on subjects of no interest, rightly or wrongly, to the vast majority of people for whom the Labour Party was founded.  I am putting my principles into action and hopefully making a difference.

Whilst I await, probably in vain, for a positive response from Iain Duncan Smith to my employer’s enquiries (an employer for whom I work unpaid) on our clients’ behalf, I am looking into the possibility of applying for a grant from a charity.   Yes, Drabble, in 2014 the State has rolled back so far that I have been forced to take such a Dickensian step.  Any ideas my readers have as to where I may seek help with one off expenses will be most gratefully received.  I would like to try to do something to lighten my clients’ worries before Christmas.  By the way, I am rather old fashioned too, I do not like to think of people applying for help in times of need being termed claimants so I call them clients instead.

As though the unpaid bill (and other Social Security related matters) were not bad enough, my clients are now having to pay the Bedroom Tax.  They cannot afford it.  They cannot downsize.  They cannot sub let (you will pay for that asinine suggestion next May, John Hemming).  They will slide into debt.  They will suffer not just the material consequences of debt, but the shame of it too.  They too have principles, a code by which they try to live.

I am afraid to say, however, that the term scrounger sometimes crops up in my conversations with clients like these.  Were I to be fastidious, Drabble, I might drop such cases because going along with that uncharitable attitude runs counter to my principles, but my old fashioned allegiance to the public service ethos prevents me striking a pose.  I cannot stand idly by and not do something to help people in need, because I do not like how, in the depths of their misery they accuse other people of abusing the system.  Sadly some people in need sometimes belittle, mostly through ignorance and with the aid of our rabid, right wing media, the suffering and needs of others.  I think that a pious lecture on a lack of class solidarity on such occasions would be unhelpful, to say the least and, any way, I ceased to be an Angry Young Man a long time ago.  Does not stop me, though, fighting the fire lit by others.

And there are, Drabble and friends, working class Tories so the Labour Party can never expect to corner the market in the votes of that particular class and I cannot, in all conscience, decline to help them when they are in need.  How easy life would be, if only people conformed to the rose tinted stereotypes some of the middle class have of them.  Aneuran Bevan (remember him?) was a realist and knew that a portion of the working class vote against their own interests and that is my beef with lefties like you.  You are not realists; you would rather, it seems to me, have no loaf rather than be compromised by half a loaf; you have never hawked your ideas door to door; never had one of Churchill’s dispiriting five minute discussions with the average voter or had to persuade the same to elect you into office.

You belong, Drabble, to the chatterati, a sub group of the Commentariat.  Trollope’s scathing analysis of those seeking to wield power without responsibility holds true as much today as it did 150 years ago.  Mind you, he (like Robin Day) ran for Parliament as a Liberal candidate.  Why do we bemoan professional politicians, but not professional political commentators who seem to have never done anything else?  I am a little surprised that, although disadvantaged as you are by a lack of experience in comparison with Day and Trollope, a novelist of your stature seems incapable of putting yourself in the position of a candidate or party seeking election.

Your obsession with an education system that educates a tiny minority of young people, some even not United Kingdom residents; your casual dismissal of Sure Start; the fact you seem to think the Bedroom Tax generates net income for the Exchequer and your idea, that wasting valuable Parliamentary time trying to unpick the privileges of the purveyors of private education will create true equality of educational opportunity suggests you have a very poor grasp of what is concerning those worried about the state of education in the UK today.  You neatly sidestep the cost, both financial and political, of abolishing the perquisites of what are, in some cases, centuries old charitable bodies.  However, do not let me stop you using your own money to hire a crack team of lawyers to crawl over the founding charters of these charities so as to identify whether or not they have breached them.  You might well achieve the end you seek without recourse to public funds.  By the way, how do you organise your own tax affairs?  I trust it is not along the lines advocated by Myleene Klass?

Where were you, Comrade Drabble, when Gove came earlier this year for the students of East Birmingham?  When across party and across community lines the citizens of Birmingham prepared to stand by the barricades to defend our city against a plot hatched in Whitehall.  Confusingly for some, there was agreement here that there were failings in our schools and that they needed to be addressed, but not at the expense of the students.  Students who have a poor start in life that has nothing to do with Eton’s tax privileges.  It cries out to Heaven for Justice that in the second decade of the 21st Century children in this country are still disadvantaged by the colour of their skin; the class and religion into which they were born and the place where they are growing up.  East Birmingham has some of the highest levels of unemployment in the UK.  Gove failed in his duty of care towards those students.  And I, Drabble, am a Bevanite snob, if Henley or Wimbledon or Glyndebourne or Stratford or the Tate are good enough for them then they are bloody good enough for us!

You want to raise an issue with Tristram Hunt then please, on my behalf, ask him why he, a Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Education did not come to Birmingham to meet the teachers, parents and students under attack from Gove?  The well being of those young people, not your trivial concerns are where Hunt should be focusing his efforts.  The jury is still out as to whether he fully appreciates that.  Whether he will grasp the mantle of Ellen Wilkinson and Estelle Morris or be a Gove lite clone concerns me.  I am against Eton and Harrow, but I think schools like Great Barr Comprehensive (my alma mater) should be Hunt’s primary concern.

I have headlined this post with the Jack Monroe quote because she has said so much better what I wished I had said.  There is a great deal wrong with how we conduct political discourse in our country.  It is not just elected politicians who take a particular pleasure in striking a pose and thereby generating more heat than light.  It bedevilled the fight back against Gove when the liberal left and atheists used the situation in East Birmingham to support their campaign against religious schools and religion in schools.  One expects Gove not to care about working class people, but surely not holier than thou lefties?

The sort of lefties who as the result of an “emotional spasm” (copyright, Aneuran Bevan) were promoting a boycott of Israeli oranges without seemingly any thought of the impact on the Arabs who grow and pick them.  I asked one person on Twitter whether he would donate the money he saved, by not buying the oranges, to an aid charity in the hope that might offset the likely impact of the boycott on Arab workers.  He said, no.  He went on to say that he would be buying his oranges elsewhere and that given the current suffering of the workers they would be unlikely to notice a worsening in their conditions.  He hated the Israelis and getting at them through a boycott was all that mattered.  I thought making a donation to Islamic Relief was a better way of displaying solidarity with the people of Gaza than, in his case, a selfish boycott.

The right, for example ukip, has its zealots too, of course.  They speak, so some Guardianistas like to assert, for those that Labour has left behind.  Now, it may have escaped their notice, but whilst ukip only says it will oppose the Bedroom Tax in government it will definitely repeal the Agency Worker Directive.  When I pointed out to one ukipper that such an act would worsen, in particular, the working conditions of agricultural labourers he said that as the directive did not make much of an improvement then its removal would barely be noticed (except, cynical me observed, by their employers).  The Agency Worker Directive was enacted into UK law in 2010.

If Labour wins next May then the Bedroom Tax will be repealed.  However, please do not let that consideration, Drabble, stop you voting selfishly in accordance with your conscience and principles.  However, I trust that if Labour loses the General Election that you will donate, on a regular basis, some of your royalties to help people like my clients.  We could call it a Conscience Tax.  In fact, how about something on account?  I guarantee that it will be most gratefully received.  So how much may I put you down for, Mr Scr …

I find your lack of empathy with the working class, Drabble, much, much worse than that of the likes of IDS.  He knows no better, but you profess to know better.  Whilst he holds tightly to a selfish philosophy, Samuel Smiles for the 21st Century, you lay claim to the moral high ground, whilst putting preserving your principles before improving the condition of the working class.  IDS lectures the poor and gives them meagre hand outs and punches in the gut whilst you lecture those of us wanting to give them a hand up about the condition of our fingernails.  I say hand up in memory of John Smith.  Our shared values transcended class.  A hand up for those who can and support for those who cannot.  Each giving according to their means and receiving according to their needs.  I think some call it socialism.

David Lloyd George (the man who enacted the State Pension) said you may keep your principles shining bright and not get your hands on the levers of power or you may tarnish them a little, get your hands on the levers of power and do something.  He was addressing people like you, Drabble.  Years later, Bevan had to remind the usual suspects on the left that socialism was the language of priorities or it was nothing.  You may, Drabble, keep your principles shining brightly and you may think your priorities are the right ones for working class children, but spare me your sanctimony, please.

Your particular Mount Olympus really must be a very lonely place if, as you say, “I feel bereft without anyone for whom I can vote.”  No progressive party in UK politics thinks your stance is a vote winner then?  Does that not suggest that it is you, in this policy area at least, who is disappointing people with your ideas rather than the Labour Party?  Either way, my clients, Drabble, cannot afford the Bedroom Tax and neither can they afford your principles.