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Tom Mayhew Skewering the Lies about Benefit Claimants with Laughter

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 19/03/2021 - 6:47am in

Okay, I finally stayed up last night to listen to Radio 4’s Tom Mayhew Is Benefits Scum. I blogged about this programme a little while ago when I first read about it in the Radio Times. I said that it looked like it was worth listening to, as it seemed that it would tell the truth about what it’s really like to live on benefits. This is as opposed to the various ‘poverty-porn’ documentaries like Benefits Street, that seek to portray everyone on welfare as a scrounger. Unfortunately, it’s on at 11.00 pm on Wednesday evenings, which is a bit past my usual bedtime. But last night I actually managed to stay up and listen to it.

It’s not long, only a quarter of an hour in length, and mixes staged recreations of meetings with Jobcentre staff and benefits advisors, and stand-up, observational comedy based on Mayhew’s own experience of the benefits system. He also had a guest performer, Francesca Inez, a disabled woman, who gave her own perspective on how unfair and humiliating the system’s treatment of the disabled is.

It started out in the Jobcentre, where Mayhew was being asked by the clerk if he had really been spending 35 hours a week looking for work. Had he gone for that job as a miner as he should have done? Going out, he found his friend Francesca lying on the floor. She had gone through the process of seeing what would be the ideal job for her, and told it was ballet dancer. She had fallen over trying to practise. Mayhew commiserated with her, telling her that the machine had told him his ideal jobs were footballer, boxer and the Queen’s butler.

This sketch led into Inez herself talking about the grotesque injustice of the benefits system. She said people ask her what should be the proper relationship between government agencies and the disabled over benefits. She said it should be a partnership between the government and the claimant’s doctor. Unfortunately, this had been scrapped by New Labour, who had decided that a sizable number of claims for disability benefit were fraudulent, and so had introduced the Work Capability Test. In fact, the proportion of fraudulent claims was 0.05 per cent, so it was in fact easier for Mayhew to get a job as a footballer than to commit benefit fraud. She asked who would seriously want to be unable to go out on their own, to go to the toilet on their or prepare their own food, all for the sake of £100 a week. She was also massively unimpressed by the clerks the Department for Work and Pensions send round to make sure that claimants really are disabled. ‘Oh, I’m just here to see if you’re still wobbly’, she imitated one saying. He reply was ‘Well, I’ll give you a wet shave, and then you tell me.’

Mayhew also attacked the sanctions system. He thought you were only sanctioned if you deliberately tried to mislead or play the system. But no! He found himself sanctioned for eight weeks simply because he’d sent the wrong form in. But he’d been told that it would take eight weeks for his case to be reviewed. How strange, then, that he had his benefits restored after only four after he’d written to him MP. He then gave a shout-out to David Gauke, a Tory, saying how weird it was that a Tory MP should actually help someone on benefit.

He argued that it was wrong to call welfare payments ‘benefits’. Benefits sounds like something extra on top of one’s wages. Instead it should be called ‘Survival Money’, because you needed it to survive. This would make it difficult to have people thrown off it as well. Depriving someone of benefits sounds much better than removing their survival money. And as for sanctions, how does being hungry make someone better at finding work?

He also joked about the massive lack of self-esteem people on benefits have. He told one story of how he’d been accosted by a man while walking back from the Jobcentre. The man had told him that he should carry himself with a bit more confidence, head held high, because if he’d been a mugger, Mayhew would have been an easy target. It was, Mayhew jested, a Virtual mugging in which he’d been robbed of his self-respect. He then told another one about a mugger marching him to a cash machine, telling him he was going to leave him with nothing. ‘How kind of him to clear my overdraft!’

More seriously, Mayhew told a chilling anecdote which showed how easy it is for desperate, starving young men to be reduced to selling their bodies for sex. He’d met someone at a gathering, and they promised to get in touch with each other again via email. A few months later he got one from this man. Mayhew replied to him, saying he was in a bad patch financially, and asked him for £50. He told him he’d be able to pay him back in two month’s time. The man replied that he couldn’t give him any money, but he would pay him £200 to have sex with him. Mayhew joked that he didn’t, as he wouldn’t do anything like that for less than £350. But for a moment he was tempted. Poverty has often forced desperate women into prostitution, but this story showed it could also happen to men.

I had a great, appreciative comment by Mayhew to my original blog piece about his programme. He asked me if I could do something to further publicise his programme, because he’d been going through the papers and hadn’t found any reviews of it. Listening to his programme, it was easy to understand why: he was too sharp, and told the truth.

Right-wing rags like the Heil, the Scum and the Depress sell copies by spreading moral panic about benefit claimants. They actively paint them as scroungers and malingerers, as does right-wing internet radio host Alex Belfield. Although rather more polite, the same attitude also pervades the Torygraph and the Times. These papers very definitely do not want their Thatcherite ideals contradicted by people, who’ve been at the sharp end of the system, showing their readers they’re perfectly decent, honest people and telling them how dysfunctional, humiliating and malign the system really is.

And unfortunately I don’t see the supposedly left-wing press being much better. The Mirror, the Graun and the Absurder have all struck me as being Blairite New Labour, who wholeheartedly embraced Thatcher’s contempt and persecution of the unemployed, the sick and the disabled. The Graun has many times urged people to vote Lib Dem in recent elections, so again, these papers won’t want their readers disabused of some of their received notions.

Added to this is the current campaign by the Tories and their lapdog press to destroy the Beeb. This is partly because the Tories depend for their propaganda on the favour of Rupert Murdoch and his papers, who hates the Beeb as an obstacle to his domination of the global media. They also hate the idea of a state TV broadcaster as part of their opposition to any kind of state intervention, as well as the idea of an impartial, public service broadcaster. Hence the attempt to set up various rivals to the Beeb by the Times.

As a result, the papers have been running stories about how the BBC is too left-wing and too ‘woke’. Belfield put up a video a day or two ago rejoicing over the cancellation of Nish Kumar’s The Mash Report. Director-General Tim Davie had supposedly cancelled it because it was too biased towards the left. Belfield went further, and claimed that the real reason it was axed was because it wasn’t funny and was helmed by a ‘box-ticker’ – his term for a person of colour or other minority, who’s been given a job because of their identity rather than talent. Kumar’s Asian, so Belfield’s comment looks just a tad racist to me. Belfield claimed that cancelling Kumar’s show wouldn’t make any difference, as the Beeb as a whole is too left-wing and needs to be privatised.

It’s obvious from this that the right-wing media, then, aren’t going to give a good review to an explicitly left-wing comedy show. I also think that class is also an issue here. New Labour, it has been pointed out, was liberal but not socialist. Blair had turned his back on the working class, and instead New Labour concentrated on trying to recruit the middle classes. The left-wing elements of New Labour ideology was a concern with combating racism and other forms of prejudice, such as against gays, and promoting feminism and better opportunities for women. I think defending and promoting the disabled is in there, so long as they are properly respectable and not benefit scroungers. Mayhew is working class, and so isn’t of interest according to New Labour ideology.

All of which means that, unfortunately, the press isn’t prepared to give a hearing to something like this. Which is a pity, as it’s very good. Mayhew tells his stories and his jokes in a normal, conversational tone. He doesn’t harangue or shout for effect, as many comedians do. And he’s actually very witty. To simulate a studio audience, the show used canned laughter because it was impossible to have a live audience due to the Coronavirus. Mayhew made a couple of jokes about how the imaginary audience hadn’t paid for their tickets. He then told how, after one gig, he’d been accosted by an unhappy audience member. Why didn’t he get a proper job instead of standing there complaining, asked the man. To which he replied, ‘Have you seen my show?’ He then commented that at least he was a Tory who had paid for his ticket. He also made jokes about other people, being paid to do nothing all day. Like MPs.

It’s a pity the shows on so late on a weekday night, as it’s a funny, necessary antidote to the constant propaganda being pumped out about benefit claimants being scroungers. I don’t know anything about Francesca Inez, but from what I heard she deserves a place with the other disabled comedians, who have appeared on TV. At the very least, she deserves an endorsement from DPAC because of the way her comedy tries to bring their concerns to public attention. The show also demonstrates very clearly why we need a public service broadcaster, as it’s only a broadcaster like the Beeb that would take a chance on a show like it.

I think it’s only a four part series, and concludes next week. If this sounds like the kind of thing that tickles your funny bone and you also agree with its message, then please tune in.

I hope this is the start of a great career for Tom Mayhew, and that the show later gets repeated in an earlier slot when hopefully more people can hear it.

Ian Lavery on the Need for Working Class Labour MPs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 28/02/2021 - 1:16am in

This is another excellent article from Labour Outlook, whose messages I stand solidly behind. Lavery’s a member of the socialist group of Labour MPs. In this piece, he describes how Labour lost its traditional heartlands, the very communities in which the party was born, because it no longer represented them. This was because a professional political class had developed, very few whose of members were working class. It was also because of the attitude within New Labour that the working class could be ignored and taken for granted because they had nowhere else to go. As a result, many of Labour’s traditional supporters either stayed home, or voted for others. They felt betrayed by Labour’s stance on Brexit and alienated by the ’90s socially liberal legislation. I am particularly impressed with the two final paragraphs, which run

But there is more to it that just that. Labour representatives cannot focus group their way to a better society. We need people with the heart and instincts that can only come from the bitter sting of personal experience. Parliament is desperately short of people who have claimed benefits, gone through life with disabilities or struggled day in day out in bad employment. This past year we have seen key workers carry the country on their backs, yet the green benches are sadly lacking in them too. We desperately need people with this experience to rebuild our country.

Labour has a history of promoting positive discrimination and it has an even longer history of championing the cause of working people. It is time that we remember our roots and embrace protected places for working class candidates throughout of our movement. If we do not trust in the power of people from our heartlands, why should they ever again put their trust in us?

I think Lavery is absolutely right. The Tories have been able, unfortunately, to position themselves as the real champions of the working class partly because they are able to reflect genuine working class concerns, though often in a crudely distorted form and with simplistic, deeply unjust solutions. For example, rather than blame unemployment on the cyclical crises of capitalism, they use scapegoats such as immigrants, who they falsely claim are taking away British jobs. They often speak in the language of ordinary people, while New Labour was notorious for its managerial attitude and jargon. Socialism always has had a very strong intellectual tradition because of its roots in the analysis and examination of the failings of the aristocratic and capitalist social orders. But all too often this has meant that socialism could be attacked as elitist, the product and concern of academics and intellectuals with no real experience or interest in real, working class life. This is despite the fact that many of the great intellectual pioneers of socialism were very definitely working class. Extreme right-wing mouthpieces, such as the internet radio host Alex Belfield, play on their working class origins while advocating policies which have hurt and will continue to hurt and exploit the very class from which they claim to come. It’s time this was challenged, and Labour put up their working class candidates.

Here’s the article as a whole:

‘Labour suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the Tories in 2019 losing the very working-class communities where we were born as a party. Whilst there has been a meagre upswing in our polling position, the figures behind the headline tell a sorry tale about our position in the places Labour held for decades.

As Jon Trickett, Laura Smith and I have argued for some time the Labour Party has simply lost touch with working class communities. As a professional political class took over the institutions of the party three decades ago, inside Labour a shift took place and in too many instances our elected politicians were no longer representative of the communities that they served. An almost authoritarian level of social liberalism pervaded our party. But the consequences at the time were near non-existent.

That was in part because the New Labour machine tapped into a wildly successful electoral project that was built on the premise that the working-class backbone of the Labour vote had nowhere else to go. But as always short-term gain is built on sand. As the optimism of the 90’s and 2000’s gave way to cynicism, those working people who had felt ignored and even ridiculed by their party begun to stay at home and as time went on if they did come out to vote, it wasn’t for us.

As the party flounders seeking solutions to its current woes, I can say with certainty that “getting the band back together” and trying to emulate New Labour simply will not work. Neither will the current strategy based on following focus groups and repeating confusing messaging. It is Labour’s job to articulate an easily understood vision of a better future based on the principles on which our party was founded, and we need to make people believe we can deliver it.

In 2017 we ended up only a few thousand votes away from a fundamental break with a system which for too many has caused hardship. That the positive aspects of that campaign should never be forgotten is one thing and something that has been extensively covered. But as a party member and elected representative for decades it concerns me greatly that it could be decades until we see a Labour government again. So many of our traditional voters who for so long had not bothered came out to support us, to back a message of hope and to put their trust in us, perhaps one last time. I suspect many will be looking now and wondering what happened.

There is no easy way forward for Labour. Rebuilding long held bonds, severed by a feeling of betrayal over Brexit, will not be an easy task. Standing shoulder to shoulder with workers and communities in their struggles through deep roots is the way we must do this. But there is something else Labour must take seriously.

Whilst in recent decades our party has been at the forefront of diversifying Parliament, fewer and fewer of our senior politicians come from a working-class background with a few notable exceptions. This is a huge issue if we ever again hope to form a government. Labour cannot represent the country it seeks to lead without being representative of it. Winning trust back amongst these voters means selecting deep-rooted candidates with a track record of standing up for their communities. Being the drop off point of a conveyor belt full of “professional” politicians is simply not an option.

But there is more to it that just that. Labour representatives cannot focus group their way to a better society. We need people with the heart and instincts that can only come from the bitter sting of personal experience. Parliament is desperately short of people who have claimed benefits, gone through life with disabilities or struggled day in day out in bad employment. This past year we have seen key workers carry the country on their backs, yet the green benches are sadly lacking in them too. We desperately need people with this experience to rebuild our country.

Labour has a history of promoting positive discrimination and it has an even longer history of championing the cause of working people. It is time that we remember our roots and embrace protected places for working class candidates throughout of our movement. If we do not trust in the power of people from our heartlands, why should they ever again put their trust in us?’

See: Labour cannot focus group the way to a better society – we need working-class MPs. Ian Lavery MP Exclusive. – Labour Outlook

Working Class Comedian on Radio Next Week Sending Up Benefits System

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 27/02/2021 - 2:48am in

This could be really good. According to next week’s Radio Times for 27th February – 5th March 2021, Radio 4 begins a new series at 11.00 pm Wednesday night with the comedian Tom Mayhew, in which he recounts his own experience of the benefits system. It’s called Tom Mayhew Is Benefit Scum, which accurately sums up the Tory attitude towards the unemployed, long-term sick, disabled and indeed anyone claiming benefits. The blurb for the programme on page 137 of the Radio Times runs

The working-class comedian presents and autobiographical journey through the benefits system in a stand-up series that takes a wry look at prejudices towards benefits claimants and turns those assumptions on their heads.

The additional piece about it on the opposite page, 136, gives this information

There’s an endearing ruefulness about stand-up comedian Tom Mayhew. He seems to understand that the way to get comic mileage out of the less than advantageous hand life has dealt him is not to get too angry about it. This show, which started life on the Edinburgh Fringe, is based on his experience of the benefits system, and although it wasn’t available at the time of going to press, we can possibly glean things from routines he’s put up online. I like his line about how – jobless in 2010 – he found his Pokemon cards were worth more than his A-level certificate.

Assuming this programme does what the Radio Times claims it does, it could be very, very good. The treatment of people claiming benefits in this country is absolutely scandalous, thanks to the Tories and New Labour, and well deserves to be sent up. It looks like its going to be a gentle mocking, rather than the vicious attack the murderous system and the unindicted crims behind it deserve. It’ll be interesting to see what the press makes of it. They’ll either ignore it, or else rant about how the Beeb is glamorising welfare dependency and so should be privatised.

But programmes like this demonstrate the opposite. They’re why we need proper public service broadcasting, as we won’t get this kind of material from Murdoch.

Disaster Predicted for Labour in May Elections – Will They Blame the Left?

As if this question needs to be asked. Mike this morning put up a piece commenting on recent forecasts that Labour under Starmer’s leadership will actually lose seats in the local elections in May. Only 4 per cent of Tory voters are predicted to switch to Labour. This will be a disaster for Labour, and should be a catastrophe for Starmer as it shows that his policy of turning Labour into the alternative Tory party isn’t working. Starmer isn’t winning support for Labour because he has violated the first rule of an opposition party: this is to oppose. Instead, Starmer has offered support and ‘cautious criticism’. This has often come after Tory policies have been proven to be failures, so that Johnson ridiculed him from the Dispatch Box as ‘Captain Hindsight’. And his lack of any decisive alternative alternative vision to the wretched Tories also allowed Johnson to sneer at him as ‘General Indecision’.

Worse, Labour is losing its core voters thanks to Starmer’s own war on the left. He has scrapped Corbyn’s manifesto policies, which were genuinely popular despite the media’s and political establishment’s successful vilification of Corbyn himself. Starmer has carried on purging the left under the pretext of cracking down on anti-Semitism. He has alienated Labour’s traditional supporters in the Black and Asian communities by his half-hearted gestures of support for Black Lives Matter and his refusal to punish the real racists in the Labour Party, who bullied Diane Abbott and other Black MPs and activists. And it’s fairly obvious why. These racists are all from the right, the section of the party that supports him. He also has not punished the various conspirators who deliberately plotted to sabotage the party’s election campaign in 2017 and 2019. Again, these are all right-wingers, so safe from punishment for their misdeeds. And to make his and his faction’s grip on the party secure, David Evans has suspended members and constituency parties that have dared to criticise the Dear Leader and passed fresh regulations stipulating that electoral candidates must meet with his approval as suitable prospective MPs. Which means, as Mike’s pointed out, that no-one from the left will be accepted, even if they have the full backing of their local parties.

If the predicted electoral disaster does occur – and I’ve no doubt it will – then it should rightly be the end of Starmer and the Blairites. The Blairite tactic of triangulation – finding out what will appeal to Tory voters, donors and the media, and then doing it – isn’t working. The public has seen through the New Labour tactic of copying Tory policies while claiming that, once in power, Labour will be better at them. Tory voters are going to stick with the Tories, because why should they accept a pale imitation under Starmer? Johnson’s defeat should be an open goal. This week the number of people, who’ve died from the Coronavirus hit 100,000. This truly horrendous death toll is a direct result of Johnson’s selfish, inept and half-hearted policies, the corruption that has led him to award vital medical contracts to firms owned by his friends, which then catastrophically can’t fulfil them. And instead of the great, radiant victory for British independence, business and entrepreneurialism, Brexit is rapidly showing itself to be another disaster. It is hitting British business hard with extra bureaucracy and tariffs for trading with the EU. It is expected to decimate our already severely stricken manufacturing industry.

The fact that Starmer is losing to Johnson should mean that Starmer should vacate the Labour leadership following the May elections, assuming that Labour does as poorly as predicted. By I predict that won’t happen. That would leave the leadership open to someone from the real Labour centre. Someone determined to support Corbyn’s policies of a nationalised National Health Service, publicly owned utilities, a proper, functioning welfare state that the gives the support the poor, the unemployed, the long-term sick and disabled they really need, protects working people with proper employment rights and strong trade unions, and ends the wretched pay freezes and exploitative gig economy. These were all genuinely popular. But they frighten big business and the Tory and New Labour media. Hence the determination to bring down Labour by any means possible. Hence the smears of Corbyn and his supporters as Communists, Trotskyites and Jew-haters. And they’ll do it again.

The Blairites have shown through their electoral sabotage and their attempted coups that they mean to hang on to power whatever the cost. Even if it destroys the party. Thus I predict that if Labour does fail miserably in May’s elections, Starmer will stay. He and the media will claim that this was because the stain of anti-Semitism is still hanging over the party. More purges of the Corbynite left will be demanded and follow. And it won’t do a bit of good. The party will remain unpopular, possibly even more so.

But Starmer won’t care how unpopular it is, so long as he and the Blair have a secure grip on it. And at some point he’ll even be rewarded with a peerage just like the turncoats and plotters.

For further information, see: Labour isn’t winning back Tory voters by trying to be Tory. What will Starmer try next? | Vox Political (voxpoliticalonline.com)

BBC Documentaries Next Week on the History and Prejudice against the Disabled

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/01/2021 - 10:19pm in

Next week the Beeb is showing two programmes, one on the history of disabled people and the other on the prejudice, discrimination and cruelty they experience. The first of these programmes is Silenced: The Hidden Story of Disabled Britain, on BBC 2 on Tuesday, 19th January 2021, at 9.00 pm. The blurb for it on page 88 of the Radio Times runs

Writer, actor and presenter Cerrie Burnell tells the story of how disabled people have had to fight back following more than 100 years of being shut out of society, denied basic human rights and treated with fear and prejudice. The former CBeebies host, who was born without the lower part of her right arm, discovers how modern attitudes to disabled people were formed in Victorian Britain’s workhouses, and hears stories from the brave pioneers who have changed the lives of those affected forever.

There’s a bit more about the programme by Alison Graham on page 86:

Cerrie Burnell, who was born without the lower part of her right arm, reads from a newspaper story about parents’ complaints when she became a CBeebies presenter in 2009. She was, apparently, “scaring children” and will always be remembered as “the woman with one arm”.

Burnell carries that quiet anger throughout this powerful film looking at society’s treatment of disabled people throughout history.

It’s a litany of casual cruelty, misguided “kindness” and downright wickedness, as men, women and children were put, out of sight and often for decades, in institutions.

The following day, Wednesday 20th January 2021, there’s Targeted: the Truth about Disability Hate Crime, on the same channel, BBC 2, also at 9.00 pm. The blurb for this in the Radio Times on page 98. runs

Testimony from a handful of the nation’s 14 million disabled people reveals just how tough it is to live with a disability in 21st century Britain. Among those telling their stories are Hannah, a young mixed-race woman who has cerebral palsy and is clear about the fact that it is her disability, not her skin colour, that provokes discrimination. Andrea, who has dwarfism, says she is routinely treated with contempt and reveals how she was left with a fractured skull and being kicked in the head. Dan, who has autism and just wants to fit in, finds himself a social outcast and now suffers from severe depression having fallen prey to random violent attacks.

Radio 4 has also been running a ten part series on the history of the disabled for several weeks now, Disability: A New History. The 5th instalment, which is on next Sunday, 17th January 2021 at 2.45 pm, is entitled ‘Finding a Voice’. The blurb for it says

‘Peter White highlights the work of William Hay, an 18th-century MP born with spinal curvature.’

I’m mentioning these programmes, especially that on hate crime, because the Tories and New Labour have both been determined to demonise disabled people and find ways to throw them off benefits. The work capability examinations, devised in conjunction with American insurance fraudster Unum, are based on the assumption that a particular percentage of claims for disability are fake and that those making the claim are malingering. This has seen jobcentres falsify the evidence given by claimants in order to fulfil the number of claimants they are required to deny benefits. As for the violence experienced by the disabled, a friend of mine told me he had been abused several times while out with his wife, who had to use a wheelchair. He blamed one of the characters on Little Britain for the rise in prejudice. This was the disabled character, who gets up from his wheelchair to run around when his carer leaves him. I’m no fan of Little Britain, but I think a far greater cause of prejudice and hostility is the Tory. This consistently vilifies the disabled and other benefit claimants as scroungers and malingers, to the extent that the British public think 27 per cent of all claims for benefit are fraudulent, while the true figure is less than one per cent. Mike over at Vox Political has put up very many posts covering this topic, as well as the numerous deaths of people with severe disabilities, who were wrongfully and grotesquely thrown off the benefits they needed to survive. I hope this will also be covered in the documentaries. But as it’s the Beeb, it probably won’t.