Shamik Das looks back on one of the most dramatic weeks in British politics for many a month.
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• George Galloway sensationally won the Bradford West by-election last night, overturning a 14 per cent Labour majority with a 36% swing.
Galloway, who secured a 10,000-vote majority, winning 56% of the vote, returns to Parliament for a third time, having previously been an MP in Glasgow and Bethnal Green.
The dramatic result, which few people saw coming, will be a big blow to Ed Miliband, at the end of a fortnight in which he’s had the government on the run over the ‘millionaire’s budget’, the ‘Cash for Cameron’ scandal and the fuel strike chaos.
Labour’s vote collapsed from 45.3% at the general election to 25% yesterday – a loss of 10,200 voters. The result was also poor for the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, down 20.7 and 7.1 points, respectively, though from a lower base and with less expectation.
Miliband described it as was “an incredibly disappointing result”, vowing to “learn lessons of what happened”, while the ever-modest Galloway foresaw “a tidal wave waiting to break all over the country” in the wake of his unbelievable success.
So, what of the campaign, and what do we know of Team Galloway? Enough to know little has changed as far as the firebrand, his methods, and his cheerleaders are concerned. From east London to Bradford West, we saw the same figures spreading the same message: one of division, hate and rage.
As Carl Packman wrote on Left Foot Forward this afternoon:
When I spoke to one Labour activist who travelled from London to Bradford to join the campaign against Galloway, he described Respect’s campaign as “vile” – not least because of the personal letter sent around by Galloway claiming:
“I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have. Ask yourself if you believe the other candidate in this election can say that truthfully.”
Addressing the “voters of the Muslim faith and Pakistani heritage in Bradford West”, Galloway felt it apt to write:
“God KNOWS who is a Muslim. And he KNOWS who is not. Instinctively, so do you.”
His references to his Labour opponent as a “Muslim” in inverted commas made it obvious he wanted the “Muslim faith and Pakistani heritage” vote because he was the real Muslim candidate, which Labour rightly responded to as a “bizarre and deeply insulting letter”.
Adding of Galloway’s supporters:
On the trail Galloway also dragged out of the woodwork supporters of note, namely Carole Swords and Yvonne Ridley. Swords, chair of the Tower Hamlets Respect Party, was convicted in February for slapping a Jewish man during a boycott protest at a supermarket.
Making the line between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism even thinner she was previously found to have written on Facebook that Zionists are “cockroaches” who “hide in the dark and try to create havoc where they lay their eggs” and that those “slimy, vile, hard skin bugs need to be stomped out”.
Yvonne Ridley, on the other hand, who is reported once to have said she’s “quite a fan of Mahmoud Admadinejad who is adored by the common man and woman in Iran”, and that “Zionists have tentacles everywhere”, told supporters of Galloway’s campaign recently that sentences handed to young men after the Bradford riots represented an “apartheid-style justice that we haven’t seen since the days of South Africa”.
Galloway doesn’t care about you, or me or Bradford, or Glasgow or Bethnal Green, or Joe Public, or the man-in-the-street. Galloway is a one-man brand, and one who appeals to low politics and dirty tricks – what a pity that we have to see him in parliament (occasionally) again.
A new dusk has descended, has it not?
2. Budget 2012: The myth that lower taxes for the rich generates more tax revenue Danny Dorling, IPPR
3. Fuel strike dispute: The view from the driver’s cab Anonymous tanker driver
4. The sick anti-Semites at the heart of Galloway’s band of bigots Carl Packman
• The mishandling of the fuel strike threat, in particular the amateurish panic-inducing of the surely doomed Francis Maude, alongside the pasty tax and budget fallout marked this out as perhaps the worst for the Tories since coming to power.
Maude had stoked the row by recommending people stock up on fuel in jerry cans – a highly dangerous idea, as evidenced by the news a woman has been seriously burnt decanting petrol at her house. She has suffered 40 per cent burns and is described as being in a “critical but stable” state.
Ed Miliband accused David Cameron of “presiding over a shambles on petrol”, with the Tories attacking him for failing to condemn the strike.
Today, the Unite union ruled out a strike over Easter, following which conciliation service Acas said it would be meeting the employers involved in the dispute on Monday and attempting to set up formal talks with the union as soon as possible.
A lot of the talk this week, about Cameron, Miliband, Maude, panicking drivers and empty forecourts have ignored the people at the heart of the debate – the drivers themselves.
On Left Foot Forward today, one such individual, Tony, gave an insight into life as a tanker driver, the grievances they have and the conditions under which they work.
“My working day starts at two in the morning. For the next 12 hours, I am in charge of 38,000 litres of fuel. It is my job to load it, drive it to its place of distribution – which could be a forecourt anywhere in the country – and unload it, safe for purchase by the public. This will be the first of between two and four runs I’ll make in one shift.
“I’ve been doing this job for 18 years, and in that time I can only say things have never been worse. It is shocking to look back on how this business was once run and compare it with what happens today. Direct employment has ended, and standards have been stretched all the way down the supply chain. They’re at breaking point now.”
“Unlike water or gas, there is no regulator in fuel. The market rules. There is nothing requiring government to ensure supply is stable and safe. There are no minimum standards governing what the industry should do. This is why the industry is in danger of descending into chaos.
“It is ripe for attack by cowboy operators, the small companies who hire and fire drivers, paying them £8-£9 per hour for a job they know ought to be paid £15 per hour.
“The only way these low cost operators can turn a profit is to cut back on working conditions. Take training. A good contractor will provide 10-12 days’ training each year. These may be refresher courses for experienced drivers but on top of that, there will be two tests per year for competency; written tests, a driving assessment, and manual handling will be tested too. That’s the sort of training that gives reassurance to the public there is a professional behind the wheel.
“It is certainly not a job that can be learned over night. Twenty years ago three months would be set aside to fully train a driver but industry fragmentation has pushed this down and down. Now we’ve got guys loading trucks not knowing what product is what. “Which one is unleaded?” I’ve been asked by someone about to take £50,000 worth of flammable liquid onto a public highway.
“One time, a low cost driver even asked me how to unload the truck. He had only just been trained the day before, only just got his HGV licence – he had been driving buses previously.”
“Things will get worse, believe me, unless there is action now to stabilise this industry. The contractors of today will have their throats cut by the cowboys. Then what? It frightens me to think what will become of training, jobs and public safety then.
“That is why we are now on the verge of a strike. We care about what we do. We want to see it done properly and safely. The fuel industry in this country is now at a crossroads. It has to take the right turn, and if need be we will take action to make it do so.”
The thoughts of the tanker drivers affected should of course be front and centre of the debate – but it’s doubtful those tearing into the unions this week have even given them a second glance.
• The week (and it seems like much, much longer than a week!) began with the Cash for Cameron scandal, following the Sunday Times sting on Tory party Treasurer Peter Cruddas.
He was caught out trying to sell access to the prime minister, and access to the Downing Street policy making process for a cool £250,000, reinforcing the sentiment, hugely damaging for David Cameron, that this is a Tory government for the millionaires not the millions, in which rich men can pay for policy.
The revelations prompted demands for Cameron to release details of the people he’s entertained at Number 10 and Chequers since the election. However, as we reported on Monday, he initially refused, insisting these were “private suppers” in his “private space” – which he’s just so happened to splash £2 million of taxpayers’ money tarting up.
Later that day, while Cameron hid, he once again let the hapless Mr Maude face Ed Miliband in the Commons, having earlier given him the hospital pass of appearing on the Today Programme. During his two-hour grilling from MPs, he was quizzed over whether the health bill had been bought, a charge he failed to answer directly – and no wonder.
As Jos Bell revealed on Left Foot Forward on Tuesday, the links between private health and the Tory (and even Liberal Democrat) party are numerous – all the way up to Andrew Lansley himself. As we have previously reported, the health secretary trousered £21,000 from John Nash, the chairman of Care UK to fund his personal office.
Another big revelation this week was that Adrian Beecroft, the man with a pathological lust to strip workers of their rights and make it easy as pie to sack them without reason, donated £593,000 to the Conservatives since David Cameron became leader – that’s right the man in charge of the review into employment law and come up with these nasty policies is a multi-millionaire who’s given big money to the Tories.
And it gets worse – Beecroft is the chairman of Dawn Capital, which owns Wonga. Wonga.
As Tony Burke wrote on Left Foot Forward today:
“No wonder the government are keeping quiet – a report by a multi-millionaire who runs a pay day loan company proposing to sack workers for good reason, bad reason or no reason at all isn’t quite “we are all in this together” is it?”
In the wake of the budget, donor-gate, pie-gate and petrol-gate are the very last thing’s David Cameron would have wanted – with the Bradford West disaster pretty close to the top of Ed Miliband’s list.
The Easter break can’t come soon enough for the PM and Labour leader.
Progressives of the week:
Now here’s a pair I never thought we’d include in this section: Employment minister Chris Grayling and work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who are reportedly putting up a fight to prevent George Osborne slashing £10 billion – £1 in £20 – from the DWP budget.
The FT revealed (£) Osborne’s plans:
“…are being openly resisted by the department for work and pensions in the first sign of government infighting over the coming spending round.”
With Grayling even coming round to the realisation that getting people into work and off benefits, including through government spending, will bring down the deficit faster than rampant austerity – and give people their lives back:
“If we are successful in getting people off benefits and into work, that will generate a saving for the nation and that’s not accounted for at this moment in time.”
As Left Foot Forward has previously pointed out, huge cuts to the welfare budget will hit hard:
As Chart 1 (gif) shows, two-fifths (42%) of welfare spending goes on pensioners: a whooping £77bn in total. And more than 15% – £31bn – goes on children, via child benefit and the child tax credit. That’s almost £6 out of every £10 of welfare spending accounted for and, so far, not a “scrounger” in sight.
Then we’ve got another 10% going on support for disabled people – and this should not be confused with incapacity benefit, now called employment and support allowance, or ESA. A further 5% goes to carers and boosting the incomes of the working poor.
Only a shade over a 10th of the benefits bill – and a far smaller share of total public spending – is actually spent on directly replacing the incomes of those not in work, through jobseeker’s allowance, income support and ESA (£21bn in total). The remaining large items of spending are council tax benefit (£5bn) and housing benefit (£20bn).
Following the row over the ‘granny tax’, hacking away at the welfare budget, 42 per cent of which goes on pensioners, is one the last things Osborne should be thinking of doing.
Regressives of the week:
As I have blogged about previously, and as the #powerofpoint7 hashtag demonstrates, there is much public support for the UK providing lifesaving aid, clearly showing this report to be out of step with much public opinion.
Contrary to one of the report’s primary assertions, the internationally agreed 0.7% target is not an arbitrary figure; according to the United Nations it is the figure needed to ensure that globally there is enough funding to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals and provide essential support for 1.4 billion people to lift themselves out of extreme poverty.
Thanks to the One Campaign’s recent report, and a DFID statement after a recent Global Poverty Project campaign showing public support for the 0.7 target, we know that honouring our country’s promises to the world’s poor will mean:
• Over the next few years more than 60 million children will be vaccinated against preventable diseases (more than the entire UK population);
• Nearly 78 million people will be able to access the basics needed to start a business and get on the path of lifting themselves out of poverty;
• With 99% eradication, polio is now left in only three countries in the world and over the next few years our aid could help fund efforts to get it out of these countries and end polio and its debilitating effects for good.
These results are simply not achievable if as a country we follow the committee’s report and walk away from the international aid commitments we have made.
The chair of the Economic Affairs Committee has said putting the 0.7% target in law, as all three mainstream political parties support, “would deprive future governments of the flexibility to respond to changing circumstances at home and abroad” – but it is precisely for this reason all parties support it.
Putting the target in law removes the politics from the issue of helping stabilise communities and save lives, and prevents short term domestic interests stopping our long term international commitments. To see the end of extreme poverty, this type of cross-party agreement on 0.7 per cent is critical.
Today’s report was a backward step in the process of giving a hand up, not a hand out, to the world’s poorest people.
Evidence of the week:
Danny Dorling’s “The case for austerity among the rich” IPPR report (pdf), which exploded the myth, perpetuated, amongst others, by George Osborne in his budget last week, that lower taxes for the rich generates more revenue.
Outlining his main arguments on Left Foot Forward on Tuesday, Dorling wrote:
The richest 1% now pay more than a quarter of all direct income tax. This is not because of the 40%, 45% or 50% top tax rate, but because they now take home such huge salaries and bonuses (and incomes in other forms).
Today the best-off 1% take home a greater share than they have done at any time since directly after the First World War.
Allowing the richest 1% to take home more and more income and pay less tax does not create wealth and jobs. Employment levels have been highest in Britain in the years when the richest 1% had their lowest shares of national income, from 1945 to 1979.
The richest 1% didn’t pay a great absolute amount of income tax then because they were not taking such a high and unfair share of all the monies paid out in wages and salaries nationally.
It was not the high tax rates that meant the tax take from the richest was less then, they were less rich and so had less to tax, as Figure 5 (jpg) shows, and there was less need of their taxes because a wider cross-section of society had enough then to contribute.
The UK is slowly transforming itself into one of the most unequal, most low taxing, most low public spending countries within the rich world.
That transformation began under Margaret Thatcher, was slowed under John Major, accelerated again under Tony Blair, slowed a little again under Gordon Brown, and is now accelerating again under the coalition.
Under Tony Blair, the highest paid 0.1% of households gained from ‘earning’ 61 times the average wage of the bottom 90%, to receiving 95 times their average wage a year by the time Blair resigned. It was possible to get away with this then because of overall income growth (a very little at the bottom, a great deal at the top).
For the government now, as their economic arguments fail, they may come more and more to rely on hate to maintain their credibility. Hate ‘benefit-scroungers’, hate ‘immigrants’, hate the last government said to have ‘overspent’ your money.
It should be possible to offer an alternative to hate. And an alternative to simply offering the policies of the coalition a little watered down. A small part of that alternative would be the case for more austerity among the rich and dispelling of the myth that reducing taxes on the rich somehow makes the other 99% better-off.
This weekend on Left Foot Forward:
• Fiona Ranford of UK Feminista writes about the weekend protests against Nike over women’s rights violations.
• The Week Outside Westminster – sign up to receive it by email here.
• Ben Mitchell reacts to the report this week into last summer’s riots.
• The Week Outside Westminster – sign up to receive it by email here.