Posts Tagged ‘Berkshire’

Cameron’s Class Background, Prejudices and Osborne’s ‘Workers’ Budget’

March 10, 2014

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This morning the lead story in the i was that Cameron had been told by the Tories that he had to stop the gap between North and South widening any further. Further to this story, Osborne had been preparing a ‘Worker’s Budget’ for next week. Quite how far Cameron is from anyone, who could remotely be described as working class is explained in detail in Owen Jones’ Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (London: Verso 2012).

Cameron’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all stockbrokers. His primary school was Heatherdown Preparatory School in Berkshire, whose old schoolboys include Princes Andrew and Edward. When he was eleven he flew across the Atlantic with a group of his school chums to go to the birthday party of Peter Getty, the grandson of the oil billionaire, John Paul Getty. He was, of course, like all good snobs, educated at Eton. Before he went to university, he worked as a researcher for the Tory MP Tim Rathbone, who was his godfather. A few months after this, his father arranged for him to work in Hong Kong for a multinational. Apart from his Oxford and the Bullingdon Club, he managed to get a job at Conservative Central Office following a telephone call from Buck House. When that came to an end a few years later, his girlfriend’s mother, Annabel Astor, suggested to the chairman of Carlton Television, Michael Green, that he should hire him. Which he duly did. So elevated and far from the world of us plebs is Cameron, that he described his wife’s education as ‘highly unconventional’ because she went to a day school.

Other Tory colleagues have stated that he’s an unrepentant social elitist. One of his old schoolmates is supposed to have said ‘I think there’s something very unconservative about believing that because of who you are, you are the right person to run the country. It’s the natural establishment which believes in power for power’s sake, the return of people who think they have a right to rule.’

Another Old Etonian described Cameron as ‘a strange product of my generation … He seems to represent a continuation of, or perhaps regression to, noblesse oblige Toryism. Do we really want to be ruled by Arthurian knights again?’

And naturally, Cameron has surrounded himself with ministers from the same elevated social class. 23 out of 29 of his first cabinet ministers were millionaires. 59 per cent of them went to a private school, and only 3 per cent actually went to a comprehensive.

Even Boris Johnson’s sister, who edited the Lady, is fed up of the very narrow class basis of his cabinet. She told Jones before the 2010 General Election about probably composition of his administration: ‘the prospect is Old Etonians bankrolled by stockbrokers … It’s back to the days of Macmillan and Eden.’

So this a government of toffs, led by an extremely rich toff, even by toff standards, who believes he has an automatic right to rule, simply because he is a toff. And his fellow toff, Gideon, sorry, George Osborne, will next week, according to the I, launch a ‘worker’s budget’. The whole idea is a joke. Unfortunately, as the 38,000 people or so, who may have died under Cameron’s welfare reforms, it’s a killer. And that ain’t no laughing matter.

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Another Angry Voice on the Tories’ Housing Benefit Hypocrisy.

February 26, 2014

Richard Benyon Housing Benefit Something for Nothing

The irate Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice has put up yet another excellent article, this time attacking the Richard Benyon, the Tory MP for Newbury, for his hypocritical stance towards cutting Housing Benefit for the poor, while profiting from it himself as an aristocratic landlord. It begins

If you ever needed another example of the vile hypocrisy of the Tories, you should check out some of the stuff that Richard Benyon, the Tory MP for Newbury, has said about benefits and the welfare system.

He repeatedly uses the term “something for nothing” to slam benefits recipients, yet he himself is a much bigger benefit recipient than any unemployed person, or member of the ever increasing demographic working poor.

What he fails to mention every time he rants about the size of the welfare state, is that he is one of the very biggest beneficiaries of the welfare system, as his company (Englefield Estate Trust Corporation Limited) raked in £625,964 in housing benefit from West Berkshire council last year. It is likely that his company receives much more from other councils too, given that it holds land and property all over the United Kingdom.

What people fail to realise about housing benefit is that when it is paid out to help poor families cover the cost of private rents, the idle rentier class (like Richard Benyon) are the beneficiaries, not the tenants themselves. The DWP themselves admit that it costs well over £1,000 extra per year in housing benefit for every tenant that is housed in private accomodation, rather than social housing.

Since the Tories came to power and launched their economically illiterate austerity experiment, the size of the already bloated housing benefit bill has grown dramatically to £24 billion in 2013, as hundreds of thousands of families (mainly the working poor) have been driven into such poverty that they have become entitled to help with the cost of their rent. The number of working poor families reliant upon housing benefit has soared 104% between 2009 and 2013. The beneficiaries of this soaring housing benefit bill are not the tenants themselves, but private landlords like Richard Benyon.

Here’s a direct quote from Richard Benyon’s website:

“The Government is reforming Labour’s ‘something for nothing’ welfare culture, by capping the amount one household can get in benefits”

He also gives his recommendations for how the situation could be improved, one of which is the obvious policy of building more social housing.

The article is at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/richard-benyon-housing-benefit-hypocrisy.html.

The Floods and Cameron’s Lies

February 12, 2014

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I’ve put up a couple of posts recently on the lies David Cameron has told about the floods. In the first post I questioned Cameron’s assertion that the Coalition had spent more on flood defences than the Labour Party. The second post I put up was reblogged from Pride’s Purge, which provided the figures showing that the Coalition was spending far less on the floods than Labour. Further confirmation of this comes from this article from Private Eye’s issue for 20th to 23rd January 2014:

‘”There are a lot of flood defences being built,” claimed David Cameron outside a flooded village pub in Yalding, Kent, at the end of December. “But we have got to do more.”

Days later environment secretary Owen Paterson insisted that cuts to 550 flood prevention, warning and recovery jobs at the Environment Agency (EA) – splashed on by the Telegraph last week, though Eye readers read about them last year – are somehow being made “with the intention of protecting frontline services concerned with floods.” “This government is spending more than all preceding governments on flood defences,” he added. It should, but it isn’t.

Things were already bad under Labour. In 2007, official figures showed the EA missed its target of keeping just 63 percent of England’s existing flood defences up to scratch (Eye 1187); and the National Audit Office said it would take an extra $150m a year just to reach the target. But since the coalition came to power in 2010, far from tackling the flood defence backlog it has actually spent even less on flood defences.

A briefing paper last year found a 6 percent overall fall in central government funding for flood and coastal defence during the 2011-15 spending review period. Even the extra £120m announced in November 2012 – after it was revealed that 294 flood defence schemes across England were on hold after never receiving funding they’d been promised – didn’t bring spending back up to even 2010 levels.

But never mind! Government had a new wheeze to encourage local and private funding of flood defence through “Flood and Coastal Resilience Partnership Funding”. This, claimed the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, would enable “more local choice” and “encourage innovative, cost-effective options”. Alas, as the Local Government Association told parliament last year: “securing private sector contributions in the current economic climate is particularly challenging.” By 2015, just £38m for flood defence is expected to be raised from private sources – and the likely funders are firms who want to develop on flood plains.

Extra cash is available from taxpayers via the government’s “Growing Places Fund” – which is specifically for infrastructure, such as transport or flood defence, which will “unlock jobs and housing “developments. So the only way to get flood defence funded is … to build yet more on land at risk of flooding! Clever, eh?’

This piece not only shows that Cameron has been lying once again – and one wonders if anyone at the Coalition has ever, in their entire lives, told anyone the truth – but it’s also par for the course for the lamentable performance of Thatcher’s programme of wholesale privatisation. Thatcher, you will remember, was insistent that private industry would give you more choice, as well as be more efficient than state-managed monopolies and concerns. Hence the Coalition’s boast that their Flood and Coastal Resilience Partnership Funding would provide ‘more local choice’. Well, it has been demonstrably less efficient and effective at raising money for flood defences than traditional forms of state taxation, borrowing and allocation of funds. As for choice, that hasn’t noticeably been one of the Partnership’s priorities either. None of the poor souls now being flooded out of their homes and businesses in Somerset, Berkshire and elsewhere chose to be so, and the government has gone back to using state spending to combat the floods. So that’s another resounding triumph for private industry then.

Or at least it will be the next time Cameron and his cabinet start telling lies about it.

Conservative Apologies and Lies in Flooded Somerset

February 10, 2014

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‘How do you know when a politician’s lying?’
‘His lips move.’

-Old Joke told on the Max Headroom Show circa 1986.

‘How do you know when David Cameron is lying?’
‘I refer the honourable gentleman/lady to the answer to the previous question.’

David Cameron will be touring the flooded areas of south-western England this morning trying to reassure the poor souls there that the government is doing its uttermost to combat the disaster and help the people recover their homes, land and livelihoods that are now drowned under the flood waters.

It’s a horrific disaster, as a brief glance at the pictures coming from the affected areas show. In Somerset people have had to be moved out of their houses, while farmer’s have lost crops as the floods covered their fields. One farmer was faced with the stark choice between selling or giving some of his cattle away, or sending them to be slaughtered as he had nowhere he could keep them, so hard was his farm hit by the floods.

During prehistory, and then in the early middle ages the Somerset levels was marshland, and some memory of the extend of the marsh environment is shown in area’s place names. The ‘ey’ in the names of places such as Muchelney, Athelney and so on comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘ieg’, meaning an island. These villages were islands of dry land in the surrounding marsh. During the Neolithic the local people constructed the Sweet Track, a timber walkway through the marsh supported by poles as a way of getting across the marshy environment. Similar wooden tracks crossing the north German moors were built during the Iron Age.

The marshland was gradually reclaimed from the 13th century onwards, though by the end of the 17th century only about a 1/3 of the levels was dry land. The remaining land was reclaimed during the 18th and 19th centuries. Water management and drainage has continued to be vital to the maintenance of the Levels, as the area is criss-crossed by a series of ‘rhines’ and drainage channels, like the King’s Sedgemoor Drain. Historically it has suffered from terrible floods. One in the early 17th century, created through a combination of bad weather and a tidal surge up the Severn Estuary, drowned houses, fields and livestock with the flood waters advancing about eight miles from Glastonbury itself. One eyewitness to this inundation recalled seeing crows perching on floating sheep, until the sheep in their turn sank and drowned. Fortunately the modern floods aren’t that severe, but they’re harmful enough to the people down there, who’ve had to be moved out of their houses.

Cameron visited the area yesterday, promising the local people that there would be every effort to combat the floods and that £3 million had been allocated to do this. He also made other, predictable claims that the government was spending more on flood defences than the Labour government.

Cameron has been merely the latest in a line of politicians and public figures to come down to look at the disaster and speak to its victims. They included Chris Smith, the environment secretary, and Prince Charles. Smith’s response to the crisis had caused even more anger. The local Tory MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, was furious at the way the environment agency had handled the disaster. He stated that when the area had suffered flooding a year ago, he spoke to Smith, who promised that suitable action would be taken. Nothing, however, was done. Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, Eric Pickles offered an unconditional apology to the people of Somerset for the way the government had mishandled it. Liddell-Grainger had gone even further, and demanded Smith’s resignation. Smith duly appeared on TV to say he had absolutely no intention of resigning, and was completely satisfied with his Agency’s actions. This had simply infuriated Mr Liddell-Grainger even more, and no doubt contributed to the apology offered by Pickles.

Cameron also acknowledged that mistakes had been made. He stated that the Agency had stopped dredging the Levels in the 1990s, and that this was a mistake.

Now the floods wreaking havoc throughout the country are a vital issue for Cameron and his administration. Not only are they a national disaster, but the areas affected are of crucial political importance for the Tory party. Like much of rural England, parts of Somerset are a Tory heartland. My parents have joked before now that in some of the villages, there used to be only two social clubs you could join when they were young: the Farmers’ Union and the Young Conservatives. With the Tories now suffering competition from UKIP, Cameron needs to show the Tories’ traditional constituents that he is indeed acting on their behalf.

Mixed in the with promises, however, are liberal amounts of the lies, which you can expect from a Tory leader. I’ve reblogged a piece from Mike over at Vox Political, on the way the way the BBC – surprisingly! – picked up the way the Tories had manipulated the graphs showing funding for the Environment Agency to suggest that it was actually much larger than it actually was. As for their claim that the Tories were now spending more on flood defences than Labour, this is may well be true. Now. After the floods had occurred, and demanded immediate action. I doubt very, very much this was the case before though. An administration dedicated to cutting government spending, and which reneged on its promises to preserve the NHS, is hardly likely to have left the Environment Agency untouched.

As for Cameron’s acknowledgement that they had stopped dredging in the 1990s, and this was a mistake, this occurred under the last Tory prime minister, John Major. During Major’s administration Private Eye ran a number of stories reporting the way government agencies and watchdogs regulating the environment and the utilities were increasingly downsized, with their powers restricted, in order to give greater freedom to industry. I’ve got a feeling that one of these was almost certainly the Environment Agency or its predecessor. Cameron’s government is similarly dedicated to minimising, if not removing altogether, government regulation and interference, and so I cannot see any long term changes occurring under Cameron. In fact, I can see the complete opposite. After the floods recede, what will probably happen is that, after a brief show of some token of increased funding or activity, the Environment Agency will go back to doing as little as possible as usual. Worse, it will probably be under pressure to cut services further to make savings to make up for the vast amount spent dealing with the floods. So despite Cameron’s grandiose claims, the people currently hit by the floods will be less protected afterwards than they were before.

What matters is not that permanent solutions are put in place to tackle the floods and prevent them occurring all over again. What matters is that Cameron is seen to be doing something, so that he can continue to cling to power and make further savings by slashing government expenditure. This is what his paymasters in the multinationals want. And the locals in Somerset, Devon, Dorset and Berkshire will be left to fend for themselves.