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Get Back to Work, Mr Cameron

September 2, 2012

David Cameron “sets out his vision for the future of Britain” today in a rather astonishing Mail article. Packed full of platitudes and lacking any sense of self-awareness, I have to admit to reading most of it with my mouth agape.

So, in the famous internet tradition of Fisking (a point-by-point criticism which highlights errors) I’ve decided to delve further into the murky world of David William Donald Cameron.

This week, politics starts again for the autumn – and I profoundly believe we can face Britain’s challenges with confidence.

Yes, growth has been disappointing – but in the past two years we’ve also seen more than 900,000 jobs created in the private sector. Yes, turning around our schools is tough – but hundreds of new Free Schools and Academies are opening every year. Yes, tackling welfare dependency is difficult – but there are more people in work now than at the last Election. This is a Government with fighting spirit for our future.

Yes Dave, some private sector jobs have been created, but a rather similar number of public sector jobs are being cut, and let us not forget that much of the work being created is temporary, precarious and part-time. There also appears to be a trend to encourage those out of work to declare themselves as self-employed, to help bring the unemployment figures down.

Because the Olympics and Paralympics have taught us a valuable lesson: if you have  a vision and pursue it with enough rigour and drive, you can achieve it. And my vision for this country is clear.

Quite an odd comparison he makes here. “Did you like the Olympics and Paralympics? Well you should totally like Dave too, because he’s just like them, kinda.” Except he isn’t really. Alongside “vision” you also need some talent and the skill to pull it off.

It’s a Britain that is more competitive, dynamic, creative – that is linked up with the fastest-growing parts of the world.

It’s a Britain where we have real social mobility, where people can rise from the bottom to the top and no one knows their place. It’s a society where we build up the doers, the creators, the life-affirmers – whether that’s the person who starts a business or works for a better neighbourhood.

Ah, meritocracy. That old chestnut. Britain is not meritocratic by any means, and there is high wealth inequality. Kate Pickett writes of the conclusions to her book The Spirit Level that: “unequal societies have lower levels of trust, higher levels of mental illness, worse physical health, more obesity, their children do less well in schools, there are more teenage births, more violence, [..] a greater percentage of the population is in prison and social mobility is lower as well”. All of which affects our ability to move between the different social classes, no matter how hard we may try.

The real appeal of Cameron’s call to meritocracy is it’s focus on personal responsibility, it allows those who subscribe to it a means to justify poverty as a personal failure in life. If you aren’t a millionaire, well, you just didn’t work hard enough.

However, the cutting of the 50p tax rate, the financial crisis and Cameron’s defence of the banking sector have shown to many people in Britain that you can be rewarded for failure, and you might not necessarily earn that six-figure salary on merit alone.

And all of this means a nation where we talk about the values that matter: that families are vital; that we each have responsibilities to fulfil; that doing an honest day’s work is a moral good that should be rewarded. 

As Ellie-Mae O’Hagan wrote recently: “The level of value we place upon paid work has often baffled me. I’ve never understood why it is so readily championed as the route to dignity, self-worth and financial security when for so many people, work is undignified, demoralising and underpaid.” Cameron also seems to overlook the incredible amount of work done by those who stay at home to look after their children, or care for a friend or loved one. Do they not deserve the same recognition and dignity for their unpaid work?

Additionally, many welfare payments (something I’ll come on to later) are paid out to those who are in paid employment. If a full-time job fails to pay the rent and leaves you relying on debt and welfare, then you know something is wrong with our concept of work. Cameron says he backs the ‘workers’ over the ‘shirkers’. I’d love to hear his definition of what constitutes membership of these groups.

The truth is we’re too far away from that country today. There is a lot to do – to help our businesses be more successful, our young people more hopeful,  our society more aspirational.

But Britain’s Olympians and Paralympians have taught us another lesson: graft equals success. You don’t get to the podium without making huge sacrifices and really wanting to win. That lesson can be applied to our country. It will be a hard road to success – but that’s the road we must take.

Another pointless reference to the Olympics. Not much substance here on how he plans to help out the 1 million unemployed young people.

We’re on a hard road to balancing Britain’s books. I know that people look at our growth figures, hit by the eurozone crisis and the fallout from the financial crisis, and ask: is this worth it?

But we have to remember the fundamental truth at the heart of this debate: you cannot borrow your way out of a debt crisis. Countries across Europe have found there’s a tipping point where piling on more debt isn’t just counter-productive, it is lethal – because you slam the brakes on growth.

We are pulling Britain out of that trap. When I became Prime Minister our market interest rates were the same as Spain’s. Ours are now less than two per cent; theirs more than six per cent. Why?

Because we threw a lifeline around the British economy and pulled it back from the cliff edge.

We’ve cut the deficit by a quarter already, and we are sticking to this course: rejecting the easy path; restoring sanity to our finances; keeping Britain safe.

I’m not even sure where to begin here. Almost all of the experienced economists who backed Osborne’s original economic plan have since renounced their views, yet none of this seems to make a difference to Cameron. The government is now borrowing more money than at any time under the Labour government, we’re back in recession and the latest economic outlook shows that we’re not coming out of it any time soon. Consumer confidence is rock-bottom and even Osborne’s feeble attempts at a “stimulus which doesn’t really look like a stimulus” are doomed to fail because they remain backed up by the rhetoric of a bankruptcy lawyer.

We’re on a hard road, too, to fix the underlying problems in our economy. The crisis in the eurozone has made things more difficult, but it was never going to be easy to rebalance away from unsustainable financial services, public spending and immigration. What we need is a bigger private sector; wealth spread more widely across the country; more emphasis on the industries of the future, such as green technology and advanced manufacturing.

We’re seeing progress – for the first time since the Seventies Britain is a net seller of cars – but there is a long way to go.

Can’t that statistic also imply something else though. That perhaps British people are buying fewer cars, because we’re all skint in a double-dip recession? Note a lack of figures to back up this vague assertion.

A key part of recovery is building the houses our people need, but a familiar cry goes up: ‘Yes, we want more housing; but no to every development – and not in my back yard.’

The nations we’re competing against don’t stand for this kind of paralysis and neither must we.

Frankly, I am frustrated by the hoops you have to jump through to get anything done – and I come back to Parliament more determined than ever to cut through the dither that holds this country back.

So with a newfound focus on home-building, are we starting to see a Plan B by stealth? Cameron’s tinkering seems to matter little. As long as the rhetoric from the government remains stuck at belt-tightening, we’re unlikely to see much in the way of consumer confidence to boost growth.

That’s why I wasn’t prepared to allow the debate on House of Lords reform to crowd out the parliamentary timetable. Instead, we will return this week with new Government Bills for economic development.

Slightly disingenuous there, Dave. You dropped Lords reform because of a rebellion in your own party which you couldn’t control and disagreements with the Lib Dems. You were quite happy to let a similarly unimportant topic (boundary reform) crowd out the parliamentary timetable.

And nowhere will the road ahead be harder than on increasing opportunity. The easy road on education is to cave in to the unions who want to keep inflating the GCSE and A-level grades and pretend that standards are rising each year.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the grade inflation was caused by the private companies who compete to provide the exam papers to schools. This is the free-market of which so many economic right-wingers are obsessed with, until the results aren’t quite what they’d expected, as in this instance.

What the unions were upset about was something different entirely. The NUT were frustrated that the grading criteria was amended half-way through the school year, meaning that young people’s predicted grades turned out to be inaccurate, through no fault of their own, affecting their chances of moving into higher education.

The easy road on welfare is to spend more money, push people a pound or two over the official poverty line and pretend you’ve cracked the problem. But it’s these easy options that have betrayed millions. 

I’m just going to lets the statistics speak for themselves here:

  • 42% of overall welfare spending is on pensioners.
  • 20% is on housing benefit (and one in five claimants are in work).
  • 15% goes to child benefit and child tax credit.
  • 8% spent on disability living allowance, which helps those both in and out of work.
  • 4% goes on sickness and disability benefits.

That’s 89% of payments. Referring to welfare as the “easy road” ignores the fact that almost all of us rely on welfare spending in one way or another. Two more statistics:

  • Jobseekers allowance accounts for just 3% of welfare payments.
  • Fraud fell under the Labour government. The overall fraud rate for the welfare system is currently 0.7% and a similar amount to this is overpaid due to admin errors.

Welfare is a huge subject. To skirt around the edges making vague promises is nothing but showboating for the tabloids obsessed with ‘scroungers’ and the ‘workshy’.

So this Government is being braver. In schools, there will be no more excuses for failure; no more soft exams and soft discipline. We saw that change in the exam results this year. When the grades went down a predictable cry went up: that we were hurting the prospects of these children.

I’ve talked a little about this before, but Cameron really should read this Economist piece which looks at the problem of unruly youth through a historical lens. The fabled golden age where children were all well-behaved, polite, high-achievers never existed and Cameron should take off his rose-tinted spectacles.

To that we must be very clear: what hurts them is dumbing down their education so that their potential is never reached and no one wants to employ them. ‘All must have prizes’ is not just patronising, it is cruel – and with us it is over.

I’m not sure where the ‘all must have prizes’ rhetoric comes from to be honest. I’ve seen Conservatives try to pin the blame for this on Labour, but to be fair I’ve never come across a speech from a Labour minister where this (or anything like it) has been said.

From the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard it doesn’t seem to be a major problem outside of the tabloids, who love a good politically-correct, ‘elf and safety story when they’re low on headlines.

In welfare, too, we are restoring rigour. We’ve capped benefits. We’ve said to people that  if they want Jobseeker’s Allowance, they’ve got to actively seek a job.

Above all, we have brought in dynamic charities and companies to support  people back into work. The result? In the past two years the number of homes where no one works has fallen by nearly a quarter of a million.

You hear that folks: he said ‘dynamic charities and companies’.

Notice that he doesn’t name them. I wonder why.

A4E, a company used by both Labour and the Conservatives in an arms-length, half-arsed attempt to ‘get people back to work’, have been accused by systemic fraud as part of a multi-billion-pound scandal. According to the Mail, A4e spent £45million of public money securing just 4,000 permanent jobs, whilst their chairman paid herself £8.6m.

Other aspects of the ‘welfare to work’ agenda have also fallen flat, such as the strategy of subsidizing huge multinational companies such as Tesco with free labour, something which seems to have attracted criticism from across the political spectrum, including many in the Conservative party.

And all these goals aren’t tick-boxes on some Government spreadsheet. They’re all linked into one vision. 

Whether it’s giving our children a world-class education; putting work back at the heart of our welfare system; helping to create good, high-skilled jobs across our country; curbing immigration so that we get more British people into those jobs, or building more houses so that those who work long hours can afford a home for their family, the thread running through our plans is this: building a Britain where those who want to work hard and do the right thing can get on in life.

And these ambitions show something else: that this is a historically radical Government. No previous Government has been bold enough to go to Europe and say no to a treaty that wasn’t in Britain’s interests.

Ah, he means the veto which wasn’t a veto, because a veto is supposed to prevent something from happening. He may have received a small poll boost from the Eurosceptics and some members of the public, but they quickly realised that the measure he was supposed to have vetoed went ahead anyway, only without him in the room to try and influence it in Britain’s best interests. Quite the own goal.

No previous Government dared to reform university finance in such a fundamental way.

Nope you’re right, and no party has ever blown their chances of being elected by the young of this country so spectacularly by piling them with debt which will affect their credit rating and take decades to pay off. So give yourself a pat on the back.

No previous Government has been brave enough to take on genuine reform of our public sector pension system and cut  in half the long-term cost to the taxpayer.

Yes, those greedy pensioners with their gold-plated deals. Public-sector pension reform was all about making it easier for private contractors (such as the lovely A4E and G4S) to take over public sector functions. Despite a few concessions to the unions, he’s pushed that through successfully, despite evidence from the Hutton report that the cost of pensions to the public was going to fall anyway, even without reform. So again, another pat on the back.

At every turn we are taking the hard road over the easy path – and we are doing so because we have a clear destination in mind: a truly great Britain; equal to the challenges of the 21st Century; a country we are proud to call home not just for this golden month of the Olympics and Paralympics but in every month, all the time.

The Olympics AGAIN?!?! Are you kidding me?

I’m confident we’re making progress. And I’m more ready than ever for the challenge ahead.

Don’t worry Dave, we’re ready for you too. See you in London on October the 20th.

One Response to Get Back to Work, Mr Cameron

  1. Duncan on September 4, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    As someone who has been a primary school governor. The idea everyone gets a prize is to prevalent, how are children going to strive for something if they don’t try they get the same reward as someone who puts effort in to achieve it? For 5 years of my time as a governor our primary school which was a school which was designed to integrate children with special needs into mainstream education was a good beacon of if you put the effort in you were rewarded. In the last year with a new head we followed the ideal of everyone wins and no losers school sports day was a joke and parents were pretty much excluded so a competitive spirit was not encouraged. Thankfully my youngest son left at the end of the year so I did as well as anyone who didn’t agree with her outlook was marginalised. I was the finance and sport governor and any time I suggested things weren’t right I was ignored. I’m also disabled now and I do find this governments attack on the little benefit I get as brutal and unjustified, I’ve not been able to work for 12 years now and spent the last 14 dealing with a spinal injury which restricts every part of my life, and thanks to poor treatment by the NHS I’m now dealing with a neurological problem that has devestated my life further. In the last 9 months I’ve seen a big change in how the NHS works, it has been found that the local NHS trust is 56 million in debt due to a bungled Pfi contract that was pushed through by the last government to keep their infrastructue ideals in the public eye. Its nearly impossible to get a GP appointment or see the same Doctor within a decent time period and when you do the rest of the GPs in the surgery can’t send you to see a consultant only the Senior partner can do that and he works 1 day a week and is fully booked all the time. I could go on with this but you get what I’m going on at. I’ve never not wanted to work and I find it disgusting that I’m labled as a scrounger if people knew how hard it was for me to get dla in first place then maybe people would realise what it was like. Yes there are people who abuse the system and know how to play it but these people are a minority and normally are the same ones who the state know of but won’t tackle as they are afraid so they pick on easy targets who aren’t sure of their rights. I hate the fact that I spend my life in chronic pain but I’d love to work but all it seems I’m good for is a few hours volunteer work as I don’t know what extent my health will be every day and need the ability to work when I’m capable. No employer will let me do that and I don’t blame them I wouldn’t. Both tory and labour are to blame for societies problems. I studied politics as a degree and in last few years I’ve found I can’t connect with any party they are all self serving.

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