Jan Moir’s myths about EMA

EMA’s critics wilfully ignore the positive aspects of the soon-to-be scrapped scheme.

Last Friday Jan Moir of the Daily Mail tried to back up her article from the previous week, in which she described teenagers who receive EMA as "spoilt brats", by now saying that they have to "just get on with it". This was in response to our supporters contacting her and pointing out the many flaws in her article, such as why teenagers who receive EMA can't possibly be "spoilt brats" when 80 per cent of young people on EMA come from families where household income is below £21,000 a year.

In her initial article, Moir describes EMA as a "waste of time and public money", and claims – falsely – that it fails to get more young people from poorer backgrounds to stay in education after GCSEs. Numerous studies by respected independent bodies such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) demonstrate that not only does EMA increase levels of participation in post-16 education, but that any costs are completely offset. In addition, the Audit Commission support this and claim that it saves UK taxpayers about £4bn a year, by preventing young people becoming Neets (not in education, employment or training).

The Daily Mail columnist, notorious for her comments after Stephen Gately's death, then went on to claim that teenagers on EMA spend all their money on "beer, ciggies and Pret A Manger sandwiches". In fact, the only research into what young people on EMA spend their money on, by the IFS, found that, instead, they gave anything left over to their families to help with groceries. In spite of the overall research to prove the opposite, the myth that EMA affords poor teenagers some sort of debauched rock'n'roll lifestyle of drink and drugs, has risen to the top of the debate.

Moir's claim that Labour planned to axe the scheme is also disingenuous, as the Save EMA campaign successfully lobbied the last government to support EMA "up to and beyond" 2011 when the school leaving age is raised. But what was most telling was her complete vindication of Michael Gove, who she says for a long time thought it was a flop. Did she miss the last election where Gove said he would not scrap EMA? But her admiration for him is deeper than this, as she says that if EMA went towards supporting "a thirst for classics" then she wouldn't mind the scheme.

It also explains why Michael Gove says his model pupil is Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. Gove believes that Zuckerberg became a billionaire due to his mastery of ancient languages. Zuckerberg, however, did not take advantage of a skills gap in ancient Greek, but rather computer sciences.

More important to his success was his ability to get a further education. Zuckerberg was born into a middle-class family in leafy Ardesly Village in New York State, allowing him to walk to class every day, unlike many of the poorest teenagers in our country, who have to commute many miles to their college, and find the money to cover the fare rises.

Unfortunately, Jan Moir is not alone in the media in lacking knowledge of the ordinary people she purports to speak for. Paul Ross, speaking on his BBC London radio show, said to me:

This sounds brutal, and I've got four children in state education and I would love them to benefit from EMA, but actually cuts are happening across the board.

Ross disliked my question about how much he is gettting paid. Unless things are getting hard for BBC DJs, his salary would certainly put his kids above the threshold to claim EMA.

There have always been such faux-tribunes of the people, from Kelvin MacKenzie to Richard Littlejohn, who pretend to speak "common sense" like ordinary working people while picking up six-figure salaries. But what is actually scary is their monopoly of publicity, which allows them to sidestep the facts and prop up myths on issues such as EMA, which is vital to working-class teenagers. Sadly, the only people who are truly "spoilt", it seems to me, are Jan Moir and her ilk.

James Mills is a Labour Party researcher and activist.

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Junior doctors’ strikes: the greatest union failure in a generation

The first wave of junior doctor contract impositions began this week. Here’s how the BMA union failed junior doctors.

In Robert Tressell’s novel, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, the author ridicules the notion of work as a virtuous end per se:

“And when you are all dragging out a miserable existence, gasping for breath or dying for want of air, if one of your number suggests smashing a hole in the side of one of the gasometers, you will all fall upon him in the name of law and order.”

Tressell’s characters are subdued and eroded by the daily disgraces of working life; casualised labour, poor working conditions, debt and poverty.

Although the Junior Doctors’ dispute is a far cry from the Edwardian working-poor, the eruption of fervour from Junior Doctors during the dispute channelled similar overtones of dire working standards, systemic abuse, and a spiralling accrual of discontent at the notion of “noble” work as a reward in itself. 

While the days of union activity precipitating governmental collapse are long over, the BMA (British Medical Association) mandate for industrial action occurred in a favourable context that the trade union movement has not witnessed in decades. 

Not only did members vote overwhelmingly for industrial action with the confidence of a wider public, but as a representative of an ostensibly middle-class profession with an irreplaceable skillset, the BMA had the necessary cultural capital to make its case regularly in media print and TV – a privilege routinely denied to almost all other striking workers.

Even the Labour party, which displays parliamentary reluctance in supporting outright strike action, had key members of the leadership join protests in a spectacle inconceivable just a few years earlier under the leadership of “Red Ed”.

Despite these advantageous circumstances, the first wave of contract impositions began this week. The great failures of the BMA are entirely self-inflicted: its deference to conservative narratives, an overestimation of its own method, and woeful ignorance of the difference between a trade dispute and moralising conundrums.

These right-wing discourses have assumed various metamorphoses, but at their core rest charges of immorality and betrayal – to themselves, to the profession, and ultimately to the country. These narratives have been successfully deployed since as far back as the First World War to delegitimise strikes as immoral and “un-British” – something that has remarkably haunted mainstream left-wing and union politics for over 100 years.

Unfortunately, the BMA has inherited this doubt and suspicion. Tellingly, a direct missive from the state machinery that the BMA was “trying to topple the government” helped reinforce the same historic fears of betrayal and unpatriotic behaviour that somehow crossed a sentient threshold.

Often this led to abstract and cynical theorising such as whether doctors would return to work in the face of fantastical terrorist attacks, distracting the BMA from the trade dispute at hand.

In time, with much complicity from the BMA, direct action is slowly substituted for direct inaction with no real purpose and focus ever-shifting from the contract. The health service is superficially lamented as under-resourced and underfunded, yes, but certainly no serious plan or comment on how political factors and ideologies have contributed to its present condition.

There is little to be said by the BMA for how responsibility for welfare provision lay with government rather than individual doctors; virtually nothing on the role of austerity policies; and total silence on how neoliberal policies act as a system of corporate welfare, eliciting government action when in the direct interests of corporatism.

In place of safeguards demanded by the grassroots, there are instead vague quick-fixes. Indeed, there can be no protections for whistleblowers without recourse to definable and tested legal safeguards. There are limited incentives for compliance by employers because of atomised union representation and there can be no exposure of a failing system when workers are treated as passive objects requiring ever-greater regulation.

In many ways, the BMA exists as the archetypal “union for a union’s sake”, whose material and functional interest is largely self-intuitive. The preservation of the union as an entity is an end in itself.

Addressing conflict in a manner consistent with corporate and business frameworks, there remains at all times overarching emphasis on stability (“the BMA is the only union for doctors”), controlled compromise (“this is the best deal we can get”) and appeasement to “greater” interests (“think of the patients”). These are reiterated even when diametrically opposed to its own members or irrelevant to the trade dispute.

With great chutzpah, the BMA often moves from one impasse to the next, framing defeats as somehow in the interests of the membership. Channels of communication between hierarchy and members remain opaque, allowing decisions such as revocation of the democratic mandate for industrial action to be made with frightening informality.

Pointedly, although the BMA often appears to be doing nothing, the hierarchy is in fact continually defining the scope of choice available to members – silence equals facilitation and de facto acceptance of imposition. You don’t get a sense of cumulative unionism ready to inspire its members towards a swift and decisive victory.

The BMA has woefully wasted the potential for direct action. It has encouraged a passive and pessimistic malaise among its remaining membership and presided over the most spectacular failure of union representation in a generation.

Ahmed Wakas Khan is a junior doctor, freelance journalist and editorials lead at The Platform. He tweets @SireAhmed.