Canada’s Genghis Khan, newspaper regulation and Ukip’s “bastard” vote

Has George Osborne appointed a closet lefty to run the Bank of England? According to the Mailand Telegraph, Mark Carney’s British wife, Diana, has expressed support for the Occupy movement, described inequality as “the defining issue of our time” and called global financial institutions “rotten or inadequate”.

In reality, in the article from which these charges are derived, she is a bit sniffy about Occupy and its highlighting of the 1 per cent (“The grass is always greener on the other side”); quotes Barack Obama on inequality as a defining issue and says that, to her, climate change is bigger; and merely states that she “perceives a fear” about the global financial system. So not terribly left-wing – New Labour-ish at most, I’d say. Besides, she met her husband on the hockey field. They probably talk sports at breakfast, not politics.

As for Carney himself, he’s looking forward to “ensuring that the rebalancing of the UK economy . . . is seen through over the next five years”. In other words (unless he means “seen through” in another sense), he’s right behind public-sector cuts. On another occasion, he stated: “Globalised product, capital and labour markets lie at the heart of the new world order to which we should aspire.” Which suggests he not only wants money to continue sloshing around the world – leaving large deposits in bankers’ pockets – but would like it to slosh a bit more.

It’s true that, as Chrystia Freeland vividly describes in her book Plutocrats, Carney once clashed publicly with Jamie Dimon, head of JPMorgan Chase, putting him in what Freeland calls a “radical” position. Yet only in the sense, I think, that Genghis Khan may have been more radical than Vlad the Impaler.

Small wonder

Carney’s appointment presumably puts him into any list of top ten well-known Canadians, probably alongside Lord Beaverbrook, Roy Thomson, Conrad Black, Margaret Atwood, J K Galbraith, Marshall McLuhan, Michael Ignatieff, Céline Dion and Leonard Cohen. That doesn’t seem a bad list for a country that had a population of less than ten million in the 1920s (34 million now) but, in the leagues of dullest countries, Canada is usually up there with Belgium. I once discovered a “free school” in Toronto, long before Michael Gove had thought of such things. It held classes in museums, parks and other public spaces and its pupils spent many hours on the subway. I filed the story to my then editor. “What a very interesting story,” he gasped. “In Canada of all places!”

Pineapple express

A competitive market, we are told, is our best guarantee of a press that is both free and responsible. If we don’t like a newspaper’s behaviour or opinions, we can buy another. Suppose, then, that you’d like to read a newspaper that favours either independent regulation with statutory underpinning or direct statutory regulation (which are different things, though you wouldn’t believe it from most of what you read). Sorry: though polls show that the overwhelming majority of Britons don’t trust the press to regulate itself, all national newspapers oppose any form of statutory involvement. As greengrocers used to say when asked for a pineapple or something similarly exotic, “No demand for it, guv.”

Ukip if you want to

Is the removal of three children from Ukipsupporting foster parents by the Labour-controlled Rotherham Council part of a clever plot?

Labour must be tempted to do everything it can to strengthen the party, albeit in a very discreet, roundabout way. Ukip routinely takes votes from natural Tory supporters who don’t consider David Cameron right-wing or anti- Europe enough but, in 2015, it will also get the “bastard” vote, which is the term I use for those who want to protest against “all those bastards” in power. That vote usually goes to the Lib Dems but, to many voters, they are now the biggest bastards of all.

The bastard vote is particularly large when a government seems unable to control events but the failings of its predecessor are still fresh in the public mind: the Liberals (as they then were) got the biggest leap in their vote (from 7.5 to 19.3 per cent) in February 1974, when Edward Heath called an election during miners’ industrial action less than four years after ousting Labour from office.

Labour has long suffered from splits on the left. A split on the right is rare – you’d have to go back to 1918 for a precedent – and, I should think, very welcome to Ed Miliband.

No fair cop

I rarely meet police officers socially but, when I do, I am usually alarmed. It was no surprise when one told me the other night that she favoured capital punishment. However, when I put counterarguments that I thought would appeal to her – juries would be more reluctant to convict, for example – she interrupted: “I don’t just mean for murder.” Gulp. Who else would she hang? “Shoplifters.”

As I understood her, she would extend mercy to first- and even second-time offenders. So I don’t think she was joking.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 03 December 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The family in peril

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

No, IDS, welfare isn't a path to wealth. Quite the opposite, in fact

Far from being a lifestyle choice, welfare is all too often a struggle for survival.

Iain Duncan Smith really is the gift that keeps on giving. You get one bile-filled giftbag of small-minded, hypocritical nastiness and, just when you think it has no more pain to inflict, off comes another ghastly layer of wrapping paper and out oozes some more. He is a game of Pass the Parcel for people who hate humanity.
For reasons beyond current understanding, the Conservative party not only let him have his own department but set him loose on a stage at their conference, despite the fact that there was both a microphone and an audience and that people might hear and report on what he was going to say. It’s almost like they don’t care that the man in charge of the benefits system displays a fundamental - and, dare I say, deliberate - misunderstanding of what that system is for.
IDS took to the stage to tell the disabled people of Britain - or as he likes to think of us, the not “normal” people of Britain -  “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.” It really is fascinating that he was allowed to make such an important speech on Opposite Day.
Iain Duncan Smith is a man possessed by the concept of work. That’s why he put in so many hours and Universal Credit was such a roaring success. Work, when available and suitable and accessible, is a wonderful thing, but for those unable to access it, the welfare system is a crucial safety net that keeps them from becoming totally impoverished.
Benefits absolutely should be the route out of poverty. They are the essential buffer between people and penury. Iain Duncan Smith speaks as though there is a weekly rollover on them, building and building until claimants can skip into the kind of mansion he lives in. They are not that. They are a small stipend to keep body and soul together.
Benefits shouldn’t be a route to wealth and DWP cuts have ensured that, but the notion that we should leave people in poverty astounds me. The people who rely on benefits don’t see it as a quick buck, an easy income. We cannot be the kind of society who is content to leave people destitute because they are unable to work, through long-term illness or short-term job-seeking. Without benefits, people are literally starving. People don’t go to food banks because Waitrose are out of asparagus. They go because the government has snipped away at their benefits until they have become too poor to feed themselves.
The utter hypocrisy of telling disabled people to work themselves out of poverty while cutting Access to Work is so audacious as to be almost impressive. IDS suggests that suitable jobs for disabled workers are constantly popping out of the ground like daisies, despite the fact that his own government closed 36 Remploy factories. If he wants people to work their way out of poverty, he has make it very easy to find that work.
His speech was riddled with odious little snippets digging at those who rely on his department. No one is “simply transferring taxpayers’ money” to claimants, as though every Friday he sits down with his card reader to do some online banking, sneaking into people’s accounts and spiriting their cash away to the scrounging masses. Anyone who has come within ten feet of claiming benefits knows it is far from a simple process.
He is incredulous that if a doctor says you are too sick to work, you get signed off work, as though doctors are untrained apes that somehow gained access to a pen. This is only the latest absurd episode in DWP’s ongoing deep mistrust of the medical profession, whose knowledge of their own patients is often ignored in favour of a brief assessment by an outside agency. IDS implies it is yes-no question that GPs ask; you’re either well enough to work or signed off indefinitely to leech from the state. This is simply not true. GPs can recommend their patients for differing approaches for remaining in work, be it a phased return or adapted circumstances and they do tend to have the advantage over the DWP’s agency of having actually met their patient before.
I have read enough stories of the callous ineptitude of sanctions and cuts starving the people we are meant to be protecting. A robust welfare system is the sign of a society that cares for those in need. We need to provide accessible, suitable jobs for those who can work and accessible, suitable benefits for those who can’t. That truly would be a gift that keeps giving.