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  1. Politics
17 April 2009

Fantasy Commons?

By Paul Evans

On sober reflection

As McBride tumbled from grace, Guido Fawkes claimed another scalp and took the opportunity to enthusiastically excoriate the craven Lobby. It’s enough to make the political classes turn to drink.

Sadly though, those poor soon-to-be jobless dipsomaniacs in Westminster and Whitehall (names shortly to be revealed on my new blog, ‘The Red Rug’) may find themselves hoisted by their own petard, as the government this week unveiled plans to withdraw benefits from alcoholics who refuse to take part in a state treatment plan.

On the Fabian Society’s Next Left blog, there was considerable unease with the principle of ‘conditionality’ being applied to benefit claimants perceived to be self-inflicting their worklessness. The inherent assumption in the principle that threats are widely necessary in order to remove people from the benefits system was troubling, believed blogger Calix.

“It seems to be blaming the individual rather than society for their problems and so it lets the politician and society avoid real welfare issues,” he wrote.

He also touched on the issue of child poverty, citing the example of the Gallagher family in TV’s ‘Shameless’. How are the children of unreformed alcoholics supposed to eat?

Blogging from the Philippines, Matt on Tropical Pen Pals noted that a recession is a rough time to target the drink-dependent, while 10 Drowning Street felt that the proposals were “morally repugnant,” arguing that attacking the weakest was characteristic of this government. He wrote:

“You might be thinking I’m picking the wrong target and that alcoholics deserve to have their benefits cut in case they spend the taxpayer’s money on a 2l bottle of White Thunder or a nasty half bottle of Cheknik vodka, but I am telling you from personal experience that these people just cannot help themselves and deserve our sympathy, not our ire”.

In the expert corner, Dr Crippen on NHS Blog Doctor pointed to the hopelessness of the catch-all term ‘alcoholic’. “What is an alcoholic?” I have not got a clue. I long since stopped using the word. I don’t know what it means,” he explained, citing the homeless, ex-servicemen and the mentally ill as different victims of the condition, as well as “the politician and his advisers, drinking the hours away in one of the many subsidised bars of the House of Commons”. He believes that alcohol abuse represents unaddressed issues – and that the scheme will return negligible savings to the taxpayer.

Ill-considered and cruel appears to be the consensus. Read also this week’s NS Leader on smeargate – and why we can’t blame the scandal on the bloggers.

What have we learned this week?

That Jeremy Corbyn just doesn’t get it. In a piece on the McBride affair written for this week, he refers dismissively to the “ephemeral world of the blogsphere” and “computer screen reality”.

Corbyn fails to realise that the blogosphere is considerably less of an ephemeral fantasy world than the House in which he earns his crust – and he falls for the old media canard that there is some sort of homogenous character to blogs as a medium. If he’d care to sit down and read some blogs, he might discover that there are citizen journalists the world over, who very firmly occupy the real world and who are reporting on the realities of everyday life. As he has an interest in Cuba, he might wish to start with Yoani Sanchez’s exceptional blog.

Around the World

On the Hindustan Times‘s India Yatra blog, Vijay Murtay looks at the villages controlled by the Naxalites, India’s Maoists, who will not be participating in the nation’s forthcoming elections. Even in a country of such blinding variety, it seems extraordinary that the world’s largest democracy tolerates the existence of Marxist fiefdoms.

Video of the Week

“Champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends,” Tom Waits once said. Which begs the question: what do Gordon Brown’s friends deserve? This week’s video is a performance of The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me), from the 1976 album, ‘Small Change’.

Quote of the Week

“The side streets of London will become like the side streets of Mumbai. You can step over the dead bodies or walk round them. Your choice.”

Dr John Crippen

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