Things I thought

Thursday 20 December 2012

A Modest Counter-Proposal

As many of you will already tragically be aware, on Tuesday up-and-coming arsepimple Alec Shelbrooke used his privileged position as a Tory MP and his rather more commonplace position as a cunt to launch what may be the most unpleasant Conservative attack yet on vulnerable people. Specifically, Mr. Shelbrooke would like to see all benefits provided on prepaid "welfare cashcards" the use of which would then be limited to "essential" items such as food, clothing and travel, with "non-essential, desirable or damaging items" (NEDDs - geddit?) prohibited. Dirty benefit scroungers would then be unable to levy their largesse on such gaudy baubles as alcohol, cigarrettes and Sky TV, the latter of which I agree is both unnecessary and damaging. Shelbrooke also argues that this would prevent benefit claimants spending their money in betting shops, though anyone who thinks only allowing people to purchase food will prevent gambling has clearly never bought a kebab.

It almost goes without saying that this idea is not only unfair but unworkable, the only sure-fire result being the creation of a black market where welfare cards are loaned out to people with ready cash in exchange for a commission. Leaving aside, for a moment, the fact that the plan is both cruel and fuckwitted, I'd like to make a counter-proposal: the Tory MP's Cashcard.

To take one example, Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke received £65,738 in wages this year, plus a further £38,666 in expenses for a total of £104,404 of taxpayer's money, around four times what the average British family earns. Currently this sum is paid directly into Shelbrooke's bank account where it can be spent on all manner of unnecessary things like illegal fox hunts and secret donations to UKIP. I propose that, instead, Tory MPs should only be able to spend their money on the following undesirable and hopefully very damaging items:

  • Special brew
  • Battered saveloys
  • 10-decks of Sovereign
  • Dangerous dogs (untrained)
  • McDonalds
  • The wrong gang colours for the local area (clothing)
  • Piggy-backs from skinheads (transport)
  • Payday loans
  • White lightning
  • The Guardian
  • Heroin
Limiting Tory spending to the above items will not only help increase the stigma and indignity associated with being a Tory MP, but it will also help reduce the cost to the taxpayer as more and more Conservatives take their rightful place as horribly bloated corpses, overfed on saveloys and McDonalds, reeking of cheap booze and slightly more expensive heroin. As an added bonus to the treasury, footage of Britain's small army of overpriviledged bellends vomiting themselves to death as skinheads kick the remains of a battered saveloy out of their uselessly chubby fingers can be made into a primetime BBC 2 reality TV show, and serialised around the world. The money raised could then be used to pay for the NHS and/or a bouncy castle. Possibly a bouncy NHS.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Has the general election already begun?

Many fellow tweeps have been pleasantly apoplectic today over a new Tory ad decrying Britain's ravaging horde of grasping dole scroungers (many of whom live it up on as much as £10 a day) which has apparently being floated in order to keep the furnaces of middle england hatred quietly smouldering until the next election (warning: link leads to the Conservative party website, which some readers should find distressing). The online ad, which will haunt the waking hours of residents in sixty of the UK's most marginal constituencies, links to a push poll that invites respondents to ponder whether benefits should rise faster than wages (i.e. in line with inflation) and whether people should be able to claim more than the average family earns in benefits (note: they can't). While many fine members of the commentariat have expressed inexplicable shock that an online poll on the Conservative party website is not scientifically rigorous, the real story lurks beneath the surface like a geeky political Kraken. To wit:

Why are the Conservatives running election ads 30 months ahead of the next general election? 

Perhaps most plausibly, it may be that the Tories are starting to lose the argument on welfare and benefits and, consequently, are shitting their expensively tailored pants. Facetious bullshit about scroungers has so far been a political fig leaf for the cuts in general, giving cover to many far less popular policies like closing hospitals and killing disabled people. The full gamit of wankers, from Osborner to IDS, have nimbly pivoted the discussion away from the effects of austerity onto the pressing need to make the lives of Britain's most vulnerable people as difficult as possible. However, many of the myths around benefits are now eroding, perhaps in part because the Labour party have decided to act slightly less like blubbering pisswillows and actually call the Conservatives out on their slippery little lies. Personally, I don't give a shit about whether poor people are fiddling the system, and I'd actively encourage them to avoid working which, as anyone who'se ever really done any of it can attest, is shit. Still, as well as the right's ideological argument against welfare being a stinking moral abyss, it helps that the facts behind the bollocks are now being exposed as non-existent, particularly when it comes to such well-worn tropes as "families in which no one has every worked". As a result the once formidable Conservative polling lead in this area is rapidly evaporating, with one survey already showing that over two thirds of people oppose the current round of benefit cuts. If public attitudes continue to develop in this direction the Conservative party, which has bet the farm on the electorate being composed of mean, ignorant bastards, will be left wanking into the wind come polling day. With this in mind, perhaps it makes sense for the Conservatives to try and shore up support on one of their key issues before their battleship is completely sunk, and it's certainly been an effective advertising spend, what with useful idiots like me crowing about the campaign to many who'd otherwise never have heard about it. That said, it's unusual for a political party to spend money on advertising at all this far out from an election, particularly on negative ads like this, which are usually reserved for the fag end of a desperate campaign. 

The other possibility is that the general election is closer than we think. The coalition, which has long been dysfunctional, now seems perpetually on the brink of all-out divorce. There are any number of catalysts that could thrust what's left of this unholy alliance back into the pit from whence it came, with both the Lib Dem left and the Tory right potentially having something to gain from such a fissure. There's even the possibility that the gently brewing palace coup within the conservative party will finally come to the boil and Cameron will be deposed and replaced by one of his (somehow even less pleasant) chums. Any of these events could readily lead to a vote of no confidence in the government - one which some members of the Conservative ranks might choose not to oppose, particularly if doing otherwise meant limping onwards in minority government for two years. The Tories may decide that, despite their current standing in the polls, it's better to strike before Labour have all their ducks in a row and before the economy slurps back into recession. Though far fetched, the Conservatives could even, hypothetically, call a motion of no confidence in themselves, thus triggering an early election (though it's hard to imagine a party succesfully campaigning on a "Vote for us! We don't believe in ourselves at all!" platform). So these ads may be hedging against, or even planning for, an early election. 

Whatever the case, it seems the Tories are fighting a rearguard action - the ad is set to run in the sixty most marginal Tory held seats, which Labour would only need 25 of to become the largest party. If the Conservatives thought they had a serious chance of winning the next general election, they'd be doing more than trying to cling on to what they've already got.

P.S. If you encounter any of these ads on google or anywhere else besides the Conservative website, be sure to click on them. Doing so will cost the Conservative party money which would otherwise be spent on evil.

P.P.S Am now hearing that the Tory ad campaign was launched in response to a Labour leafletting campaign in the same marginals. Curiouser and curiouser. 

Wednesday 12 December 2012

The Scheme For Full Unemployment - How The Tories Cook The Job Numbers

Today I'm going to do something I've not done before: praise the Tories. You see, as an anarchist, I yearn for a world where work is a thing of the past and, it would seem, the Conservative government (along with their sub-Robin-quality Lib Dem sidekicks) are well on their way to achieving it. Likewise, and if only for their sheer gumption, I must praise them for their success in convincing the public that they're doing precisely the opposite.

Today saw the release of the quarterly Labour Force Survey which aims to track what, if anything, Britain's 63 million inhabitants are up to at the moment. The headline stats, which various Tory twat-trumps have been gleefully bellowing all day, are that employment is up by 40,000 (or around 0.1%) and unemployment is down by 82,000 (or 0.2%). However, these are just the raw stats, raw in the same way chicken is raw, so swallowing them is not advised without at least acknowledging the following caveats. First of all it's important to note that this quarter's changes are all within the margin of error (which you can calculate for yourself here if you, as I, are an insufferable bellend) and occurred during a period which included Olympics, an event which might have been expected to produce more than a few extra jobs. Secondly, employment did not keep pace with population growth, likely to be in the region of 100-120,000 over the last few months. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the employment statistics issued by the government are, and have been for some time, a steaming crock of bollocks flavoured bullshit.

The Tories are cooking the books in three main ways. The first, and potentially largest, is through the Work Programme/Workfare. These government initiatives respectively force jobseekers to take mandatory training courses and work for nothing in return for the government not taking away your  Jobseeker's Allowance, a quantity of money which the government describes as "the minimum amount you need to live on". Despite the fact that in order to be on one of these programmes you must be jobless and claiming JSA, these people are not classified as "unemployed". In some cases (when a person is doing a workfare placement, "practical" training or work experience) they are simply described as "employees" and lumped in with the other 29 million employed bods. In other cases (hypothetically when a person is training on the work programme, though it's unclear) they're described as being in "government supported employment or training" which, bizarrely, still counts as a variety of employment, but is counted separately. The government admits to 171,000 of these latter beings (a rise of 19,000 in just the last three months). If these unemployed people were counted as unemployed, the official jobless rate would rise from 7.8% to 8.3%, close to the highest rate recorded under this government and higher than any recorded under the last one (though, to be fair, Labour employed the same statistical trick, albeit to a lesser extent).

However, we've yet to chew through the most fecal chunk of the bullshit sandwich: there are almost a million people missing from the official stats. According to the DWP, around 65,000 people a month have been referred to the work programme since its inception midway through last year, meaning an estimated 1.5 million people have been referred to it so far. Though a pitiful number of these people actually found jobs, around half of the people made to join the work programme when it began were forced into destitution within a year, most of them for at least three months, meaning they'd likely be classed as "economically inactive" (though still, strangely, not "unemployed" which is clearly what they are). The rest are still on the work programme, meaning that potentially hundreds of thousands of people are being counted as "employed" without actually having jobs.

The second way the government's been fiddling harder than a rooftop Topol is by slowly growing, both by accident and by design, the number of people classified as "economically inactive". People unversed in labour statistics might reasonably think everyone is either employed or unemployed. Well, they fucking well aren't. Just over nine million people in this country apparently don't have a job and aren't looking for one either. They may have recently won the lottery or married into a wealthy dynasty, meaning they never need to work again. Perhaps just as often, these people have been kicked off benefits and/or given up on looking for work entirely and are instead spending their days alternately sobbing and angrily shaking their fists at the sky. Either way, there are 900,000 more of them now than when the current cohort of clustercunts came to power, with 60,000 more joining the ranks of the forsaken in the last 3 months alone. The government likely sees these people (who, by definition, can't claim Jobseeker's) as successes, workshy wannabe parasites whose greedy grasping has been thwarted by the coalition's brave and noble war on poor people. Handily for them, the exclusion of these 900,000 poor sods from the official stats also shaves 3.5% off unemployment.

The ranks of the economically inactive have likely been swelled by the government's relentless barrage of unemployment-shaming. The lazy, factphobic way members of the coalition throw around perjorative words like "scrounger" and meaningless phrases like "alarm clock Britain" has probably encouraged those who can to avoid benefits and rely on help from friends and relatives where possible (this is also evident in the growing ranks of the self-employed-but-out-of-work who, again, are counted as fucking employed for some reason).

However, it may also have depressed unemployment in another, previously unreported way. As I mentioned earlier, our employment figures are gathered through the Labour Force Survey which is, as the quick amongst you will already have accepted, a survey. This means someone from the LFS has to call someone up (or, with the majority of first interviews, go round their house) and ask them lots and lots questions about who they are and how they live their lives. In an age where shirkers and skivers are routinely described like the particularly unloved lovechildren of a drunken tryst between Beelzebub and Hitler, survey respondents may be disinclined to put up their hands and mark themselves out as the benefit swilling dolepigs that they, in all actuality, aren't. This is then exacerbated by a couple of factors. First of all, at the beginning of 2011 the government stopped using face to face interviews (which people, dolepig or otherwise, are more likely to respond to) to get in touch with people. As a result, the full response rate dropped to around 50%. Secondly, the LFS is a kind of cohort study (meaning it studies the same sample of individuals over a period of time) with a couple of odd quirks. People who initially respond to the survey will be contacted again every three months for the next year, with 20% of burnt-out, cynical respondents being replaced with pouting, wide-eyed newbies every quarter. Unsurprisingly, not everyone can make it through all five gruelling questionnaires, and a substantial number disappear each time a new wave of contact is made. The surprising bit is what the LFS does when these people decide the don't want to respond to that quarter's survey: they assume everything is fine and fill in the gap with the previous quarter's data (a process called "imputation").

Why, exactly, you'd do this seems beyond me, unless it's a process specifically designed to under-record those who've recently become redundant and aren't feeling too chipper about it. That said, it's the way the survey's been conducted since long before the Tories began cynically tub-thumping about the evils of Britain's poor. However, the coalition's shameless barrage of shame does seem to be having an effect - the proportion of data imputed has increased by 13% since they came to power (full, nightmarishly boring methodology reports for the LFS can be found here).

A lot of the above could be dismissed as par for the course or, at least, as a problem with the (internationally recognised) Labour Force Survey rather than with the coalition. Still, the policies of David Cameron and his gaggle of cock-anused fuck-wranglers seem specifically designed to exploit weaknesses in how we collect the data (in the same way Thatcher's government did everything they could to move people off Jobseekers and onto other benefits). In doing so, they have created a truly Kafkaesque sitution - one where the jobless work and the workless are employed.