Saturday 30 April 2011

Proud to be British

I loved everything about yesterday.

I loved the sunshine, twinkling through spring leaves on the mall, while union jacks hung like sentries.

I loved the joy. The faith in love that made millions flock to London with flags, faces painted, hearts bursting, smiling and laughing and cheering.

I loved the pageantry. The fairytale carriages, the scarlet and gold uniforms of the guards, the marching bands and the mighty war machines that flew over the heads of the crowds.

I loved the angel-music of Westminster Abbey, making my heart soar, prickling the hairs on the back of my neck , filling my eyes with tears of beauty.

Yesterday was about faith. It was about forgetting probability and choosing hope. Forgetting history, forgetting our own troubles and fears. Just for a day, we chose to suspend our disbelief and cynicism. We chose hope and joy and love.

But proud to be British? Numbed into complicity? Soothed into inertia by the weight of my historic chains? Did I suddenly see the light? Realise that State and Government act always in my best interests? Did I abandon a free heart and searching mind for a quick patriotic high as some commentators hope? Far from it.

In fact the opposite is true. I saw our great goodwill, our history of compassion and progression. Our ability to come together in faith. I remembered the men and women who gave their lives by the million so that we could be free. I remembered a nation that rejected Fascism and slavery and exploitation simply because they were wrong.

The rosy cheeked, well fed guests were symbols. At best they were benevolent philanthropists, at worst they were the exploiters. The grey men from history who told us we were "All in it together" as they marched our sons off to pointless wars. The Lords and Ladies who lived in unimaginable wealth while their subjects died of starvation and cold, the barrel-fat clergy, tipsy on the fat of their flock.

These were the vested interests, these were the status quo. These were the cream of our public schools and the future of our Parliament.

And still I will suspend disbelief and wave a little flag, raise a glass to the happy couple and smile with benign good wishes.

The British people I recognise have "Fair Play" running through their bones. They rejected slavery, fought apartheid, toppled Nazism and introduced a welfare state that is the envy of the world. They hate cheats and will not stand by as their greatest triumph is abused, but neither will they allow that safety net to be pulled away. The good men and women lining the Mall in the spring breeze believe instinctively in protecting the vulnerable.

On the 11th May they will see thousands of sick and disabled people march or wheel or hobble past Parliament, protesting at the effective removal of support that gives their lives dignity. They will see the forgotten, the dispossessed and the truly vulnerable in all their glorious pageantry. They will hear these people tell them that they are being left behind, that they are frightened and feel under attack. They will hear the disabled child explain that her hospice is closing, the cancer patient tell her story of being found "fit for work". They will hear that far from being protected, these people are bearing the brunt of the cuts in order that an Abbey full of privilege can suggest they eat cake.

It's quite the contrast and that British fair play, so stirred and strengthened by yesterday's pomp has never knowingly turned it's back

Thursday 28 April 2011

Who is the Most Deserving?

Nadeem is a dental nurse. She works full time and has two small children. She's had MS for 8 years and slowly, it has got progressively worse. Her speech is now affected, her hands don't always do what she needs them to do and the daily exhaustion of a long term, degenerative condition has become impossible to bear. She can no longer do her job. Her employer no longer wishes her to do her job. She can't manage the housework or look after her children properly. Her condition will only get worse.

Pete was a line manager at a local factory. He'd worked there for 32 years. His spine is crumbling and he can no longer stand for any length of time. Despite several operations to reverse the damage, he suffers terrible pain, all day every day and can no longer do his job. His employer no longer wishes him to do his job. He's become a Health & Safety risk. His surgeon says there is nothing more he can do and he will need to use a wheelchair within the next year or two. His condition will only get worse.

Mary is an HR manager. She has breast cancer. This is the third time the cancer has returned and she's exhausted. Her employer has been very supportive, but it's a small company and he just can't afford to support her through another round of chemo and radiotherapy and surgery. Her grandchildren do her shopping and clean the house when they can, but they have no idea if she will survive yet again. Mary's job is her life. The thought of losing it fills her with despair.

Dan was a soldier. He served in Afghanistan. After just three months in Kabul, he stepped on a landmine and his left leg was blown off. He lost part of his left hand too. He is extraordinarily depressed. A young, fit man who feels his life is over. He may not always feel this way, but he needs intensive physio and counselling to get over the terrible trauma he's been through. It could take months or it could take years, no-one can say. His parents are heartbroken and desperately want to give him all the support they can to recover and live an independent life again.


Yesterday and today, the Telegraph and the BBC carry yet another DWP story trumpeting the great "success" of Employment Support Allowance. They are delighted to announce that of 1,175,700 new claims since 2008 a massive 887,300 failed to qualify for assistance. That's 75%. Isn't that wonderful? Hardly anyone was sick or disabled after all!

So which one will you choose? Nadeem? Pete? Mary? Dan? Which one should we help? You see we can't afford to support them all. MS, "Back problems" Cancer and amputation are all conditions up for debate under Employment Support Allowance. All have been found "Fit for Work" amongst these wonderful figures.  We are told that our 4th richest economy in the world just can't afford to help them all any more , so which one do you think ought to qualify?

Remember, you can only pick one. Only one in four are really in need of our help, after all. 

Behind these headlines are real lives. Real suffering. Real despair. Most of all they disguise real need. What happened to the 36% of claims that were "abandoned?" No-one knows. The DWP don't keep statistics. How many of those considered perfectly able to work got jobs? No-one knows. 

These headlines actually tell us that ESA marks the end of sickness benefits. Make no mistake, of the paltry 25% who were considered sick or disabled, a large proportion around a further 18%) were then put into the Work Related Activity Group. They were considered capable of doing some work with the right support. After a year, they will lose all of their ESA too unless they've found a job. Just 7% were considered deserving of unconditional support. 7%!!

If you ever find yourself in the same position as Nadeem or Pete or Mary or Dan there simply won't be state support any more to catch you when you fall. That's the story behind these headlines. One day, statistics show that it will be you or your Gran or your Mum or Dad or son and there just won't be any help available any more. At the moment, you probably find it impossible to believe that it could happen to you. OR that you could be as ill as the people above and be found "Fit for Work". I hope you believe me before the Welfare Reform Bill goes through and it's too late to stop it. 

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Dave the Loser Lost it

Today was a disastrous day for the coalition. Absolutely disastrous.

Possibly, however, not for the reasons you might think I'd give.

PMQs saw the very worst of "Flashman" Cameron.. He was not at the top of his game and when put under pressure, he gets rattled. When he's rattled, he blusters and when he blusters, leaning that one arrogant arm on his despatch box, he looks the epitome of everything he wishes to avoid. Red in the cheeks, sneering and condescending.

Now let me be clear. Lots of the public will hear Cameron telling Angela Eagle to "Calm Down Dear" and giggle. In some ways it connects the PM, makes him seem more human.

For a minute though fast forward to 2015. Whatever the outcome of the general election, I feel fairly confident in predicting a pretty bloody battle. Cameron will be hoping to revive "Call me Dave" for sham-election-campaign No2.

Whatever your political view, this coalition will have bought about some pretty unpleasant and unpopular policies by then. Some will believe they were necessary, some will believe they were not, but the cuts will have made themselves known in all their glory by then. Every single person who has lost child benefit, or tax credits or winter fuel payments or disability benefit or social care or an EMA or a job or a house will have to be persuaded that it was all in the common good, that pretty green shoots are pushing through, that it was all actually pretty fair. That's "Dave's" job, not "Flashman's"

That quote will play in a loop, it will haunt him. Want patronising Dave? Show the clip. Want bully-boy Dave? Show the clip. Want sexist Dave? Show the clip. Today it was funny, for the rest of his life it will be proof that he is nastier than Thatcher.

At least that's what the media filed it away under today.

A few hours later, Danny Alexander faced a ferocious Krishnan Guru-Murthy who threw him about a bit like a dog with a rag-doll. For a few perilous moments a "Michael Howard" moment seemed to hover, then just as he might have pulled it back, when asked about the flat economy, Alexander replied "I don't apologise for it (a choppy economy) at all.

Any viewers wondering if in fact the coalition might be a bit arrogant would not have been reassured.

Apologising for 6 months of stagnation, whilst explaining why they believe it is necessary might have been OK - there's still a good deal of goodwill towards the coalition's economic plan. Ensuring that Worcester Woman, Gloucester Granny or Liverpool Lass think you're a bit of a git, might not have been the best tactic.

**Just as I was about to post this, Channel Four played Michael Winner being about as sexist and patronising  as a man can be. And so it begins.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Spoonie Appeal - have you had an ATOS assessment?

Just a quick "survey" please.

I just read someone say for the 8th or 9th time that the ATOS centre they had to get to for their "assessment" (ritual humiliation, unfit farce, call it what you will) was inaccessible.

Mine was in the centre of Brighton on a one way roundabout system. There was no parking and it was surrounded by double yellow lines between two sets of traffic lights.

There was a door buzzer before you could get in, then a corridor with another buzz-entry door at the end.

Could you add your experiences in the comment thread please? Good and bad? Are ANY of the centres accessible to the very people who have to use them?

Please share this far and wide - the more people that reply, the more interesting I think it could be.


UPDATE : So far, it seems 29 of the ATOS centres are inaccessible to the sick or disabled (unverified).
So yes, it is intentional.

The smart Labour move is a "Yes2AV" vote

Let's assume for a moment that those who wish to vote "Yes" to AV will have already made their decision. Similarly, let's assume that those who wish to vote "No" are equally sure. Whilst opinion polls fluctuate, an average would see the "No" vote just ahead.

The battle will be lost and won by the 22% who are still undecided. In particular, Labour voters are split. It is largely these voters who will ultimately decide the result of the AV referendum on May 5th.

Most are "Meh2AV". They really don't care much either way and overwhelmingly it seems that they plan to vote "No" to hammer a final nail into Clegg's already fairly well-sealed coffin.

Before the inevitable sneers of tribalism and ignoring the facts for cheap political points, remember, these people can't make up their minds. It's arrogant to believe they are ill informed. Many are quite clear of the merits and drawbacks of the "Yes" and "No" arguments, but let's face it, it's fairly hard to get excited by either.

Labour have a job to do. They are in opposition. Their job is to oppose. This government is effectively Tory and whatever case can be made for Clegg and his ministers making the coalition more Liberal, the ordinary voter on the street doesn't see it that way. The Lib Dems have singularly failed to convince the electorate that they have achieved much in coalition - the image of them as Tory lackeys is far more widely held.

In any debate in which a Lib Dem might try to make their case for modifying the worst excesses of a Tory government, someone will always fire back that they are, in fact, propping up the Conservatives; a handy, tag-on-majority allowing policies to pass through parliament that a minority Conservative government would never have achieved alone.

Of course any Labour voter wants to see the end of this coalition. Of course they would love to see it fall apart. That is the very nature of the political system we have. It serves no purpose to snipe that Labour voters should put their head above their hearts and vote "Yes" to AV, that won't persuade anyone.

It is also perfectly understandable that Labour voters might see a Lib Dem implosion as the quickest route to a general election. According to several prominent columnists lately, that is a possibility. There are even rumours that a "No" vote could give Cameron the confidence to call an election this year, in the hope that he could achieve a majority and cut lose his Lib Dem albatross.

That any prominent commentator might fall for this Easter Punch and Judy show amazes me. As local elections loom, what on earth did they expect coalition politicians to do? Of course they were always going to change the rhetoric as they returned to their constituencies. Of course they would want to differentiate themselves from one another and go back to themes that appeal to their grassroots. Tories were always going to focus on immigration or scrounger-bashing; the Dems were always going to fight hard for AV and stress their social reforms.

However, for a moment, let's assume, hypothetically that "No2AV" wins and Cameron is emboldened to go to the electorate. This is the bit that Labour voters don't want to hear :

He'd probably win.

I know, I know, if you're anti-Tory it seems totally and utterly impossible. All we see is the destruction Conservative policies cause, the nasty divide and conquer tactics, the dog-whistle speeches and the race-to-the-bottom economics.

But let's look at some facts. Cameron is easily the most popular of the three leaders. His approval ratings are consistently in the mid 40s, whilst Ed Miliband's languish in the low 30s and Cleggs are only slightly behind in the high 20s. The truth is, people like Cameron. We can sneer with derision and wish it were not so, but it is. They still trust his "Nice Guy Dave" act and incumbents always do well in an election campaign.

Clegg has been the most effective political human shield in history. He has taken all the blows, he has screened Cameron and Osborne from real scrutiny. While Clegg's party have plummeted in the polls, the Conservatives are still broadly polling the same figure they achieved during the 2010 election. It may seem as though the marriage has soured, but in fact the honeymoon is barely over.

With opinion polls showing a scant 5 or 6 point lead, Labour simply do not as yet have the platform to win an election.

I can hear the splutters "But! But....."

Any election would be fought on the economy. Now that the gloves are off, it would certainly have to be a more honest campaign - a simple choice between Osborne's slash and burn and Labours steadier approach. But it would be a grave mistake to think that enough people have turned away from the former. Yes they've started to see the implications of swingeing cuts to our public services, but however much Labour might wish it were different, they don't care enough yet to think that Labour have the answers. All the evidence proves that the Conservatives are currently winning the battle over the need for cuts. They control the narrative, people still talk in terms of deficit reduction not growth.

A "No2AV" vote will only strengthen the Tories further. They will believe, rightly or wrongly that it is a vote for them. Sure, the Lib Dems will be disappointed, some may even resign, but they are so weak already, it will make little difference. In fact, the weaker the Libs get, the more seats the Tories win. However much Labour might feel betrayed by Clegg, they should remember that many Lib Dems do too.

No, if there is to be any chance of destabilising the coalition, then it is Cameron who needs to be weakened, not Clegg. He needs to be seen for the loser he is. A PM who couldn't win an election or a simple referendum on electoral reform will face terrible difficulties within his own party and Cameron knows this very well. Rumours circle that Cameron could not go on, that the Tory knives would be sharpened. Already, senior Tories are stating that there will be no further concessions to the Lib Dems if they lose the AV vote. They smell blood.

The Libs face a terrible set of local election results. The kicking so many Labour voters want to inflict on them is not in doubt. There will be plenty of Liberal recriminations, doubts and despondency on the morning of May 6th. Labour will almost certainly pick up whole swathes of council seats up and down the country - in the north and Scotland Lib Dems are facing almost total wipeout.

If we throw in a Lib Dem AV kicking too, the Tories will be stronger, more smug and more confident. Yet again, they will escape unscathed. Yet again, the Libs will take the knocks and the Tories will unite round Cameron a little more.

Of course, many Labour voters will make their decisions based on the merits or drawbacks of AV. For those who don't really care though, the smart move is a "Yes" vote. Voting "No" is just a vote for Cameron's Conservatives and a vote for the status-quo.

Monday 25 April 2011

Easter Feast

Aubergine Parmigiana
Melon and Parma Ham
Rocket Salad with Parmesan & Balsamic
Garlic Mushroom Bruschetta
Roasted Peppers with Basil 
Tuna, Bean and Onion Salad
Smoked Salmon
Artichoke Hearts
Salumi e Fromaggio 
Olives and Pickles
Rustic Bread

Doesn't really relate to anything at all, except that I had a day to myself, felt like cooking and feel a bit smug.
(Not to mention the fact that I'm currently able to eat, which is glorious)

Grassroots Warrior

Now, before spoonies and sickies rush to tell me of, I have had a gloriously chilled Easter. I haven't written a blog post, haven't answered any last minute calls for radio interviews or freelance articles.

I have done no less than frolic. I have taken my children to make beautiful, magical, childhood dreams. Splashing in swimming pools and running through fountains that sparkle in the rare Easter sunshine.

I only had one job that was too urgent to leave.

3,500 "Vote Tactically, Vote Labour" leaflets were sulking in the boot of my car, mocking me. With time getting short before the local elections, they needed counting into street sized bundles, boundaries needed to be drawn for delivery, volunteers needed contacting with a little extra Easter shmooze.

So it was, that yesterday morning, I found myself penned into the front room by Google maps, teetering piles of leaflets, the floor re-carpeted with red roses and highlighting pens.

It took HOURS!!

Way longer than I'd planned for. It actually takes quite a while to count to 3,500 - repeatedly. Longer still to decide how to divide 3,500 leaflets between my 12 helpers so that each would have just enough leaflets to deliver through just enough doors.

People often ask how I find time to write my blog. Well, I tippety-tap away while the kids build camps and climb on each other, in between phone calls, spilt drinks, preparing tea and emptying potties.

I spend much more time on Labour activism. No-one ever thanks me, we never win a seat on the council, I certainly don't get paid for my time.

No, I beaver away, year after year, folding my Labour principles into every leaflet, totally disconnected from the party I choose to support, blindly carrying out my role in a vacuum.

There are thousands like me. 10s of thousands, all donating a little sliver of their 4 day weekend to fold and count and bundle and deliver and doorknock.

It won't have gone un-noticed that I'm a teeny bit cross about Labour's stance on welfare reform. I'm not very keen on ESA you see. I spend all day every day, trying to make my party change it's mind on how they treat the sick and disabled. Then, exercising the most extraordinary cognitive dissonance, I give up that same time to support the same party in it's quest for re-election.

I do it on faith. I do it because something deep inside me will always believe that "by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone". I do it in the daily hope that they will remember the part that says we aim to "live together freely in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect."

Without me, and the thousands of stuffers and folders and deliverers and canvassers, there is no Labour Party.

We stuff and fold and deliver and canvass because no matter what our Party gets wrong, we still know that it is infinitely better than this coalition. When the next local or general elections lumber into view, I hope I can say a little more than that.

Friday 22 April 2011

Did the "Scrounger" tide turn?

Something quite interesting happened yesterday.

As readers will know, the Mail, Express, government ministers, the BBC and even our Prime Minister launched yet another attack on sickness benefit "scroungers" yesterday.

Somehow though, it didn't quite go as the government planned.

As campaigners, our phones started ringing before breakfast, offering us a "Right to Reply" on numerous radio shows and blogs.

I wrote a piece about it for Left Foot Forward and despite it being the top article, no-one felt the need to defend the politicians or the media and their nasty attacks.

I went back and checked the comments on the Mail and Express articles, but almost every single one was in support of the sick and disabled, with many making points about where they would rather the government focussed their fire.

A little later, Mark Easton wrote this brilliant piece for the BBC, asking where we draw the line if we start to differentiate between "self inflicted" conditions and "worthy" ones. Do we still take care of the horse-rider who's hobby "caused" their own paraplegia? Do we treat the lung cancer patient who lived with a smoker for 40 years?

David Cameron was roundly attacked for wading into this divisive debate.

Rather than being seen as "defenders of the taxpayer" the government managed to show themselves for the playground bullies they are.

Perhaps it will make them think twice the next time they choose to kick an easy target. Over 10 million people in the UK suffer from a long term illness or disability. They all have husbands or wives, children or parents, carers and friends. That's a LOT of voters.

To assume that these changes can be forced through because "sick benefit scroungers" won't vote Tory anyway might be a risk a little greater than the government had imagined.

Thursday 21 April 2011

Media Warrior

So, yesterday saw a complete spoon failure from Suey.

What with the pox, a hubby with a bad back, my Dad bedridden with a nasty infection and my Mum playing ambulance bingo for heart problems, my body decided enough was enough. I had no choice but to lay on the sofa and order a pizza for my boy's lunch.

I woke up this morning bleary from much needed sleep to answer the phone to BBC Radio London and the Vanessa Feltz Show. "Would I be on as an "expert" discussing the morning's headlines about "Benefit Scroungers?" Waking up a little more quickly than was good for me, I jokingly asked which particular kicking we were getting this morning? Either way I suggested she must have a copy of the Mail or the Express in front of her.

She spluttered with laughter and as I got the stories up on my laptop, she talked through them with me. Yet again, a list of "fake" conditions such as diarrhoea, drug and alcohol addiction, "blisters" "headaches" "stress" and even "nail conditions" were listed (funnily enough, not a peep about cancer, parkinson's, schizophrenia, bowel disease, heart failure, MS.....)

There is a little known spoonie phenomena called "adrenaline flood." When your body just can't take any more but you need to get on, fight or flight responses, formed over millennia, flood your body with adrenaline to take the place of the energy that "normal" people rely on. My hands started to shake uncontrollably, my heart raced and jumped in my ribcage, everything seemed clearer and sharper.

As arranged, the phone rang at 9.40 and within seconds I was live on BBC Radio London. Although the time passed in a blur, it was a decent slot, a good chance to actually go through some of the issues and inaccuracies in the newspaper articles.

The headline in fact screamed "SCANDAL OF 80,000 ON SICKNESS BENEFITS FOR MINOR AILMENTS....INCLUDING DIARRHOEA", a gift to an "expert" like me with bowel disease. I started by pointing out that my "diarrhoea" might be due to the 32 growths I've had removed from my guts, the 7 major operations that have saved my life and the loss of half my bowel. If we cherry pick conditions or symptoms to prove that all claimants are scroungers, we ought to be very clear what they relate to. 

I made several other points about these "fake ailments" - "blisters" that may well be due to conditions like Epidermylosis Bullosa where a sufferers skin blisters and tears from the lightest touch, that "asthma" affected 5.4 million people in the UK, yet only 30,600 claim support from the state to cope with it. My nephew died of asthma early this year. He was 11 years old. 

I made the point that surely we should actually be discussing the fact that the assessments used to determine whether someone is "fit for work" have been found unfit for purpose by the professor who designed ESA, the government's own advisory board, the CAB, Compass and the Harrington Report? Surely we should be discussing why 40% of decisions made by ATOS go to appeal with up to 80% overturned as inaccurate? Surely we should be more worried that 100s of people are being found "fit for work" every week who have severe, long-term, degenerative conditions that will never improve? That tribunals and assessments are causing great distress to people who are "truly vulnerable" - the very people the government claim they will protect? 

Finally, we talked about The Broken of Britain and my very own little blog and how we work very hard to offer facts and alternatives to the government which are roundly ignored. That we can work for weeks, producing reasonable, constructive evidence, that can all be undone in one morning when the Mail, Express and Mr Grayling get together to offer yet another three-pronged assault on the sick and disabled.

I asked how it helps the debate one jot to keep focussing on cheats and skivers? When someone with a complex, variable condition presents themselves for "assessment" how does it help the assessor to make a reasoned decision when they are told anyone with "blisters" or "headaches" or "asthma" is just faking? 

I'm very glad, that at the very least, we are finally getting a "right to reply". It means very much to me to be able to speak on the same forum as ministers such as Mr Grayling and to do what I can to reverse some of the hate and ignorance they seem determined to stir up. 

The fact we are now governed by ministers prepared to stoop to these levels shames me. I hope it shames you too. 

UPDATE : The brilliant Broken of Britain, posted the link to my interview
My bit starts at 37 mins

Wednesday 20 April 2011

One for the focus groups

Dear Rainbow Men,

I have a new set of commandments for you.

From this day on, thou shalt NEVER discuss policy or strategy or "the way forward" without holding these simple facts close. They must guideth you in everything. They must be the basis for every future step.

We'll call them the "Dog and Duck Dictionary"

1. "Labour in the 70s were way too commie. They didn't like people who were successful or tried to be."

2. "Maggie was what the country needed in the 80s. The unions had got out of control and she sorted it. She wanted people like me to get on."

3. Foot was a bit scruffy and Kinnock was a bit ginger

4. That Maggie turned into a bit of a nutter didn't she? She sold off our assets and destroyed our public services. Poll tax finished her off.

5. Major was very grey. Tories can't be trusted. They commit perjury and embezzle council house funds and sleep around and sit on too many boards selling arms or tobacco.

6.  Blair was the most popular politician of our time. He won three elections and represented people like me. My house made me lots of money and life felt good.

7. Iraq killed something in British politics. All that expenses scandal confirmed that they're all lying, stealing, corrupt, self-serving, gits. Labour stopped being very Labour. That Blair turned into a bit of a nutter didn't he?

the final three commandments are still under discussion. No final verdict has been reached, so I'll give both strains of conversation down the Dock and Duck.....

8. The Americans caused a massive credit crunch that rocked the world. Gordon Brown saved the financial system and restored growth. It didn't really affect me much til the Tories got in./ Blair and Brown spent too much. They didn't fix the roof while the sun was shining did they? They spent and spent then claimed the answer was to spend a bit more!!

9. Coalitions are a total stitch up. That Clegg is a lying, power-mad Tory and the Lib Dems are selling their souls for a ministerial jag. /Coalitions are quite good. At least we've got the Libs in there making it a bit better. I like seeing politicians working together.

10. The Tories proved once and for all that they are an out-of-date elitist joke. I'm never trusting them again with our public services. The economy has been destroyed and they haven't got a bloody clue what to do about it. I'm never voting for them again. EVER./ Labour are doing what they always do. Bickering amongst themselves. They've got no answers and things are getting a bit better under Osborne. They're a joke They broke this country and I'm never voting for them again. EVER

There, that's the narrative of the last 40 years. I don't think the Dock and Duck missed much out.

However much you might wish or believe any of them to be untrue, it won't change things a jot down the Dog and Duck. They are the Squeezed Middle. They are Mondeo Man and Worcester Woman. They are Alarm Clock Britain and Broken Britain. They are left and right, red, blue, green, yellow, orange, pink and purple.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

The new Rainbow Alliance.

"Red and Yellow and Pink and Blue, Orange and Purple and Green
I can form a think tank, form a think tank, form a think tank screen."

Come on LGBT - step up!! We only need a "Pink" now and we've got a whole rainbow of ridiculous, out of touch, dis-connected nonsense to pontificate over while real people suffer.

"Blue Labour" "Purple Labour" "Orange Bookers" Shall I translate?

"I am so supremely arrogant that I think I know better than the millions of people who vote for existing parties."
"I am so intelligent and well educated, that I believe I ought to tell people what they should be thinking."
"I am so fashionable that only I know that purple is the new red or orange is the new yellow"
"I am so cosseted by the Westminster bubble that I believe people give the tiniest damn about "direction" or "factionalism" or "in-fighting" or "re-branding"
"I have totally forgotten that ordinary, non-politics-geeks are worrying about their mortgages and their jobs and their wage packs, not the self-indulgent labels I want to spend the next few years agonising over"
"I think I can invent a brave new ideology to shape the world in my own image."
"I am so disingenuous that I believe I can create and implement a new political model without consulting the very people who will have no choice but to vote for it or be dis-enfranchised. (I might even keep it all a bit quiet til it's too late for the voters to "out" me.)

Labour would do very well to kick anyone very hard, who tries to use yet another colour to fix something that isn't broken. Should this prove impossible, then I wonder if they'd mind leaving their membership cards at the door on the way out? you see, Labour is Labour. If you want purple/blue/right/next or Timbuk-flippin-tu Labour, then I hate to say it, but you've infiltrated the wrong party.

I imagine there are more than a few Lib Dems who wish their very own colour blind Orange bookers would do the same thing. Libs who might be muttering "Leave our damn party alone a jog off to form a nice, muddled, misguided, navel-gazing, macho-liberal party of your own.

I have a great idea. How about they all set up a new party of their own and leave ours alone? It could be "The Rainbow Party" an elite alliance of colour fetishists. They can tout their new and improved paternalistic policies about the place, appealing directly to voters on a manifesto of watered-down blandism.

I have some suggestions for them :

"Free markets for all"
"Race to the Bottom Economics"
"Increasing the Poverty Gap"
"Protecting  the Status Quo
"Focus Group Democracy"
"The New Media Alliance"
"Policies by the privileged, for the privileged."
"Statistics and how to twist them"

Oh!! Hang on a minute! They don't need their own party! What was I thinking??? There is already a perfectly Blue party waiting with open arms to receive their gut based, knee-jerk, philanthropic vision. 

It's called the Conservative Party. 

When they suggest that "Purple" Labour must mix Red and Blue (Labour and Conservative) values, or that "Orange" liberalism leaves no room for disillusioned Labour voters, they can set up their own street stalls, deliver their own leaflets, knock on their own constituency doors and see just how much public support their ideas will attract. Just like UKIP have to. Or the BNP. I fail to see why they get to leap-frog over the poor Greens and use my Red or the Lib Dem's yellow to create their royalist/ecclesiastical purple or fake-tanned/incendiary Orange.

You know what actually happens when you mix all the colours together? You end up with a very unattractive, sludgy, un-transparent, muddy colour. It doesn't really know what it is any more and nobody but nobody would choose to wear it.

Poxy A&E

Those of you who also follow me on Twitter (@suey2y) will know that my little boys have had chicken pox.

A mere blip in pre-teen life you might think, but oh no, this is the Marsh household.

My 6 year old got it so badly, I could hardly bear to look at his crusty, pustulated skin. He actually had a spot on his eyeball! He couldn't eat as his tongue and throat were coated and inflamed and he was totally incapable of getting off the sofa for about 36 hours.

Sure as pox is pox, my 3 year old waited patiently until the middle of the Easter holidays to develop his rash, ensuring our quarantine ruined any chance of getting out for adventures or treats. Within a day, his neck and shoulders erupted into one huge, angry, red mass of pustules, with his eyelids and anus vying for title of "Most Infected"

His temperature climbed higher and higher until he was very unwell indeed.

Of course, most Mum's need superhuman qualities at times like these. I can't actually remember when I slept for more than an hour and I have hired two extra sets of arms for the week to fulfil all the "Muuuuuum, can I have's" and "I need a's" fired at me from both kids in a steady stream of consciousness. As an aside, Dave put his back out at the weekend very badly - he had to crawl to the toilet all day Saturday - so the burden of care has unusually fallen rather more on Mummy than Daddy during this particular crisis.

Yesterday, I actually fell asleep standing up. I was standing in the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil and thought "I'll just close my eyes for a second...." The next thing I knew I was stumbling forward into the sugar bowl.

Now, in my life, the planets only align to cause unreasonable pressure. My Mum had booked us tickets months before to see her favourite singer, Russell Watson, in concert in Brighton last night. She desperately needs a break - possibly even more than Hubby and I do. My Dad is very disabled and she spends all day every day caring for him. I won't splurge her life all over my blog, but suffice it to say, she's desperately stressed and it's making her unwell. She needed last night very much indeed.

With that in mind, we set off for the theatre with an air of grim determination to enjoy ourselves. Sure enough, once the magical carnival promenade of Brighton twinkled into view, a combined weight started to lift from our shoulders and for the first time in months, we had fun.

The orchestra was perfection, soothing our troubled souls with peace and joy. Watson's voice was astonishing, soaring and thrilling - the concert hall wonderment reducing us to small children in a well stocked sweetie shop.

Then my phone rang. It was Dave.

3 year old was in an ambulance, but I wasn't to worry (??!?!?!?). He'd stopped responding to Dave and his eyes were rolling, his temperature 41 Degrees. As Dave had no car (I'd taken it to jaunt off on my evil, selfish pleasure mission to the seaside) he'd called an ambulance and they were taking him straight into A&E.

What to do? Ruin my Mum's one night out that year? Snatch the wonderment from her eyes and worry her sick? Prove definitively that we will never enjoy even one carefree night out again, ever? Or take a deep breath, trust Dave (as I do with all my heart) and try to enjoy the rest of the show?

I went for the latter.

Despite a little fidgeting, texting of updates and a wheelbarrow full of guilt, we watched the last hour of the show, then hurried back to Worthing hospital.

Of course, I needn't have worried. When I got there, 3 year old hadn't even seen a doctor (and wouldn't for a further three hours) and was sitting up eating dolly mixtures (crying as each one stung the spots in his mouth and throat, only to convince himself that the next one would be fine.)

I had gone so far beyond spoonless by this stage, Dave kept putting his hands out to steady me, under some strange illusion that I might waft away altogether. Nonetheless, I Mummed and soothed and cuddled and joked with the boys as one hour became two and two became three and three edged into four.

When the doctor did finally come (at 1am to see two totally wiped out boys asleep on the hospital trolley), she sent us home with calpol and ibruprofen and piriton, exactly the course of action we'd followed at home.  Other than some very charitable cups of hospital tea, juice cartons and a bowl of cornfalkes for 6 yr old provided by a lovely and apologetic nurse, the crisis was over.

Today feels like a Sunday. Dave didn't go to work. After 3 days with no sleep at all it would have been foolhardy. We are all in our jarmies eating fried food and taking naps. If the fates could just ignore us for a few months it would make a lovely change. A whole month of nothing, of "boring" of "normal" would go down a treat.

Monday 18 April 2011

Guest Post on Simple Sickie Pleasures, by Kaliya Franklin

Wonderful Weekends

Times are tough for sick and disabled people. A constant onslaught of welfare 'reforms' combined with frequent media outrage about benefit scroungers and increases in disability hate crime mean that many of us feel we are literally fighting for our lives. This harshening of attitude to state provided support not only depresses and scares us but for many of us, means that we fear being seen doing anything 'nice' lest someone should decide to report us for fraud. On blogs and twitter we've discussed 'disability normal' to try and help the wider public understand we have the same hopes, dreams and desires as everyone else, we just have additional pressures not shared by a still able world. At Broken of Britain we've all pretty much worked ourselves into the ground, not because we're truly fit for work but because we recognise that our backs are against the wall and if we do not win this battle, we will face fighting a far greater war for our very existence. Over the past week or so the core BoB group have been hit hard by the health consequences of our work, one has had increased heart problems, another the first signs of a Crohn's flare, one is still recovering from surgery, another still unsure if they'll be homeless in a few weeks and I'm still getting over the breathing problems from a few weeks back.

The flipside of this 'back against the wall' attitude is that sick and disabled people tend to grab life with both hands (metaphorically, we tend to be a bit crap on grip strength) and on the occasions we're well enough, we LIVE. I've just had the busiest, lovliest, happiest weekend I can remember in years, more years than I care to think about. It was packed, and I'm in horrible pain and exhausted, but the happy memories will keep me going for years to come.

Friday started badly. I opened my inbox to find another email from a person disabled by mental health issues explaining that they had already made one suicide attempt and were planning another once their WCA assessment letter arrived. I sobbed down the phone to a friend in impotence and sadness that a Britain, once so great was putting this kind of pressure on it's own citizens, more so when I heard a journalist contact on twitter had also received a similar message that morning. The rest of the day is a bit of a blur, but the time spent with my neighbour's two year old dripping bubble mixture onto my head was just the medicine I needed to recover from such a sad start to the day. The rest of the day is a bit blank, I remember lots of pain and sleepiness and not the skype conversation I had with a friend - most of which didn't make sense when read back. Perhaps that's why, no matter how hard I try I have no recollection at all of Friday night.

Saturday was a beautiful morning. To chase away the need to vomit I went for a deathwalk, setting off thinking as I was in the best part of the month hormone wise I was looking pretty fine. Until my physio neighbour chased after me to express her horror at how floppy my hips were looking and warn me not to go too far. I made it, without need for rescue, but did need two hours in bed afterwards to recover. My upstairs neighbour had asked me to go wedding dress shopping in the afternoon and I was SO excited and honoured she'd asked me. When we arrived at the wedding dress shop, as so many wedding places seem to be, it was upstairs and of course there wasn't a lift. Fortunately the stairs were low rise, with landings in place every few steps so my neighbour and the hand rails got me up, and my bottom got me down. There's a time and a place to make a fuss about the lack of access, and shopping for the biggest day of someone else's life is most certainly  not it. Several dresses, cups of tea and tear stained tissues later we'd found the perfect dress and headed home for the early tea at the pub we'd planned.

We walked and BendyBus'd along the promenade to the busy pub and enjoyed our meal, particularly the 2 for 1 deal the pub run meaning it only cost about a fiver a head, then walked and scooted back to our local where we sat outside with the dog and even I had a drink. I couldn't finish it because it made me feel sick, which is probably fortunate as even that tiny amount of alcohol produces wildly inappropriate one liners to come out of my mouth before I know what I've said!

We headed home around 9pm and sat in my back yard wrapped in blankets listening to music, talking, smoking and drinking. Somehow a gnome ended up looking like it was butt fucking a plastic cat and the snails were holding a full blown festival which we all found highly amusing. Ok, I did. The others just found my snail festival overexcitment highly amusing. By around midnight we all crawled off to bed, and even though it took me two hours to stop shivering and frequent waking later due to being so cold under the two duvets and hot water bottle I'd piled on my bed it was well worth it.

Pain woke me early and feeling rotten but I was so excited about the prospect of my back yard getting the 'ground force' treatment I tuned it all out and focused on that. We loaded up the BendyVan with my wheelchair and headed off to the supermarket and garden centre to stock up with food and plants, intending to have a BBQ later on. I'm so used to having to do things alone that every time I'm with people who automatically support my disability it comes as a huge shock to me how easy life becomes. If I'd wanted to go to the supermarket alone, even with the mobility scooter it would have taken up the entire day and left me exhausted, but with friends to push me and help out I was able to do it all and still have the energy left to do some planting. My friends did all the hard work gardening, lifting, sweeping and sorting while I potted a few plants. Half way through I dislocated my ankle and wobbled wimpily in the middle of the yard until someone sat me down, helped me take my boot off and hung onto my foot as firmly as they could so I could relocate the ankle. It only took a couple of goes but was quite upsetting for the others.

The garden was transformed within an hour or so and we were exhausted, happy and excited for our BBQ. Which was when we discovered the other neighbour who'd been dispatched to buy BBQ's and meat had got a bit puddled in the supermarket and thought we were buying them. Not deterred by this lack of BBQ or food we combined ingredients from various freezers and kitchens and my upstairs neighbour used my kitchen to make a fantastic meal. We sat in the newly sorted out yard, with candles, the gnome shrine* a beautiful meal and wonderful company.

It might not seem much to you, a weekend spent close to home, a meal in the pub, a drink and time with friends. But for me it was wonderful, exhausting, exhilhirating and oh so very special. So special that even the fear of being reported for benefit fraud because I was actually enjoying myself couldn't spoil it. 

A Note to Disability Sceptics

It might sometimes seem as though disability campaigners are asking you to take an awful lot on trust.

We tell you that we are not opposed to all welfare reform, yet only write about the parts we disagree with. We point out that genuine support to find rewarding employment would be welcomed, but ask you to believe us when we say that it is the system put in place that fails us - and you.

You watch TV programmes and read newspaper reports that claim virtually all on sickness benefits are "scroungers" or "skivers", yet we keep pointing out that in fact fraud is the lowest of all social security benefits at just 0.5%. Perhaps we should spend a little more time acknowledging that many people on sickness or disability benefits would like to work and would welcome the chance to try.

If you happen to be aligned to a Conservative viewpoint, it's hard to continually hear that a policy is not only chaotic and mis-informed, but potentially dangerous and cruel. As a Labour leftie, I know all too well how frustrating it is when you have the best of intentions in government, but face a constant wall of opposition. If you believe passionately that work is the best medicine, it's hard to hear that for some, that just isn't the case.

Nonetheless, when something is wrong, it's wrong.

Employment Support Allowance (ESA, the replacement for Incapacity Benefit) was wrong when Labour introduced it and it's just as wrong today. It was based on flawed assumptions and spurious research. In 13 years, it was the first thing I openly opposed my own party over. It was clear that it would cause great suffering and injustice and I simply could not let it go unchecked.

Worst of all it might just sound like self interest : "Don't cut our benefits, don't make us pay."

Some ask how I  (and my campaigning colleagues at The Broken of Britain ) manage to write so passionately or find time to research our work, yet don't take a "real" job. Well this is why.

We are making ourselves (more) ill. We are pushing ourselves too far. Daily, we take on too much and fight too hard.  Yet at some point a kind of fatalistic "nothing left to lose" attitude crept over us. We don't have wealthy supporters or powerful voices to fight our cause. If someone wants an "expert" for a radio show or newspaper column, it has to be us. There is no-one else. If someone wants an article within the hour on a particularly pernicious benefit story, we have to write it. There is no-one else.

But we're doing it for you too.

Sickness or disability can happen to anyone at any time. You might think that you would cope, work on through, but we who have been there know that sometimes there comes a time when you simply can't. We know that life can change in a heartbeat. That cancer or car accidents, disease or despair can strike anyone at any time - from the CEO who has a breakdown that he thought could never happen to him to the student diagnosed with leukaemia.

We know that skis can come lose or motorbikes can spin into ditches, crushing our hopes for the future as surely as our limbs. We know that defective genes or delinquent organs can lurk as surely in a lawyer as a clerk.

And we know, through terrible experience that when, God forbid, the lottery of life comes calling, you have a right to dignity. Not wealth or special favours, just a little basic provision and a knowledge that we live in a society that won't let you fall.

So, we have to fight. We have to be controversial. We have to grab your attention. We have to find ways to have our voices heard by a media and political class who largely don't want to know. But I just wanted you to know that we're fighting for you too.

Sunday 17 April 2011

AV : Who to Screw?

Having read endless arguments for and against AV, going back well before last year's election, I would still say my opinion is largely "meh"

"Wottevver" also sums it up pretty well. If for any strange reason you wanted to know more of my opinion than "meh" or "wottevver" then reading both Mark Ferguson at Labour List and Emma Burnell on the subject pretty much translates my "meh" into an intelligent argument.

As ever, we're presented with an enormous fudge - politicians giving just enough leeway to pretend something is really up for debate, when actually the debate ought to be "Why is STV or full PR not on the table?" AV won't really change much, except we might end up with a few more "least hated" politicians rather than the "most liked" ones.

Yay *quiet party-blower fizzles out*

Instead, if I'm really really honest, the debate probably comes down to "who to screw?"

For the first time I can recall, I find myself agreeing with Andrew Rawnsley

Do I want to watch Nick Clegg face a furious brigade of  yoghurt-knitters on the morning of 6th May? Do I want them to start wondering exactly why they're tolerating the popularity levels of Gaddafi at a street party, if they can't even win the tiniest and fudgiest of electoral reform prizes?

Or, do I want to see a nervous tic appear just below David Cameron's botoxed forehead? Do I want to witness Tory backbenchers join the queue to point out that not only could Cameron not win them an election, but now he's ensured they may never win one outright again? Rightly or wrongly, the Tories believe that any kind of electoral reform will finish them off. A delicious leftie thought for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

After careful consideration, I will always want to screw Tories. (Obviously, metaphorically, not literally - shudder at the thought.) I have a sneaking suspicion that those Tories who detest Cameron have sharper teeth than those Lib Dems furious with Clegg. I might see more fireworks if "Yes" to AV wins. I love a bit of political brutality. If the AV referendum is good for nothing else, it could at least provide me with a week or so of political intrigue and maybe even the odd scalp or two.

Having felt that I was leaning towards voting "No" I might just have to think again.....

Friday 15 April 2011

"Let's make disabled kids Pay" (Compassionate Conservatism)

"Cut, cut cut" Am I becoming white noise yet?

Has the shock worn off? Do you have cut fatigue?

Well, every now and then, one squeaks through the gaps, sickens me, fills me with disgust. Just when I think I've got to grips with the unremitting onslaught facing sick and disabled people, I hear something else that stops the noise for a moment or two as it lurches into view in all it's horrible glory.

This story in the Mirror :

points out that :

"the disability element of the child tax credit {has been} cut from a maximum £52 a week to just £25.95. 

Around 100,000 families could lose up to £1,366 a year - or more than £20,000 by the time their child reaches 16"

Disabled kids, bearing the brunt of deficit reduction. Nice. Just where everyone thought the cuts would fall eh? Just what we hoped a "Compassionate Conservative" government would do. Because obviously, "protecting the most vulnerable" was never supposed to apply to disabled children.

The 3rd May, just 3 days before the General Election seems a long, long time ago now doesn't it?

"But in making these decisions I will want to, if I am elected, take the whole country with me. I don't want to leave anyone behind. The test of a good society is you look after the elderly, the frail, the vulnerable, the poorest in our society."

David Cameron, 3rd May 2010

I wonder how much difference a loss of £26.05 a week would have made to his life when his family faced caring for a profoundly disabled child. Not much I suspect.

Thursday 14 April 2011

My ESA submission

Sorry I can't share it with you. It's the rules.

Just wanted to say however, that I typed with hideous fury. I mocked their ludicrous policies, asked why someone like me should have to point out things that are so blindingly obvious, things that have been highlighted by report after report. I told them they should be ashamed.

I fear that they'll ignore me and the thousands of other submissions they receive. They totally ignored those made to the DLA enquiry, it was a whitewash. However, I wanted it on record that when everything I've been warning of happens, they had all the evidence in front of them .

They just chose time and time and time again to ignore it.

Wednesday 13 April 2011


Today is the last day for submitting your evidence/experiences to the ESA enquiry.

-If you have experience of an ATOS Work Capability Assessment
-If you are currently on IB but will soon be assessed for ESA
-If you have experience of the Work Capability Group
-If you are concerned about Time Limiting or any other aspect of the changes, then

Please take a few moments to read the issues outlined in the enquiry below and if you feel one or more have affected you, I urge you to write a short statement. It might be a description of how unsuitable your assessment was, your experiences of ATOS, or how time limiting the benefit could affect your partner's ability to keep working. If you have been through the worry and fear of a tribunal, we need to explain how this fails too, or how hard it is to always be fighting.

Obviously, you can respond to all of the points if you feel you have personal experience to share. Contact details for sending in submissions can be found by clicking on "How to submit Written Evidence" at the bottom of the DWP quote.

However, I have set up a new email address, to enable anyone who wishes to, to write their feelings and thoughts and contributions without having to make their personal details available on my blog. It is vital that each submission is accompanied by a name address and telephone number to ensure that as many submissions can be made as possible.

You don't need to be a writer or a campaigner - far from it. It doesn't matter what you write or how. No submissions will be censored or altered. I will simply collect them together until the submission date. If you've never been actively involved before, I urge you to think about joining in. This is the best chance we, the public, have to be heard and hopefully, to change the most damaging aspects of ESA.

"Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) replaced incapacity benefits for people making new claims from October 2008. To be eligible for ESA, a person must usually undergo a Work Capability Assessment (WCA).
The introduction of ESA in 2008 was initially limited to new claimants. Existing incapacity benefit claimants are now being reassessed under the Work Capability Assessment. The process will last until 2014 with around 1.5 million people being reassessed.
Reassessment commenced on 11 October 2010 with a trial in Aberdeen and Burnley.  At the end of February, Jobcentre Plus began a limited introductory phase, and will move to full national reassessment of incapacity benefit claimants from April 2011.
In particular, the Inquiry will focus on the following issues:
  • The Department’s communications to customers going through the assessment and whether the information, guidance and advice provided by the Department and Jobcentre Plus is effective in supporting customers through the process.
  • The Work Capability Assessment including: the assessment criteria; the service provided by Atos staff; the suitability of assessment centres; and customers’ overall experience of the process.
  • The decision-making process and how it could be improved to ensure that customers are confident that the outcome of their assessment is a fair and transparent reflection of their capacity for work. 
  • The appeals process, including the time taken for the appeals process to be completed; and whether customers who decide to appeal the outcome of their assessment have all the necessary guidance, information and advice to support them through the process.
  • The outcome of the migration process and the different paths taken by the various client groups: those moved to Jobseeker’s Allowance, including the support provided to find work and theimpact of the labour market on employment prospects; those found fit for work who may be entitled to no further benefits; those placed in the Work Related Activity Group of the ESA, including the likely impact of the Department’s decision to time-limit contribution-based ESA to a year; and those placed in the Support Group.
  • The time-scale for the national roll-out for the migration process, including the Department’s capacity to introduce changes identified as necessary in the Aberdeen and Burnley trials.
Short submissions (no more than 3,000 words) are invited from interested organisations and individuals.
The deadline for submissions is 14 April 2011."
That last line is the link that gives details on how the submission should be presented. (just click on it) If you can follow the suggestions, please do, but if they daunt you, don't be put off, just send your story with name, address and telephone number to and I will attempt to put as many as I can in the format the inquiry requests. (always asking for your approval before submission.)

Most of all though, know that this is great news. It is an enormous achievement that this blog and hundreds of other blogs and campaign groups and charities have highlighted the faults of ESA so effectively that we now have a chance to make our views heard officially.

Please pass this on to anyone you know who might want to participate, and again, share as widely as possible to make sure that as many people are included in this process as possible. 

Once again, the email for submitting via this blog is

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Nice Guy Eddie

When the coalition hit their six month anniversary, we all had something to say. Some listed the cuts, some profiled prominent ministers or rising stars, others looked into policy, department by department.

Today marks the 6 month anniversary of Ed Miliband becoming Labour leader. Plus 17 days.

No-one commented, I don't remember seeing a single profile anywhere. Perhaps no-one really cared.

When it comes to politics, it is indeed true that I'm so tribal, I've been known to carry a spear. If you remove the shirts of most Labour tribalists, you'll find the word "Loyalty" tattooed underneath. Blair made this form of branding compulsory and the ghost-of-militant-past haunted us all into complying.

Perhaps that's why we've all stayed quiet.

The Conservatives barely know he's there. Like an irritating fly buzzing around their tough old hides, they flick him away with ease.

Labour members are delighted to see such a large scale consultation going on internally. "Fresh Ideas" and "Movement for Change" are exciting opportunities for Labour. If genuinely implemented, they could not only bring Labour back to her grass-roots, but invigorate the party as a fighting force fit to represent those it is charged with abandoning.

When it comes to looking outwards however, it won't help my party one jot to pretend things are going well.

A nurse turned up to our CLP meeting last week. She'd never come along before, but had just one burning question she wanted to ask - "Where are Labour?"

Faced with the effective privatisation of our National Health Service, why weren't they screaming from every rooftop? A quick straw poll showed that only two members knew the name of the shadow health minister. (John Healey, in case you too are struggling)

Whatever happens, don't cling to the false hope of opinion polls. Six point leads are appalling faced with this scale of ideological Tory chaos. They are phantoms, gone with the wave of an Osborne-tax-cutting magic wand.

We over-opinionated scribblers get so caught up with focus groups and policy forums and strategy groups, we forget that most people "in the real world" can't name more than two or three politicians. I'll never forget the lady on the doorstep, just before the election, who told me she'd be voting for "that nice David Clegg". If you spend more than a millisecond of your life canvassing you'll be put very quickly and firmly in your place. Non-politicos spend all of 2 or 3 seconds a day thinking about politics (if that) and if they even have an opinion of Ed Miliband, I fear it is "geek".

It pains me to say it. I can feel cold winds whistling around my laptop. I have been hypocritically quiet on the subject. Nonetheless, it is never a good idea to ignore things because they hurt.

I am delighted that Ed is focussing on restoring my party. It is one of the things I hoped for most.

At the same time though, he needs a few boxing lessons. He needs to land a few blows, chase that killer punch. Why for instance isn't he finishing off Lansley? I could finish off Lansley with a wet kipper.

And the "Strategic" Defence Review? Tories are furious about it. Aircraft carriers with no aircraft? A war with no soldiers or airmen? It's a big fat gift wrapped up with a bow.

The "squeezed middle" is starting to look very clever strategically. It will almost certainly win vital swing votes. However, a Labour party who forgets the "pinched bottom" is fostering resentment amongst the very people keeping the party alive day in and day out. Blair knew it well. Winter Fuel Payments, free bus passes and TV  licences, minimum wage and childcare all played to the core vote. Whatever free-market jiggery-pokery went on behind the scenes, policies sounded awfully Labour. 

How about Tuition fees? Should have been Ed's glory hour surely? He ran for leader on a graduate tax.

Forests? NHS? Tax avoidance? *tumbleweed* one could be forgiven for thinking that the mighty 38 Degrees are currently leading Her Majesties Opposition.

Don't even start me on the sick and disabled. I fear I would lose my comedy mojo. As the only policy on the table, completely abandoning us sickies has not gone down well.

With the coalition falling apart at the seams, with almost every department in total chaos, Labour should be riding high.

Ed has been conciliatory, reasonable and non-confrontational. All admirable traits, but how's it working out for ya there Ed? I'm not sure your ordinary bloke at home feels very conciliatory, reasonable OR non-confrontational when faced with lower wages, higher inflation, higher VAT, slashed police numbers, cuts to his childcare, soaring fuel prices, closing hospital wards, selling our blood service, closing our youth centres, sport centres and theatres, the threat of unemployment and no holiday this year or any year soon.

Throw in yet another dubious war, bankers sneering at their incredible good-fortune and Tory ministers making Etonian/Racist/Sexist/Homophobic gaffs left right and centre and, given a shot at opposition, your average crowd at the Dog and Duck could probably force a general election before Xmas.

No more Mr Nice Guy, Ed. It isn't chiming with the public mood. We want an ally, a friend an advocate, but mostly, we want to see Cameron et all squirm. Preferably we want to see them gone. Cosying up to the top-tea-table isn't going to speed things along.

Monday 11 April 2011

National Day of Protest Against Benefit Cuts

Just a quickie today.

Thursday, April 14th sees the 3rd National Day of Protest Against Benefits Cuts. Details below.

I will be "blogging from the sickie bunker" again, but if any of you would like to join the physical protests, you will be more than welcome.

Press Release

Protests will be taking place around the UK as part of the Third National Day of Protest Against Benefit Cuts.

Protests and events will be taking place in London, Bristol, Scotland, Poole, Brighton, Leeds, Burnley and Cardiff with more cities expected to confirm events this week.

Protest Outside The Daily Mail – Stop the Defamation – Stop the Lies
Thursday, April 14 – 2pm
Daily Mail Headquarters, Young Street (off Kensington High Street), London W8 5TT
Protesting about the media's defamation of benefit claimants.

Islington Protests Against Benefit Cuts
Thursday, April 14 - 8:30am – 9:30am
There will be a protest at 8.30am to 9.30am outside the Atos Healthcare Assessment Centre at 1 Elthorne Road, just off Holloway Road.
Protesting against the company which carries out the Work Capability Assessments.

Protest Outside Westminster City Hall & Mass Food Give Away!
Thursday, April 14 -  5:00pm – 9:00pm
Protest Outside Westminster City Hall, 64 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6QP
Protesting against the ban on rough sleeping and handing out food, as well as the Housing Benefit caps.

Millions are set to be affected by savage cuts to housing, disability, sickness and welfare benefits. Disabled people,those with long term illness, the unemployed, single parents, carers the low waged, part time students, volunteers, homeless people and college students are all likely to see a devastating drop in disposable income with many slipping even further below the poverty line.

Claimants are being asked to pay for the mistakes and extravagances of the richest. Meanwhile poverty pimps like Atos Origin and A4e are set to rake in hundreds of millions on government contracts to bully and intimidate people from claiming the pittance handed out in benefit payments. Many disabled people have threatened suicide if these cuts are allowed to continue. Some have tragically already carried out that threat.

The first two days of protest against benefit cuts have seen demonstrations, meetings, unemployed discos, public pantomimes and occupations in cities across the UK. Atos Origin have been forced to close offices, protesters have gathered inside and outside workfare sharks A4e and demonstrations have taken place from Downing Street to local town centres such as Lydney and Crawley.

We are fighting for our homes, our livelihoods, our very survival. It’s time to show these public school parasites and their poverty pimp collaborators we mean business.

For further details plus details of other protests around the UK please visit:!/event.php?eid=164277070288955

Supported by:
o Anti-Benefit Cuts Glasgow
o Armchair Army
o Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign
o Brighton Benefits Campaign
o Cardiff’s Unemployed Daytime Disco
o Carer Watch
o Carer Watch fb page
o Crippen – Disabled Cartoonist
o Diary of a Benefit Scrounger
o Disabled People Against Cuts
o Dundee Unemployed Workers
o East Lancs Right to Work
o Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP)
o Free London Listings
o Goldsmiths in Occupation
o Haringey Solidarity Group
o Ipswich Unemployed Action
o Islington Hands Off Our Public Services (IHOOPS)
o Islington Poverty Action
o Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group
o Lancaster and Morecambe Against the Cuts
o London Coalition Against Poverty (LCAP)
o London Foodbank
o Mad Pride
o Medway Against Cuts
o Mental Health Resistance Network
o Norfolk Community Action Group
o Nottingham Claimants’ Union
o Nuneaton Against Benefit Cuts
o Oxford Save Our Services
o Squattastic
o Tyneside Claimants Union
o Welfare Action Hackney
o Welfare Rights 4 u (UK)
o Work Programme & Flexible New Deal Scandal
o World Homeless Day