Thursday, October 21st, 2010 03:08 am
There's a scene in Babylon Five, in which Vir Cotto finds himself unexpectedly in a lift with G'Kar. Vir Cotto's people, the Centauri, have just launched a devastating attack on G'Kar's people, the Narn, bombing the Narn homeworld from orbit with asteroids in contravention of pretty much every rule of engagement in the B5 universe and killing millions. Vir, who is profoudly unhappy with the actions of his people, attempts to apologise. G'Kar gives a graphic demonstration of why an apology is, at that point, futile.

It's here, if you want to watch it (warning, contains blood, and is probably triggering for self-harm):



As a Lib Dem, trying to write about the spending review and it's effect upon the most vulnerable and least wealthy members of our society, I find myself reminded strongly of Vir. I want to apologise for what I think's going to happen, and for the fact that people who are already struggling to cope are going to need to struggle that bit more, and - unless a miracle happens - some of them are going to be unable to cope. Many of these people are my friends. Some live on the same street as me. (It shouldn't matter if they weren't, of course, but I do suspect that none of them live on the same street as George Osborne, nor Nick Clegg.)

I want to apologise but, really, what use is an apology in this situation? I'll make one anyway, mind you; I'm sorry about what my party (in coalition, yes, but still my party) is doing to welfare. I'm especially sorry as the manifesto contained a far more enlightened attitude both to supporting people who could be helped to find work and to continuing to support those who couldn't. I don't need the apology to be accepted, and I'm aware it may not be, but I'm sorry, and I'll continue to argue both within the party and outside it for the importance of having a strong welfare state. And I'll continue to question my support for the party as a whole.

Because, I'm proud of the welfare state. I'm not, I hasten to add, proud of the fact that we need it, but given that we do need it, I'm proud that it's there. I'm also aware that, as a rule, it sucks to be on welfare. I'm not speaking from direct experience here - although I was claiming JSA for the past six months, I was doing it in the context of a family who could support me anyway, so I don't for a moment think I have a significant personal insight into it - but everything I read from those who are in that situation leads me to think this.

I possibly know the wrong people, but by and large, the people I know who are in receipt of some welfare payments are among the hardest working people I know. Circumstances, one way and another, have put them in a position where they need some help from the state to get by, but they are not lazy, and they are not work-shy, and they have not chosen 'living off the state' as a 'lifestyle'. I don't want that help to be removed; it's one of the last things (yes, even after the sainted BBC) that we should be cutting. Times are going to be tough ahead, and there are going to be more people who need state support to get by, and I don't think there's any excuse for reducing that support at a time when it's going to be most needed.

In fact, I think it's wrongheaded to look at welfare as 'something we can take money from to balance the budget', which from recent speeches seems to be how both Nick Clegg and George Osborne are looking at it. The welfare budget is there to help the vulnerable. Sure, if there are suddenly fewer vulnerable people, or they each need less support, the welfare budget will go down. But to aim to cut the budget without either of those things being true, as we are doing, is to say to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society 'sorry, but we can't give you as much support as we used to, whether or not you need it'. I simply don't think the country's finances are that dire.

(I realise that I'm treating a complex set of issues as somewhat monolithic here, but I feel I've got the overall picture right. I also realise that this may all look different in the morning, but the spending review, and my Vir-like reaction to it, was keeping me awake, and so I thought I may as well write about it.)
Thursday, October 21st, 2010 06:54 am (UTC)
I hope that ultimately the honorable ones in your party, like Vir, gain influence, put right what can be put right, mitigate what can be mitigated and make the world less bloody scary.
(I have no idea how realistic a hope this is, but it probably comes into the 'last, best...' category.)
Monday, November 8th, 2010 06:58 pm (UTC)
DW won't let me embed a youtube video in comments :-(

But here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0n2vurSBIQ

Vir had more to say on the subject. Vir rocks.
Thursday, October 21st, 2010 08:27 am (UTC)
It is a pity that the conference happened before yesterday's announcements. It would have been a lot more interesting now, and the Spring conference will be a little late.
Thursday, October 21st, 2010 09:54 am (UTC)
Thanks for posting this.

I confess that so far I haven't looked much at the detail of what's being proposed, because even the rough outlines that I've encountered so far leave me feeling physically nauseous. (And I'm not in a good state to cope with that right now.) Tthe Johann Hari article struck me as a good summary of the situation.
Thursday, October 21st, 2010 12:38 pm (UTC)
So, in short, you believe the LDs have made "wrong" "poor" decisions to support cuts which affect Welfare? Seeking clarification rather than poking you with a stick if that makes sense.

How widely do you think this "these cuts are in the wrong places" is believed amongst the LD grassroots?

And indeed party MPs? I was appalled to read Lynne Featherstone's blog post which was all congratulatory with no acknowledgement that some of the cuts are made-of-fail.
Thursday, October 21st, 2010 08:02 pm (UTC)
*nods* just checking that I'd understood you right.

I shall go and read those links thanks!

I've evidently missed scathe in response to Lynne, only seem one reference to it so far - shall go and have a look at the post again.
Thursday, October 21st, 2010 01:43 pm (UTC)
None of us can speak for all the grassroots, of course, but my own sense of the mood has been that people are roughly evenly split between "Let's kill the leadership, set fire to Cowley Street, and go back to ideologically pure opposition, comrades!" and "We did the best we could do, but this is really quite not-nice, and I wish we could have done things differently, but we can't and we'll just have to do our best to cope". I'm somewhere in between the two, but headed rapidly towards the first. I only know one person who's resigned over the issue at the moment, and for her it was as much to do with personal incompatibilities with some other local members.

I think if someone were to come up with some pragmatic way to get the majority of the CSR through but to get rid of a few of the worst welfare cuts (and there are plenty of good things in the CSR, and quite a few bad-but-acceptable ones, and the welfare cuts make up only a tiny proportion of the actual money involved), the entire grassroots of the party and the vast majority of the Parliamentary party would welcome it with open arms.

I was angered by Lynne's post too, but she's governed by collective responsibility - Ministers have to toe the official line or resign. But I'm annoyed that the official line from the leadership is to 'own the coalition' rather than state clearly what is Lib Dem policy, what Tory, and what both or a compromise position...

What I'm waiting for is a response from members of the Beveridge Group, people like Farron, Leech, Sanders and so on.

We need to pick our battles in coalition, and I think the size of the state does need to shrink, but payments to the vulnerable should be the last thing to go, not the first...
Thursday, October 21st, 2010 08:06 pm (UTC)
I think the fact that the worst cuts may only affect "comparatively few people" and "save comparatively little money" makes them more sickening, not only are they vicious, cruel but they're comparatively pointless.

I wonder what would happen if the LDs refused to vote for it unless the welfare stuff is made a lot less vicious? The content of p30 of the pre election manifesto showed *CLUE* and it didn't have to be expensive, but was about changing society to be more supportive enabling disabled and other disadvantaged groups like lone parents and carers into work by making employers be more flexible and support easier to access.

I keep considering joining the LDs but this stuff is deal breaking for me. It probably won't affect me greatly, but it affects those I work and fight for and when Scope, RNIB and Shelter all speak out against the changes I think they should be listened to instead of big business who have fought for and apparently successfully protected their interests.

I need to get off my arse and write a proper paper letter to Lynne.
Thursday, October 21st, 2010 08:19 pm (UTC)
"I think the fact that the worst cuts may only affect "comparatively few people" and "save comparatively little money" makes them more sickening, not only are they vicious, cruel but they're comparatively pointless."

Absolutely agreed. Cutting something that benefits everyone is fair. Cutting something that only benefits a small number of the poorest is victimisation.
Thursday, October 21st, 2010 09:20 pm (UTC)
Come the next election, the party is going to have to have things it can point at, able to say, 'We did that and if it had not been for us, it would have been much worse.'

Every time there is a story about Tory MPs moaning about some aspect of coalition policy, it helps. Similarly every time the Daily Hate Mail complains. And when LibDem ministers point to the better bits, not be seen to applaud the whole lot.
Thursday, October 21st, 2010 09:28 pm (UTC)
This is why Clegg's 'owning the coalition' strategy is so awful. If we said "this is a bad thing we stopped, this is a bad thing we compromised on, and this is a good thing we got" that'd be one thing, but saying "Yay! Benefit cuts for the disabled!" is another.
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