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.)

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