Liam Byrne’s Capitulation

4th January, 2012 10:45 am

This is the kind of piece that delights Liam Byrne. It is an article of faith for the Blairite true believer that, the louder the left squeal, the more confident you should be that you’re doing the right thing. Another vindication is if the swivel-eyed hard right knuckle-draggers of the Daily Mail applaud you. So I’m sure that Byrne was chuffed to read the headline ‘Now Ed Miliband gets tough with onslaught against ‘evil’ of benefits scroungers’. After all, the hard work of him and his team had paid off: it was an article based on their private briefing, after all. According to a ‘source close to Liam Byrne’: ‘Decent Labour voters see their neighbours lie about all day and get benefits while they are working their socks off, and say, “Why should I vote Labour when they let this happen?”‘ I wonder how many people join the Labour Party to cynically exploit prejudices about (and among) some of the poorest members of society in the pages of the Daily Mail. A tiny number, thankfully, but Byrne is among them – and I am ashamed to share the party card as him.

I will be accused of playing the man, not the ball here, but Liam Byrne is an interesting case study of the worst elements of New Labour. In a party founded to represent working-class people, New Labour increasingly became over-run by hacks whose professional background showed no evidence of any commitment to the values of the labour movement. Byrne is a typical example: a former management consultant-turned-merchant banker.

He is perhaps most famously known for the hair-grabbingly stupid decision to leave a note for the Tories in the Treasury after the election boasting that ‘I am afraid there is no money. Kind regards – and good luck!’ Here is a concise summary of the utter failure of New Labour to challenge the Tories’ narratives. The political genius of Cameron and his allies in the media was to transform a crisis of the market into a crisis of public spending. They were aided and abetted by the failure of New Labour to push the reality – leaving arch-critics of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown like myself in the bizarre position of having to defend a large chunk of their economic record against their supporters.

But Liam Byrne is also a prime example of the utter shamelessness of the British political elite. He is a politician who fuels prejudices about welfare ‘scroungers’. It takes one to know one. After all, he himself systematically milked the system, leached off the taxpayer – whatever you want to call it. He claimed £400 a month off the state for food, despite having a salary which comfortably placed him in the top 5% of the population. He rented an apartment in County Hall overlooking the Thames to the tune of £2,400 a month – paid for by you and me, of course. He attempted to submit room service bills to the fees office, which proved even too much for them (and, at the time, that’s saying something). His food bill alone was over a hundred quid more than the maximum Jobseekers Allowance payment.

His shameless hypocrisy is but a mere gripe compared to his real offence, however. The Tories are currently hacking large chunks off the welfare state, and it is Liam Byrne’s job to oppose it. After all, this is a government planning to drag cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy from their hospital beds to undergo assessments to see if they can work. It has sent letters to 700,000 terminally ill patients informing them that they may lose their benefits. It is introducing a benefits cap that will provoke one of the biggest population movements since World War II, which one Tory minister has compared to the Highland Clearances. Even Boris Johnson hyperbolically made references to Kosovo-style social cleansing.

But – with a few mealy-mouthed, heavily caveated exceptions – Liam Byrne is not leading the charge against this unprecedented onslaught. Instead, he is himself arguing for more punitive treatment of people on benefits, drawing on a completely distorted interpretation of William Beveridge’s thought.

There are a whole number of arguments that Byrne should be making. Despite the obsession with benefit fraud, the Government estimates it is worth just £1.2bn a year – or less than 1% of welfare spending. Compare that to the £70bn lost to the Treasury’s coffers through tax avoiding businesspeople.

Indeed, a far bigger problem is what could be called ‘benefits evasion’. A whopping £16bn worth of benefits go unclaimed every single year.

Byrne argues that Beveridge ‘would scarcely have believed housing benefit alone is costing the UK over £20bn a year. That is simply too high.’ Of course it is, but Byrne fails to explain the reasons why: the scrapping of rent control and the failure of New Labour to build council housing, forcing millions of people to rent from unscrupulous landlords exploiting the lack of affordable housing to charge extortionate rents. It is, after all, the landlord – not the tenant – who pockets housing benefit.

But the real travesty of conjuring up the ghost of Beveridge is that we currently live in a society blighted by mass unemployment. As George Eaton points out over at the Staggers, ‘Beveridge’s welfare state was designed for a system of full employment.’ The clue was in the title of his second report, Full Employment in a Free Society. But in Cameron’s Britain, there are 23 people chasing every available job. In some communities, it’s even bleaker than that. In Hull, for example, there are 18,795 jobseekers for just 318 jobs. There is simply not enough work to go around.

Byrne argues that, for Beveridge, ‘”idleness” was an evil every bit as insidious as disease or squalor. So he would have been horrified at the long-term unemployment breaking out all over Britain, with over a million young people out of work, and appalled at the spiralling cost of benefits.’ But this has nothing to do with ‘idleness’, with its implications of laziness on the part of the individual. Firstly, it is to do with the destruction of industry under Thatcherism: entire communities never properly recovered (including under New Labour) and were left bereft of secure, well-paid jobs. Secondly, it is to do with the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s. Thirdly, it is to do with the most drastic cuts since the 1920s. Mass unemployment is not an individual fault; it is not the product of millions of people ‘choosing’ to go on benefits out of a ‘lifestyle choice’; it is not the consequence of people failing to look hard enough for work. It exists because – to repeat myself – there is simply not enough work to go around.

The political rights and wrongs aside, it is a politically suicidal strategy. Byrne is fuelling prejudices about people on benefits that the Tories will always be trusted most to satisfy. The whole justification of Byrne’s strategy is that Labour voters felt that the party was too soft on ‘scroungers’. But New Labour could hardly be accused of such ‘softness’, either in policy or rhetorical terms. The Tories are building on the foundations laid by New Labour predecessors, including James Purnell who talked of people on benefits ‘having miserable lives where their universe consists of a trip from the bedroom to the living room.’ New Labour did increase the issue of so-called ‘benefits scroungers’ in people’s minds and fuelled the media narrative – and still ended up with the Tories most trusted to deal with the issue, and ever will be it thus.

Defenders of Byrne will look to the recently published Social Attitudes Survey, which revealed hardening attitudes towards the poor and unemployed, and argue that there simply is no choice. But these prejudices have flourished in large part because of the legacy of Thatcherism and the failure of Labour to challenge it. Attitudes have shifted in a relatively short space of time, and they can be shifted back again – if there is sufficient courage and determination. ‘We have to move this country in a new direction, to change the way we look at things, to create a wholly new attitude of mind,’ Thatcher told her party after her 1979 election victory. That’s exactly the approach the Labour leadership needs to take.

The fundamental aim of every Labour activist is to turf the Tories out of Number 10. We will not achieve that by ceding the argument to them or engaging in a competition about who can kick the poor hardest. Byrne has capitulated to the Tory deceit on mass unemployment and benefits. That doesn’t mean we all have to.

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  • Mike Sivier

    Mr Byrne has been upsetting a lot of people lately. Time for him to hit the back benches, perhaps? My own interpretation of his attitude, based on his Guardian article, is here

  • You’re being a bit unfair to Liam in this piece Owen. Firstly, I think both he and Beveridge use the term idleness largely in a non-pejorative sense. The scandal of people being left idle.
    Also, it has historically been Labour’s place to speak up for the values of ‘the working man’. It is right that our social insurance system should be designed as a safety net for people in times of hardship. But it cannot be morally, financially, or electorally sensible for such a system to pay for able bodied  and capable people not to work at all. I read Liam’s piece as critical of the approach of the coalition in tackling these issues, and in support of a more ‘Labour’ approach as yet undefined – presumably more focussed on helping people out of the situation rather than forcing them.
    Whatever the moral debates in the party are, let’s be clear – if we go to the country perceived as supporting a “something for nothing benefits culture” we will lose.

    • Smokejack

      There’s the problem ‘something for nothing’ a tory invention promoted by tory led media and seemingly seconded by a Labour Party that has in my view completely lost its way. 

    • Anonymous

      Thankfully you will lose  what ever you go to the public with…. thank the lord.

    • If there was any evidence that Byrne is envisaging a commitment to full employment as a matter of policy, his remarks might make sense and be morally defensible. Beveridge did, indeed, think that the welfare state should be a back-stop for a full employment policy. If you have a welfare state and no full employment policy, you will arithmetically be spending a lot of money on unemployment benefit. But it’s not evidence that there is something wrong with the welfare state. It’s evidence that you’ve given up on full employment. The rest is an automatic consequence of the decision to tolerate unemployment.

      A lot of Blairites seem to have really struggled to get out of an early 2000s boom economy mentality. James Purnell spent 2008-2009 devising yet more “conditionality” to make the unemployed chase a progressively shrinking pool of jobs. Byrne is still trying. Ali-D and Peter Mandelson were convinced it was all over in the spring of 2010 and it was time for cuts.

  • Anonymous

    You are right to raise the point that “there simply is not enough work to go around”. However, like all left Labour supporters, you present this as an individual’s policy choice, and not the inevitable result of a hyperglobalised world economy producing ever more neoliberal politicians. The Keynesian/Beveridgean social democratic utopia was a concession to a militant working class, granted from the profits of empire. It is simply impossible today, within the confines of capitalism.

    • “The Keynesian/Beveridgean social democratic utopia was a concession to a
      militant working class, granted from the profits of empire”>

      What empire? India became independent in 1948, and Canada had been in the dollarzone since the 30s.

    • Duncan

      Nonsense – we were completely bankrupt in the 40s.  The issue is one of political will.

      • Anonymous

        If you have the Will, then you will find the way, right now  it seems that the people at the bottom are being hammered by the politician as a ,means of taking the limelight off their stupidity. And the middle class who are mainly the people who are now seen as work shy scroungers because it’s them that are being  made unemployed, then you’d think Labour would be careful of the way it speaks, none of it if your out of work you can either catch a bus or ride a bike back into work… sadly the question is doing what.

  • @twitter-113609371:disqus – I’d say that your phrase “helping people out” implies a compassion for the unemployed that is entirely lacking in both Liam Byrne and politics at large.

    Moreover, how can you ‘help’ a person ‘out’ when there are, bluntly, no jobs, as Owen puts it so well? What ‘help’ can you give a person in that situation? I’d say things like housing benefit are really the only way to help out the vast majority of unemplyed people: apart from a long-term dramatic restructuring of the economy, that is.

    There seems to be this twin fallacy going about that 1) there are plenty of jobs about 2) getting people to want a job is really difficult and requires investment. In both cases the opposite is true.

    • Anonymous

      This has more to do with welfare of the sick and the disabled then people looking for work it’s about getting me off £98 a week in IB and putting me onto JSA, we have always known this.

      Blair had a list of people he wanted to help him B&Q who after two years wrote to labour saying if you want to get the sick and the disabled into work you will need to look further then just retailers, we cannot be expected to do this alone.

      BT took on anyone who had a degree, they also stated it was difficult with some people to find them a place.

      Then you had Asda which stated it would employ some of the disabled, I was rejected on the grounds of my  bag which holds urine spilling over  while I was going through the interview. Tesco stated to me that they would employ anyone with a disability so long as they were able to do the same jobs as the non disabled person. In my area Tesco has one disabled person working for them he cleans the toilets and picks up litter.

      Asda now has none they made them redundant or did not renew the contract, most disabled people have a one year contract this stops the employer being responsible for any  changes, but since the recession disabled people are being laid off all over the place.

      Able boded hard working people, all New labour speak , not once did I hear working class people.

      The biggest employers of the disabled has always been and always will be the public sector which Blair hated, he wanted the private sector to take the burden but like always ended up allowing the NHS to take on people, I did a bit in my NHS six week training program, these are the non jobs Guy loves to talk about but he’s right.

      new labour again,.

    • I don’t believe there are plenty of jobs around. I was unemployed for six months last year, and my current contract runs out very soon. Several of my close friends have been unemployed for a year or more.
      But this question is a complex one. The safety net is there exactly for the situation you and I describe, but there are also places where intergenerational worklessness is a problem. I don’t believe that the unemployed are choosing not to work, and I don’t think Liam does either (not that we’ve ever met). But we should be absolutely clear that such a choice would not be acceptable. Modern society and challenges are different to those in 1942, and we shouldn’t be afraid of addressing that.

      • What makes me uncomfortable is the idea that we can build a policy review around this apparent ‘intergenerational worklessness’, which, since you’re opposing it to actual inability to get a job, must then be a moral category. These people are pretty exceptional, far too exceptional to be pushing as ‘Labour’s big policy breakthrough’. And if you disagree with that, then why are you a Labour voter? I think the whole thing is crass and damaging.

        • I don’t think I ever suggested inter generational worklessness was a moral problem. In fact I quite clearly stated the opposite.

      • The fact of the matter is that in an advanced technological economy we do not need *all the people we can provide for* to *work*.    

        Many of the jobs that are done (payroll clerk to human resources?) are essentially a form of capitalist make-work that can be, or soon will be, capable of computerisation. Or they are already outsourceable  (eventually there will cease to be new exploitable pools of outsourced labour, but not for a generation or so).So, what do we do? We have a huge economy capable of  producing all we need with the labour of perhaps 25-30% of the population. What the current system does  is to cast some aside as *unemployed*, gives some others the make-work jobs, and wrecks many lives.We need to find a way to separate “work” and “income”.  We have created a large pool of currently unemployed people who would have found work in industry; and soon will have another large group of middle class  “symbolic manipulators” who will soon be made unemployed by technology.Surely it would be better to change how we think about work.  Sick and disabled people simply do not need to be made to work.  Young people should be encouraged to stay in education as long as possible, so as to reduce the number of actual  workers (and incidentally to increase the number of teaching jobs). And people need to be be able to retire younger.Rather than creating an permanently unemployed underclass, we need to plan to reduce the amount of work/employment needed over a lifetime.   We may not have a huge number of manufacturing jobs, but we will require building trades workers for generations: why make people work after 55? Give people a decent pension and many will be glad of the break, and to pass the jobs to newly trained 25 year olds.Teaching is a joy, but after 30 years most people have had enough: let them retire and enjoy a retirement they can enjoy, but allow others into the jobs.And so on.We will never have full employment again. We may create fantasies of make-work “service sector” jobs, but many of those do not need doing.

        • Anonymous

          Computers can you imagine them taking over from politicians  interesting PMQs.

        • Jonathan Roberts

          the fantasy Paul is to allow people to retire earlier when they are living longer.  If the public purse isn’t to pick up the cost, fine. But the public purse can not afford to pay pensions to millions of people for 30-40 years. 

          • derek

            Honestly Jonathan, think about what you say?
            If a 16 year old has say accrued 15 years employment and through no fault of their own contract a very serious illness, are you really saying they can’t have early retirement?

          • Jonathan Roberts

            Derek for crying out loud, that’s such a niche and specific event. We were talking in generalities.  The point he was making was that everyone should be allowed to retire early!

            You say ‘think about what you say’, perhaps you should follow your own advice, or at least read what has been said before commenting!

          • derek

            Jonathan quote ”
            the fantasy Paul is to allow people to retire earlier when they are living longer” seems pretty direct Jonathan?

          • The point I am making is that *there is no way* the modern economy needs all those people to work all those years.  

  • Excellent. The man is a disgrace, and an incomeptent one at that.

  • The problem is that there is no linked demand for full employment and for a living wage. 

    Create  enough proper jobs and force companies to pay every worker properly and all that will be left will be those who can’t or won’t work – and when its been implemented and taken effect I’d be all for dealing with the latter by some form of industrial conscription.  

    What is needed is a truly radical programme of job creation and wealth redistribution to return the proportion of GDP which is represented by wages back to 1950s to 1970s levels (see the attached graph from Stewart Lansley’s The Cost of Inequality reproduced from Richard Murphy’s Tax Research UK blog).

  • I am ashamed to share the party card as him.”


  • I’m afraid this article falls prey to a boring and simplistic dualism whereby poor people are defined as either good (victims of the system/government/society) or bad (scroungers). It is an argument that takes as its reference point the blurtings of the Daily Mail, which no sensible and honest attempt to deal with the real issues of inequality and benefit culture should be doing. (The idiocies of the Daily Mail do need to be challenged, but that is not the purpose of this article).

    • Then why did Byrne and co brief the Daily Mail?

      This is time when the poor, including – yes – the disabled, people on JSA , people on HB – are under massive attack by the government.

      Changing the narrative means saying “f~~K You” to the Daily Mail.

      • @facebook-697126564:disqus Fair point on the briefing, though myself, .

        • You rightly point out that there are landlords (and not all of them dodgy btw) who are getting 100s of £K a year from tax payers and this issue should be addressed.

          But hammering benefit claimants does not address this problem and is a distraction, though, of course, distractions will always be welcomed by the likes of the non-dom owned Daily Mail.

  • Anonymous

    I believe this positioning by Byrne is necessary. Althoughr Labour need to improve there performance in highlighting the ratio of unemployed to job vacancies.

  • Chilbaldi

    “New Labour increasingly became over-run by hacks whose professional background showed no evidence of any commitment to the values of the labour movement. Byrne is a typical example: a former management consultant-turned-merchant banker.”

    What a load of class envious, bitter, chippy stuff.

  • Anonymous

    A good article and article. However, the diabolical Liam Byrne could not have floated these absolutely horrifying ideas in public and trailed his coat like this without express permission from Ed “Dear Leader” Miliband AND Ed “Generalissimo” Balls. Miliband and Balls are more to blame for Byrne’s recent excoriating attack on the poor than the appalling Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions in my view:  Ed Milliband and Ed Balls deserve as much (if nor more) vilification than Liam Byrne himself since one single word from either of them could have stopped Byrne in his tracks and yet they chose to endorse rather than condemn Byrne’s false and ferocious attack on the helpless and the needy.

    This represents a new low water mark for the Labour Party.

    Unequivocally awful, dishonest, and craven behaviour from the Labour leadership.


  • Jonathan Roberts

    The debate on welfare scroungers is all too often distorted, usually deliberately, by the left.

    For me, you can split the unemployed into two groups – the unwillingly unemployed and the willingly unemployed.  The former (who are out of work through ill health or who are desperately searching for work) deserve respect and support.  The latter do not. 

    When I stood as a candidate in 2010, I visited a factory where the
    management told me they had 20 vacancies and were crying out for local
    people to join their workforce.  Knocking on doors that same afternoon
    in the same town, I met a guy who was around 30 years of age, told me
    he’d never worked a day in his life because he ‘couldn’t find work’. 
    When I told him of the factory job available, and offered him a lift
    then and there to meet the manager, he refused saying he doesnt want a
    job like that.  Yes, a man with no qualifications, who said ‘school was a
    waste of time’, and who had never had any work experience, thought he
    was too good to work on the factory line.  As a result he turned down a
    job and remained on benefits having his life paid for by the hardworking
    tax payer.

    These are the people I’m opposed to.  Labour should
    not be on his side, and I am sick of people making excuses for people like him.

    We live in a society that is highly charitable.  Most are happy to pay their taxes to support those less well off.  All they ask in return is that the beneficiaries play by the rules and do what they can to give something back.  Most people do – the employed and the unwillingly unemployed – but some are allowed to opt out of their responsibilities by their friends on the far left.

    I honestly don’t think holding them to account is too much to ask.

    • “Holding them to account”

      How chilling! Sadly the use of a pecuniary metaphor is rather misplaced, as the books certainly don’t balance when you actually read the figures so often (and so appropriately) quoted by Owen about benefit fraud vs. tax evasion.

      I find it demoralising that all that Labour can come up with in terms of policy is targeting a group of a people who, even by the most hawkish estimates, make up a portion of the unemployed disproportionately small to the attention lavished upon them.

      • Jonathan Roberts

        James, evoking tax evaders is nothing but a diversionary tactic.  Anyone who cheats the system, rich or poor, should be held to account.  We have to be on the side of the people who play by the rules, that’s all.  If the party finds that chilling, then we really are in trouble.

        • But making it the centre of Labour’s vision? Come on!

          ‘Vote Labour: for Enforcement of Benefit Regulations’. Hardly gets the blood pumping.

          • Jonathan Roberts

            I didn’t say that James. I said being on the side of people who play by the rules is what matters.

          • The rules are set by the rich for the benefit of the rich – especially under a Tory government, but often under New Labour.

          • GuyM

            Whereas you’d have rules set by the poor for the poor, which would really work well wouldn’t it?

          • Er, why not? You do realise that poor people are just like rich people but with less money, don’t you? Or are you genetically different to poor people, GuyM?

            Or maybe you’re making an argument of self-interest? Because that’s hardly watertight, obvs.

          • GuyM

            Have a think about what those “rules” might be?

            Massive redistribution?

            60% tax on incomes above £40k pa?

            No one to earn more than £60k pa?

            If not that sort of thing what exactly would be the difference?

            And if those policies were the sort of things the “poor” would go for, what incentive for hte rest of us to work as hard as we do?

            Cut my income by a large amount and increase my tax…. ok then why the f would i work as hard, especially if there was some form of full employment policy in place?

            That is of course if i even stayed in the UK. A maximujm salary with high tax or move somewhere else and earn more?

            How many do you think would leave the UK under those circumstances.

            All this crap about the rich setting the rules is just empty leftwing rhetorical bull.

            An environment is set up to allow people to thrive, if some don’t then that is not a reason to turn things on it’s head and leave the failed and least successful in charge.

          • Ok then, so you’re claiming that people’s income is the absolute index of their moral and political rigour? To quote you, what the f?

            The idea that people get more left wing the poorer they get… wow. SO much to say about that, but let’s  just leave it at ‘not true’.

          • Anonymous

            “The idea that people get more left wing the poorer they get… wow. SO much to say about that, but let’s  just leave it at ‘not true’.”

            Yes, 95% of the socialists and communists and marxists and hard left wing people I have met have always been from the middle to upper middle class.

          • Anonymous

            That must be the reason I left then

          • Rburns

            Says more about you than about them perhaps?

          • Cya.

            The Nordic countries show how successful the policy is. You, on the other hand, just want slaves. Never mind the cost to the 99%, they’re not real to you.

          • GuyM

            “slave”…. sounds like me being forced to work to provide 50% plus in taxation.

            I’d rather work for me than be slave to the state thanks.

          • Jonathan Roberts

            No Paul, the rules are set by the democratically elected Government of the day voted on by the democractically elected legislature.

          • Anonymous

            Jeez, government run on the basis of the wishes of 23% of the electorate and you call that democratic?

          • Of course he does, typical Tory!

          • Anonymous

            Which is fine because labour has been democratically   removed so we can ignore them now.

          • Anonymous

            Who’s rules…..

    • Rubbish.

      The “scrounger” label is used by the Daily Mail and co to mean *all* people on benefits.

      Whatever the rules or government regulations, and however stringently applied (so that hundred of thousands of people have to discuss toilet habits with paid ATOS people, for example), the right would still cast *any* recipient as a scrounger because the use of the term and concept is related to the right’s efforts to displace anger with the banking/governing/economic elites with  a hatred of the poor/immigrants/unemployed/disabled.

      The fact you buy into the right’s narrative should make you ineligible to be a Labour candidate.

      • Jonathan Roberts

        I think most people out there would think my view is just common sense. Those in work, too ill to work or trying to find work deserve respect. Those who can work but refuse to don’t. 

        The fact that clearly you are defending the rights of the man in the example I gave to carry on taking benefits whilst refusing to work says it all about modern left wing thinking.  The great irony is that the founding fathers of the welfare system knew the meaning of a day’s graft, and would never have stuck up for the lazy man in my example.

        There is nothing right wing about saying individuals have to take some responsibility. Government can’t and shouldn’t solve everyone’s problems – and anyone who thinks it can and should is not a member of the reality-based community.

        • Anonymous

          We are lucky then that voters can see past your stupidity, even if your knocking on one door speaking to one person who you state you took to a factory my ass, bit like that other great leader Miliband who can see a person disability by the look of him, the NHS need him urgent because by just looking this  bloke  knew the person at the door did not have  cancer, heart problems, HIV or Aids or many other illnesses or disabilities,  just by asking the hard working tax payer next door.

          Thankfully the public can spot  losers from a long distance.

          • Jonathan Roberts

            re read what I said. I said I offered to take him to a factory where I knew there were jobs, and he refused.

            Yes, the public can spot losers. Which is why a genuine left-wing Government has not been elected in almost 40 years.

          • Anonymous

            yea if you say so…..

          • You were a 27 year old kid, acting like a jerk.

            No wonder you came in third.


            If that is the case, he is probably deserving a bit of leniency. I think I acted like a jerk when I was 27! I respect him for trying to win a seat for Labour, but I think some more experience maybe living in some of the holes I have seen and spent time in might round his education off.

            Even those we label as unwilling to work are often incredibly lacking in self confidence (no amount of swearing and bravado can hide that) and have creted such a small perspective of life for themselves to genuinely not see any point in doing anything. The challenge for such people should be more about how to get them out of these thought places rather than seeking to criminalise and demonise. Admittedly there may sometimes be those who cannot be helped, what you do with those people, I don’t know, but I’m not sure cutting their benefits is the solution, it may just turn them to less savoury forms of gaining an income.  I say this while again re-emphasising that we have no real data to know what the numbers may be, and are pretty much missing the point – more jobs. 

          • Exactly, and right-wingers like you will keep on ensuring that the left can’t have a sensible debate or a proper party by sabotaging it.

        • You think calling someone “left wing” is a problem.

          Of course I am “left wing” – that’s why I have joined the Labour Party several times over the years!

          I don’t believe in revolution (at least not in modern Britain) because I think Orwell was right about the pigs rising to the top.  

          I support democratic socialist activism so that *we can distrubute the fruits of trade and industry* in a better way than the “free market”.

          Even while I allow for the need for some – limited –  market forces, I don’t believe free markets produce good social or economic results. I don’t believe in some mythic “invisible hand”.

          None of this should amount to an *accusation* of being “left wing” by someone posing as a Labour candidate.

          • GuyM

            Given a rather unpleasant reality (for you, not me) of democratic countries is that they have a tendency to throw up centre-right or middle-right government invariably at least 50% of the time, how exactly do you ever expect a democratic system to move away from the “free-market” towards “socialist activism”?

            And can you show me where any system anywhere has provided as good growth, living standards and improvements in public health, individual wealth and other markers as modern capitalist free market systems?

            Because if you can’t then you are pushing a theoretical ideology and nothing more.

          • Denmark.

            Over 50% of the economy goes in tax. The government runs a surplus. It is among the most equal countries in the world vis-a-vis its Gini co-efficient. And it frequently rates as the happiest.

            It is true that a far right anti-immigrant party has had some limited success in Denmark in recent years, but even forced into coalition with that party, Danish Liberals kept up social provision.

            Now, thank God, Denmark once again has a Social Democrat government.

          • GuyM

            and Denmark is a free market capitalist country in a free market capitalist trading block.

            my question wasn’t over rates of tax it was over your aspiration to replace the free market to a large extent

            so again I’ll ask, show me the alternative you propose in action?

          • This does not work as a response.  

            I had already stipulated that ”
            Even while I allow for the need for some – limited –  market forces, I don’t believe free markets produce good social or economic results. I don’t believe in some mythic “invisible hand”.”

            If a country is taking in more than 50% of GDP in taxes and redisttributing the wealth, then it is not, by my reckoning a “free market”.  The invisible hand is being controlled and guided towards social goals by the government.

            That is what I support.

            Perhaps we are just using different terms, but if you are willing to accept wealth redistribution through the tax system, as in Denmark, then we can agree.

          • GuyM

            I’m certainly not willing to accept 50% “redistribution” under any circumstances.

            I work primarily for my benefit, not anyone elses.

          • Jonathan Roberts

            I wasn’t accusing you of anything Paul.  We are all left of centre by our own definition.  My point, as you probably know but doesn’t fit into the argument you’re trying to make, is that modern left-wing thinking is now far removed from its origins.  If we are a Labour Party, for the workers by the workers, then what are we doing defending those who are able to work but refuse to?  These people hit workers hard, workers pay taxes to support them and get nothing back in return. 

            I want us to support those who are unwillingly unemployed, but I don’t understand what is left wing about supporting and defending those who do all they can to avoid putting in a days’ graft.

          • For a few thousand people, you and your Tory ilk sell out every person who’s unemployed or on low wages.

    • Are you seriously saying that someone would choose to live on £67.50 a week, with their days unfulfilled; even when given a chance to increase their income and feel fulfilled as a valued employee?

      • Jonathan Roberts

        It’s often not just £67.50 a week when you include other benefits. But yes, they exist – and I gave an example of one I met.  If you don’t agree, get out on the doorstep Richard.

        • Thomas Coles

          My anecdote is as good as your academic study apparently.

        •  Oh I see. You ‘met a man in the pub’.

        • It’s not 67.50, true. Because you usually need to top up the rent from it. Something which is going to happen ever-more because of the deliberately less-than-pricing value of housing benefit.

          47.50-37.50 is realistic in most cases, and then there’s the bills to pay, and then food, and…

          • Anonymous

            I mean once you have paid the rent and council tax basically you never really had that money did you, so of course unless you have three children and get child credits £68 a week is not enough and for the Tories and labour to say people are better off on JSA then somebody not paying the correct min wage.

        • Anonymous

          Well I suspect you will end up being an MP for the Liberals, sadly your the problem with Labour at the moment.

          • Pedros

            I have an observation to make; nobody who votes Labour appears to know the difference between “your” and “you’re”, and this after all those years of “education, education, education”…

      • GuyM

        There are a number of people exactly like that, either through refusal or inability to accept “work” as a use of their time.

        On the other side there are people like me who refuse to employ them, as a belief in not turning up on time every day, not going sick for 20-30 days a year, not thinking either Monday or a Friday is in fact part of the weekend and not believing (at the same time) that all management are in fact lazy wasters yet they could be “management” even though they have little education or training,  all rather negates any desire to give them a job.

        The problem is with the do-gooding left is that you have this rather peverse view of humanity that bsaic instinct is love of one’s neighbours and selfless sacrifice. The reality is that is far from the norm.

        People go to work on the employer’s terms (within a legal framework), not on the employees terms. If they can’t hack giving up 40 plus hourts a week of their life to that then they don’t work. For some they prefer the not work route.

        Throw in the fact a large chunk of the under 25s are basically unemployable and we arrive at where we currently are.

        • Of course, because they’re in the 99%, and after all if they won’t work 60 hours weeks and kiss your feet, they’re unemployable.

          “Managers” like you are the BANE of a business. You actively destroy value.

          • GuyM

            For you information, one the first thing I say to new employees is the following:

            ” I am not impressed by people working long hours. If you are continually working long hours it means one of three things:

            1 You are trying to impress me (and it won’t)

            2 You are not doing your job very well

            3 I have under resourced the work (I need feedback asap)

            I expect you to work your hours and generally no more (allowing for times of need) and to use your full holiday entitelment.

            I also am not a “bum’s on seats” manager, so strict 9 to 5 isn’t me.

            I expect you to be flexible and I also expectr to be flexible in return.

            You will be assessed by delivery and quality, not time and “being seen”, so don’t fixate on things that mean nothing to me.

            I offer worknig from home, but note that working from home is harder than being in the office as it requires a strong sense of discipline.”


            Don’t assume I have become very successful in what I do by using ways of the dinosaur or slave driver.

            Frankly you know next to nothing of “good” management and are nothing more than a whining, bitching left wing numpty.

          • GuyM

            I did reply to this.. for some reason it has vanished… good old LL

      • Anonymous

        You make a basic error assuming that all people get some level of satisfaction from working at a job. That is simply not true though it is laudable to see it in people but don’t assume all people want their days fulfilled as you do.

        Many of us, I am sure, have worked in jobs where we spent the day casually contemplating suicide while shuffling paperclips. Many have had jobs that were, essentially, pointless. Many oparts of even a good job are unfulfilling.

        If you offer someone the choice between a lie in, TV, the XBox, walk in the park , walk the dog, off to look round the shops, see their friends, late night and no reason to get up early the next day, etc, versus very dull job with few prospects  be prepared to see people activly wanting the former.  


          There may well be some like this. But can we quantify these numbers? Should we then arrange policy on the basis that the majority are like this.
          Next if there are a large number of people like this, are they employable, how have they ended up like this. Simply pulling the rug from udner their feet may have no impact whatsover if they are as incorrigible as you suggest. Crime particularly things like burgalry may offer an alternative route etc.

          However the biggest load of hogwash is this persisitent transferal of the characteristic of an unknown number of individuals to all people on benefits, including things like DSA too. This stoking of public resentment against a subsection of society is invidiuous and immoral and is simply used to deflect the long term failing of government to deal with unemployment. The arguments might have more validity if we saw levels of unemployment at a genuinely negligible level. While they are not especially in certain regions the whole level of this debate is debased and distorted by the ‘benefit scrounger’ case.

          • Anonymous

            No, I doubt we can quantify those numbers. But to believe that ALL people want to be fulfilled by work is as much of a fantasy as saying that ALL people on benefits are scroungers.

            I agree with your transference statement but governments always rely on the stoking of society against one far smaller section and Labour is as guilty of this as anyone else.   


            Agree that it is a fantasy that everyone wants to be fulfilled by work. But once again this debate seems to be ridiculously polarised. It is my belief that the levels of effort required to root out the kind of benefit scrounging people seem to be referring to would

            a) cost more to enforce/identify than any savings
            b) be at a cost to the dignity of the non-scroungers (ie the vast majority) not to mention inconvenience and possibly emotionally traumatic.
            c) would create an even more expensive problem of what you do with these people? Put them in prison at a greater cost to the tax payer.

            It is a bit like farming, you can use all the pesticides and insecticides and irradicate most but not all of the creatures that eat your crops, but you kill everything else off at the same time. Better to have a balance, taking measures to control the pests as best you can but recognising you will lose some crops to them, but will have better diversity and other pay offs.

            PS Sorry Konrad my post was not specifically aimed at your comment but the general comments above in general, although I think you were coming from the same position.

          • Anonymous

            It’s easy to find people who do not want to work, and to be honest it’s not that much of a minority is it. But OK you have the chap he is forty never worked in his life, now comes the hard part finding an employer who is willing to take them on knowing this person will do what ever he can to get the sack or cause you problems, who is going to employ them.

            I’m not just saying this now but I have done every thing possible to get back to work, even joining and paying to get help in finding work, the problem is not wanting to work it’s getting an employer who is willing to take me on knowing my problems, knowing what’s going to happen, knowing I will need a carer to come with me, employers are just not interested.

            Labour stated employers must have a social conscious and employ the disabled and the sick, in Germany France and America the government make it worth the  employers employing by tax reductions and if you still do not employ people a massive fine, and yet Germany has the same number of people disabled and sick sitting at home the companies are willing to pay the fines.

            So what do you do.



            The answer is of course that the state should sponsor all manner of weird and wonderful jobs that people can do and which benefit society as a whole. I’m sure these jobs exist, from a massive increase in ‘caretaker’ type of jobs for our public places, to all manner of creative flexible tasks (around helping people and making our enviroment a better place), plus education and community projects. None of these jobs would be massively well paid (‘the living wage’) but they would provide massive social capital, would provide a spring board for many to get into better paying private sector jobs and would provide worthwhile employment for people. The wider long term savings and benefits, for what would probably be not a huge hike in overall welfare spending would be massive. Obviously there would have to remain some kind of very basic welfare system for the absolutely unemployable, but such a system could provide the sorts of flexible work opportunities for many disabled people also. There is worthwhile work out there to be done, we have just abandoned anything that can’t be audited or shown to be ‘value for money’.

      • Wow the “benefit scrounger” haters are really out in force! I wonder how many of them have actually tried to live off the same income level as benefits (no cheating, like living in your mortgage free home, using your car, wearing already bought clothes or food from the freezer)? I wonder how many of them have actually experienced the soul destroying life of being constantly bored with nothing to occupy yourself, and the constant rejection when you try to get a job? Most unemployed people cannot pick up the phone and as a relative, or someone who they were at school with, to help them get a job.

        I am not defending fecklessness, just saying that unemployment not as simple as you make it out to be. Even IDS admits that, after having his epiphany.

        • Jonathan Roberts

          I’ve said many times I agree with this point above. Being out of work is dreadful (thankfully I’ve only experienced it for a few months at the beginning of my career).  My argument is in no way against the people who are doing what they can do get back into work.

          To support those, then the PM needs to live up to his election promise of being a salesman for Britain to encourage inward investment.  He also needs to allow the business environment for job creation to flourish.  Ed’s best policy yet is a NI contribution taxbreak for all SMEs creating jobs.  I’d actually extend that into big business aswell.  We should be a country that the world wants to invest in, and if that means slashing NI employer contributions for even longer than a year then we should do it.

          • You are 27-28.  You don’t have a career yet.

          • Anonymous

            I do think that participation in the illegal drugs industry is at complete odds with any credible declarations of socialism.  The drugs market is the absolute definition of predetory capitalism:

            a) Participants actively avoid all state regulation.
            b) Economic benefits are not shared by society (due to no taxation).
            3) There are no positive societal benefits, indeed there are serious negative effects.
            4) Those low down the supply-chain are abused by those further up it.


          • I think sharing a spliff or an E with a friend does not amount to “drugs industry”!

          • GuyM

            As an “e” can kill with one pill on occasion and as a “splif” can cause long term psychotic damage with the wrong type of weed, I’m afraid it’s the height of stupidity.

          • If you’re not 10 years into a career at that point then you’re going to be retiring at 90.

          • Pedros

            You are ignorant. A far more physically and psychologically damaging drug than cannabis is available from every pub, off license and supermarket in the country. My source? A former senior drug advisor to the Nu-Labour government who resigned because he and his colleagues were simply being ignored. You evidently like to believe whatever you’re told, do you still ask Santa for presents at Christmas time?

    • Anonymous

      God we are lucky the people decided you were not what they wanted.

      • He is 27, has a degree in English lit, and claims he is a “management” consultant.

        Enough said.

        • Jonathan Roberts

          I’ve never in my life claimed to be a management consultant. I find it funny though that you keep referring to my youngish age (29 not 27 by the way) as a way of suggesting I’m immature – meanwhile you resort to namecalling throughout your comments on this thread. 

          Perhaps I’m not the immature one.

          • OK, I apologise for that. I just took your LinkedIn profile to mean that: ”
            providing political counsel/analysis and strategic advice to senior politicians and board-level figures across the maritime services sector, including shipping, ports and shipbroking.”

          • Jonathan Roberts

            fair enough Paul.  Just remember, we’re on the same side. We might disagree on a substantial number of things, but we can do so in a civil way surely? These threads can get out of hand…

        • GuyM

          I have employed consultants with all sorts of degrees, to a large extent the degree is irrelevant.

          I’ve had 25 year old management consultants and business consultants on my teams, admitedly low leve l ones just starting out, but none the less.

          Consultancy is a mix of intellect, experience and commercial nous. Done properly it brings significant benefits to the client organisation.

          Of course it is also a bete noir of the left as it invariably pays lots, sometimes goes wrong and often challenges left wing group think on commercial strategy.

          • As Jonathan has suggested, he is not a Management Consultant, so the issue is moot.

            However, I do recommend  ”
            Masters of illusion: The great management consultancy swindle”  –

          • GuyM

            Having spent the last 10 years either being or using consultancies I have to disagree with the premise.
            Consultancy is no different from any other tool, use it badly or for the wrong reasons and you get a bad result 

        • Anonymous

          Normal for an MP these days….. no apologies…..

    • derek

      Why did you visit a factory? why did the management inform you of their internal woes? did you offer the said man a lift to work on a daily bases? something odd about this post? seems an unlikely story, that a local factory had such a big staff shortfall? are you telling porkies Jonathan? 

      • Jonathan Roberts

        oh Derek, grow up. It was an organised trip to meet with a major local employer to talk about what they do, the problems they face and how a potentially future MP might be able to work with them.  They told me that they were relying on eastern european migrants to fill job vacancies but these people usually only came for a few months at a time and then disappeared meaning there were often jobs going.  When I met an unemployed person later that day I explained there was a job going at a factory that was no more than 20 minutes walk away.  I was trying to help.

         This is what candidates actually do Derek.  But never mind the facts eh?

        • derek

          Oh, so why didn’t you walk the 20 minutes and did you actually leave the factory as head of personnel? Come Jonathan, tell the truth! it’s free. Jonathan as an ex- Robin Cook agent we never campaigned near a working factory, usually it was done  at the door step?

          • Jonathan Roberts

            You know full well that a visit to a local employer is a common tool in political campaigning.  As seen as early as a few weeks ago during a by-election


            Candidates up and down the country work with local employers to learn about the issues they face.  And so they should.

          • derek

            Local government and standing MP’s do work with local employers but a candidate is just as it say’s on the tin! a candidate  has to win an election firstly?

            “When I stood as a candidate in 2010, I visited a factory where the 
            management told me they had 20 vacancies” your quote? sounds like you were saying the visit was part of your campaigning? Can you give any more detail on the said person who refused to take up your generous offer of a job?

          • Jonathan Roberts

            aaaaaaaah this is so pathetic! Heaven forbid I actually wanted to learn about local employment issues so that I could develop a coherent argument for supporting jobs as a candidate and subsequently an MP.

          • derek

            Hang on Jonathan, I’ll arrange a meeting with the local Airport tomorrow, as an environmental campaigner, concerned by the level of pollution, I’m sure management will close down flights for a couple of hours, and gladly meet with me to discus? LoL!!!!!!!! 

          • Jonathan Roberts

            what a ridiculous man you are. I didn’t say they halted production. You did. I met with a manager for about 30 minutes who showed me around before we had a cup of coffee and a chat about issues they faced.  Only a loony lefty could find fault with that.

            This is precisely what is wrong with the party.  A member shows a bit of initiative and tries to learn about how a business works and come up with some policy ideas about how he could try and make life better for the people he seeks to represent and he gets mocked for it.

            Robin Cook has just gone down in my estimation for having you run his campaign.

          • derek

            Jeez! that’s pretty rash also? Jonathan, Most of us support employment! and we would like the cull to stop, 2.8 million JSA seekers and a further 2.5 million incapacity claimers and only 500,000 jobs, do the maths? by the way Robin always advocated full employment, do you fault that?

          • Jonathan Roberts

            If you support employment why are you having a go at me for meeting with local employers as a candidate, so that I could talk about how I would support jobs as an MP on the doorstep??!?

          • derek

            You callouslyused a person to stigmatise the so called work shy.

          • Jonathan Roberts

            actually, scrap that. I’ve just looked it up. Jim Devine was his agent throughout his parliamentary career. So you just made it up.

          • derek

            No? all campaigning members where issued with Robin Cook agent cards, a legal rule for election day and returning officers need to know who are manning the polling station? try again Jonathan? and Yes Jim was the campaign organiser.

          • Jonathan Roberts

            different to an ‘agent’, which is what you claimed – whilst calling me a liar.

          • derek

            No? the cardstipulate that?

          • I don’t see any problem with you visiting a local business. I imagine every serious parliamentary candidate does. Useful meeting and a good photo op too. What I do have a problem with is you using an anecdote of a scrounger (was he even on JSA though?) as a stick to bash the welfare state. Because that is what this rhetoric does – it plays into the Tories hands by reinforcing their narrative of the feckless, undeserving poor.

          • Jonathan Roberts

            My anecdote was just a personal account of what I experienced.  I’m sorry it’s not politically convenient.

          • GuyM

            Yes, best hide any evidence that doesn’t match the “story” the left wants to spin.

            Nothing like honesty.

          • Yea, I mean, the Truth can’t be allowed a look in. the poor need to be taught their place! (per your explicit statement, nowhere near you)

          • Honesty, yes. How about we talk about how many people are unemployed,
            how many vacancies there are and the prospects for growth in the
            economy. Then let’s compare benefit fraud with unclaimed benefits and
            tax dodging. 
            I’m not going to deny that benefit fraud does happen. And I’m not going to deny that some people do milk the system (and I suspect that many of them will attempt to regardless). However, these issues have been blown out of all proportion by a tabloid press that labels anyone on benefits a scrounger and digs for the egregious cases of scrounging they can find and attempts to portray it as widespread.

            I would take you seriously if you spoke out as strongly on tax evasion and the billions, far exceeding benefit fraud, that are stolen from the tax payer in this manner.

          • GuyM

            Derek, you are sounding a bit mad to be honest. A parliamentary candidate meeting employers and raising his profile in a constituency is EXACTLY what is expected.

            I was at a business forum just over a month ago when local business owners were saying similar things to Jonathan. This is idea that there isn’t a rump in the country who don’t wont to work by starting at the bottom and working up is false.

          • derek

            @Guy, but it wasn’t a meeting to change European law and employment practices? nor was it a meeting to give a prospective candidate a personnel recruitment position, for sure if he had a meeting with a local employer to discus the workings of the plant then fair dues but Jonathan kind of used his post to stigmatise a person? did the person really exist? Jeez! Guy if you want to debate then why the attack dog method? you where at a business forum? Jonathan went direct to the plant? and the management kindly gave up 30 minutes of managing to talk shop with a candidate, he should have just phoned the local shop steward? I’m sure the the union (if there was one) would also give Jonathan some guidance.  

          • derek

            @Guy, but it wasn’t a meeting to change European law and employment practices? nor was it a meeting to give a prospective candidate a personnel recruitment position, for sure if he had a meeting with a local employer to discus the workings of the plant then fair dues but Jonathan kind of used his post to stigmatise a person? did the person really exist? Jeez! Guy if you want to debate then why the attack dog method? you where at a business forum? Jonathan went direct to the plant? and the management kindly gave up 30 minutes of managing to talk shop with a candidate, he should have just phoned the local shop steward? I’m sure the the union (if there was one) would also give Jonathan some guidance.  

          • Jonathan Roberts

            there wasn’t a union there for a start.

            I don’t really appreciate you saying I made this guy up Derek. I worked my arse off on an unwinnable campaign for two years and for no recognition from the party, and spent a considerable amount of my own money on it.  Perhaps just take me at my word?

            Yes, I did stigmatise him, and I don’t think there is anything Labour or leftwing in defending people who are given an opportunity to apply for a job and refuse to.  He was lazy, and the worker’s party shouldn’t defend laziness.

          • derek

            How is defending laziness? please refrain from making personal judgement, unless that person can clarify what did or didn’t take place then your on a one siding argument? there are 2.8 million seeking employment, what part of that can’t you understand?

          • Jonathan Roberts

            you really are going out of your way to miss the point. I give up!

          • Interesting debate here. As a former employer I’ve always found the best way to attract quality applicants is to offer top dollar wages.

            It’s an instant solution that always produces good results.

            Where there ain’t no applicants there’s more than laziness that’s the cause of it.

          • Then you’re silly. After all, per the right you should be slashing wages and abusing workers, not to mention increasing their hours!

          • GuyM

            Whereas I prefer the market rate or just above, else you only add to wage inflation both externally and internally.

            Even then the number of UK applicants is getting lower by the day.

          • Go rot the market rate and you get people who just’turn upt’.

          • GuyM

            I’d prefer to talk to the management if I want to know about the company and the challenges it faces, not a shop steward.

            I’m afraid to tell you (as you won’t like it) than management and the executive of companies know far better than people on the “shop floor” of the macro and micro business environment that a company works within.

          • derek

            Hmm! Jonathan said he did speak to the workers? but what you don’t want to see, remains unseen! If I can be of any more assistance just let me know.

          • GuyM

            If I want to know about company finance, hiring policy, competitive position, brand values, R&D, sales levels, profit margins, investment policy, attrition rates, technological structure…. I don’t want to talk to a shop steward.

            Those things require management/executive communications.

            Shop stewards can tell me about labour relations from the workers persepctive and that’s about it.

          • derek

            Yeah, but are we to believe that Jonathan’s visit was about negative aspects of employing foreign workers?and lack of staff, seems to be Jonathan instigated the labour relation initiative, he certainlydidn’t detail has you have done?

          • Anonymous

            Candidates up and around the country  perhaps they should go and do the jobs perhaps we need a few more workers in the labour party as MPs and less of the people who run around  speaking to the bosses, perhaps more speaking to the working class.

          • Jonathan Roberts

            aaaaaaagh! this has gotten ridiculous treborc. I spent two and a half years as a candidate walking through the wind, rain and snow meeting people from all backgrounds – many of whom were working class.

            The bosses are important too, as they are the ones that make the decisions that affect job security, job creation and GDP contributions.

            Seriously mate, you spend so much time moralising from your high horse.

          • derek

            And then you go and spoil it all by something stupid like “scrounger” “Lazy” “worthless” and the rest.

          • Jonathan Roberts

            I haven’t said ‘worthless’ once Derek.  Stop making stuff up.

            I think those adjectives are in the dictionary for use when they are warranted.  But I’m bored of class warfare for one night. I’m off to bed.

          • Well yes, that rather illustrates the problem to start with. Why ARE you engaging in class warfare?

          • Anonymous

            I feel for you Jonathan. This discussion has gone from sensible to ridiculous. Why speak to employers? Because they employ people! If you are trying to address unemployment you talk to the employer and find out what would make / allow them to take on more staff. What is the point of asking the shop floor staff what would drive / enable their bosses to expand the business and create more jobs? They won’t know will they.

            Unfortunately derek and paul are at the same time Labours core supporters and a perfect advert for why so many normal working class people abandoned the party during the election. MP’s tried to appease their rather laughable views and scared off the rest of the electorate. 

          • derek

            No Stephen, Jonathan was on a mission to blacklist a certain element of society. Look, after the factory meeting Jonathan then returned by car to  the built up constituency area, he just happened to see an unemployed person walking by, so Jonathan stopped his car, rolled down the window and siad hey scrounger jump in the car and i’ll take you to get a job, the poor individual declined the offer, Joanthan sped off the individual turned went home and said to their partner, you know that labour candidate, the one who chapped our door the other day, he stopped in a car and offered me a lift to get a job, I know he sounds ok and all that but I really had second thoughts about jumping into his car, Jeez! I hardly know the man.

          • Anonymous


            And you met this bloke and spoke to him did you? I thought that you said Jonathan was lying about the whole thing? 

            He wasnt trying to blacklist anyone he was giving a specific example of one person he met that was a lazy shirker who didnt want to work for a living. End of.

          • derek

            Lets throughitonback, didyoumet thisbloke?

        • How can this guy have been asked in July 2011 to join the fast-track section of Labour’s Future Candidates Programme?

        • Anonymous

          Fact is you did not get the seat reason was?

          • Jonathan Roberts

            Because I was standing in one of the safest Conservative seats in the country at the end of a 13 year Labour Government.

    • Anonymous

      How can people “choose” to live on benefits, Jonathan? 

      After doing some research on the web it transpires that unemployed people on Jobseeker’s Allowance have to attend regular interviews at their local Jobcentre where advisers help them to draw up ”jobseeker’s agreements” which set out the steps they agree to take to find work. In order to keep getting benefit claimants also have to attend regular fortnightly jobsearch reviews with longer reviews if they have been on benefit for 13 weeks. 

      Jobseeker’s clamants have to keep a meticulous record of all of their jobseeking activities, e.g., addresses of employers offering jobs that have been applied, interviews attended, letters written, emails sent, phone calls made etc., which are regularly raked through by Jobcentre staff with a fine tooth comb. If the claimant is deemed not to have been “active” enough, i.e., has not applied for enough positions or done enough in order to improve their position, he/she gets sanctioned.

       Sanctions can be given for fixed periods if  claimants refuse or fail to carry out any reasonable jobseeker’s direction; or, lose a place on a training scheme or employment programme through misconduct; or, give up a place on a training scheme or employment programme without good cause; or fail to attend a training scheme or employment programme without good cause; or refuse or fail to apply for or accept a place on a training scheme or employment programme without good cause; or neglect a reasonable opportunity of a place on a training scheme or employment programme without good cause.
      (Claimants who are sanctioned lose two weeks’ benefit for a first “offence”. If they offend again within twelve months of the first offence then  lose four weeks benefit.  Offenders lose twenty six weeks’ benefit if they commit a third “offence” provided that this occurs within twelve months of a second sanction.)

      On top of all of this monitoring there is the two year long Work Programme on which the long-term unemployed are mentored; undertake supervised job search activities; attend work clubs, workshops, or do mandated work activity (workfare); and so on and so forth – all scrutinised under a microscope by highly motivated “paid by results” private employment consultants. 

      Jobseeker’s claimants are deemed as not being available for work and so not entitled to Jobseeker’s Allowance if  they unreasonably restrict:

      (1) The nature of the employment they are willing to do;(2) The hours of the work; (3) The rate of pay for the work; (4) The duration of the employment; (5) The location of the employment.

      What this boils down to is that members of the unemployed have to accept any job offered to them whatever it is; whatever its hours might be; for any legal wage; zero hour, temporary, short, or long term contract; wherever it might be within their travel to work distance (3 hour round trip) and will stripped of their right to benefits if they fail to meet any of these requirements or do anything to “throw” a job, e.g., not attending a job interview or arriving late or whatever. 
      With so much scrutiny how can anyone “scrounge” welfare or “choose” to live on welfare rather than accept offers of work made to them by Jobcentres or Work Programme providers? Or for that matter fail lackadaisically to make proper efforts themselves to secure gainful employment? If there really are hoards of work-ready benefit scroungers out there living in clover and deliberately refusing to accept offers of work from genuine employers how do they get away with it with so many checks and balances? Are they all evil geniuses? Or what?

      I simply don’t get it.

      • It’s easy to fake those job-search forms.

        And a select few do choose to slope off and use child benefits to cover the bills.  They breed their way out of poverty.

        It’s not many, but these elements do exist.

        It’s vital Labour close the loopholes used by these scroungers, but also tell people the truth on the real numbers of these Benefits Abusers.  They are a small minority in reality, but media presentations make their numbers appear larger.

        And that is what The Torys are using to cut the sick and get away with it.

        • “Loophole”, right. So, make people spend masses of time on bureaucratic forms (where one mistake means weeks of punishment) and slash child benefits.

          Punish the poor, you cry, the siren cry of the right wingers like you. You’re right on board with YOUR Tories. You’re following precisely the same policies.

          • What part of ‘tiny minority’ did you not get?

            *shrugs*  As you do…

          • What part of the massive punishments you’re heaping on the poor as a result of a “tiny minority” don’t you get?

            Collective punishment, no more, no less.

          • What on earth are you talking about?

          • Anonymous

            Well if it’s that tiny why did labour spent nearly a billion trying to stop it.

            We all know the biggest fraud within benefits are mistakes made in payments , in other words the wrong amounts being paid out.

            It’s like a firm losing £100 a week to stop pens being stolen  spends  a million to stop it, once stopped the company says yes that was worth it only to  find they are losing paper clips

        • Anonymous

          But how can claimants fake applying for jobs that they have been explicitly directed to apply for by Jobcentres or fake turning up for interviews at firms they have been referred to by Jobcentres in respect to securing gainful employment? I know FOR A FACT that Jobcentres actively check with employers whether claimants HAVE applied for jobs and/or attended interview offered with employers who advertise their vacancies via the employment service.

      • And companies are now realising this and starting to offer positions which should pay 30k at minimum wage via the Jobcenter, The intent being to weaken the hand of people applying so they can force them to take 25k, or they’ll be reported for refusing a job.

        • Anonymous

          I say £25k is pretty good for someone supposedly desperate for employment? What were you expecting £100k a year for a new starter? 

        • GuyM

          Not true, as I understand it a claimant may look for work at the same rate of pay he/she was previously on for at least 6 months, after which time some flexibility is required (and rightly so).

          I’ve yet to read anywhere that an accountant say, has to accept a job on minimum wage as a cleaner if he/she can’t get a job within 6 months.

          I am happy to be proved incorrect on this however, so do provide some proof if you have it?

          There really is no point paying people well below the going rate as they won’t stay and you end up wasting time and money on recruitment. However in a market downturn you would expect pressure no wages as it supply/demand favours the employer often.

          That being said there is a dangerous skills shortage in IT and senior management/executive staff amongst others.

          • Anonymous

            Gosh their is a lack of knowledge in the jobs market. people see the job centre as it was on TV in the sixties.

            The Job centre does not give out jobs any more you do not get a card and then turn up at the employer that has long gone.

            Basically the Job centre now works for the company, it will offer to interview people for jobs then once a selection is made the company will come along and make a choice.

            How do you prove your seeking work, simple come into the job centre register your in attendance  spend an hour looking through the computer, print out three jobs go home  job done that is now once every two weeks unless your disabled it can be once a month.

            My special advisor at the job centre does about six other job centres so it’s nothing to get a phone call saying do not come in this week, or like I have you get the pass word for the computer system so you can search for work at home, once your go into the computer your registered as searching for work.

            The old days of people being able to pick the  jobs they wanted was fine when according to labour we had 99% employment, now you get the job offers  given to you, 300 people were once sent for one job.

            Now I’m in a wheelchair most of the time or on crutches, so my last job offers were window cleaning, taxi driver  which would be illegal for me to do, and painter decorator, the month before that it was taxi driving, Scafolder and bus driver, they do not even bother any more looking whether you can do the job , they just have a pile of  applications as you come in they give every one a copy from each pile and off you go.

            The problem is to many people looking for work and not enough job applications.

          • GuyM

            Not the same for all people treborc.

            For instance I’ve never placed adverts for positions I’m recruiting for with the job centre. Those sorts of positions get advertised through agencies and executive search media.

            Therefore in that hypothatical case from before, an accountant would not find accountacy work from the job centre “computers”, he/she would ahve to be looking through the relevant professional networks.

            From a period my wife was unemployed a few years back, she told me the staff at the job centre accepted that the jobs they had were of no use to her (as a research pharmacist at the time) and that her “evidence” was from other routes.

            A few moths ago there was criticism in the media that job centres were of little or no use for the increase in middle class professionals (often from the public sector0 whoh had lost their jobs. Therefore I suspect nothing has changed.

      • Anonymous

        Wow thats truly fool proof then isnt it Jeff?

        So if I turn up to an interview in a teeshirt dirty jeans, show no interest in the job and speak like a bad ali gee ripoff then I’ll still get the job will I?

        I you really think that you have to be an evil genius to be turned down for every interview you attend then I would suggest that you must have been born in the last 24-48 hours.

        Mentoring, work club and workshops and training are a complete waste of time for someone who doesnt want to find a job.

        • Anonymous

          I’m too busy to play with you now, Stephen. Can you please pick on one of the other grown ups to annoy, there’s a good lad. 

          • Anonymous

            What a load of rubbish. You make it sound like the secret service! So if someone doesn’t give 100% in an interview then the forces of the job centre will seek them out and destroy them lol. You really aren’t very bright jeff.

            Do you really think an employer seeing dozens of candidates to fill a vacancy will prioritise making meticulous notes on each one for the job centre over their own interests I.e. filling the post?

            If someone turned up to an interview looking scruffy they may comment on it or they may not it doesn’t really matter to them. Even if they did and it was taken up with the candidate what exactly are they going to do about it?

            “mr smith why did you not dress appropriately for your interview?”

            “yeah sorry mate I spilled something / can’t afford a suit”

            And what are they going to do about it?

          • Anonymous

            No time, Stephen. No interest either in anything you think, write or say. Try Doctor Dolittle. Byeee.

          • Anonymous

            No problem. You can sneak back later and edit your post so that it looks like you actually had a worthwhile point to make. Like you did before.

          • Anonymous

            You actually read my posts more than once? I’m flattered. No, really, I am. Cross my heart and hope to live forever. Sadly I can’t reciprocate the sentiment and can’t claim to do the same thing as far as your own highly regarded missives on this site are concerned. To be candid, unless one of your posts invites a response through association with one of my own submissions,  I never actually read anything you’ve written at all and on the few occasions when I have done I only cast my eyes over their contents briefly, once. As far as some things go – like losing your virginity or dying for example – once in a lifetime is plenty. 

            I’d appreciate it if you would stop cyber-stalking me now; your current behaviour is now verging on the obsessive if not the creepy.  Thank you in advance for your cooperation.


          • Anonymous

            Um except you did actually come back read my post and edit yours lol. Wow jeff you really are a comic genius 🙂

          • Anonymous

            “… comic genius…” 

            Compliments are always welcome no matter what the source.

            Thank you and farewell.

          • Anonymous

            Oh come on Jeff you have made yourself look kinda silly. Surely you can do better than that for your last word. I’d bet dollars to donuts that you cant help yourself replying to this 🙂

          • Anonymous


    • derek

      Jeez! that’s a new concept, candidates can turn up at factories and management will gladly halt production to speak to them? well we can blame prospective politicians for production downturn? LoL! HOW HAVE 9 PEOPLE, HIT THE LIKE BUTTON ON THIS ONE?

      • Andy Tinkler

        I don’t understand what you’re getting at, Derek.  Why on earth would production be halted in order for a manager to speak with someone, unless it’s a sole trader?  I’ve been present on many occasions when MPs and PPCs have visited local businesses to have a chat and be shown around.

      • derek

        Well, house keeping for a start, surely you’d want the factory to be in a good tidy order? noise levels, hard to exchange if there’s a noise presence?

    • Richard, SE6

      Why would he trust you enough to take him to this idyllic factory? You’d just turned up on his doorstep wearing a rosette wanting a vote. It is possible that he thought you might just be another cynical and shallow politician?

    • Anonymous

      Another reasoned sensible argument Jonathan. If the rest of them were like you Labour might actually get people to start voting for them again myself included. 

      At the end of the day any party that claims to represent the working class can not also defend the actions of individuals such as the one in your example. 

      There is just a rather baffling notion in the minds of some people that life owes them something and qualifications or not they are simply too good to work behind tills, in factories, in restaurants etc.

      My own cousin who is in her early twenties and has literally never worked a day in her life, played truant at school and has hardly any GCSE’s. She was finally bullied into taking a job in Primark by her mother. 

      She turned up for about an hour of the first day and then walked out because one of her friends came in to the store and she didnt want anyone she knew taking the micky out of her for working in Primark. 

      She is however happy for them to know she is unemployed and claiming benefits as this is just accepted as the way she should be acting. 

      Its amazing that among the young generation working in a shop is seen as shameful but scrounging benefits is perfectly acceptable. 

      • derek

        Obviously you both read from the same book, my my little story tellers and your stories must be told.

        • Anonymous

          Drinking on the blog again Del boy?

      • Anonymous

        You and Jonnie should get together to discuss the servant problem.

        Foir your information there are lots of Mr Robert’s sort in the current PLP,  Caroline Flint, Mad Frankie Field, Scrounger Byrne etc. It is just that they haven’t yet had the guts to be true to themselves and cross the floor of the house

        • Jonathan Roberts

          I tried to help someone get back into work.  I honestly thought I was doing a nice thing! Evidently the left think it’s evil to offer help to an unemployed person by offering to set up an interview with a local employer who was recruiting.

          Keep making your excuses boys.

          • Anonymous

            You sure love that word “nice”Jonny. So “refained” a word – it reminds you of drawing rooms and potted palms.

            That you were so anxious to “help” this man shows a degree of wanting to tell people what to do (I suppose a qualification for a would-be politician). To some people that might come over as patronising and condescenfing.

            And – you constantly refuse to address this question of mine – employer has 30 vacancies he can’t fill. Couldn’t it just be he is not such a “good” (nice, if you prefer) employer as you think he is – after your little chinwag and cuppa and tour round the building)?. It doesn’t seem tohave even crossed your mind. Far easier to blame the unemployed man

            You automatically assume that the fault is with the employee, not the employer. How new Labour.

            Thirty unfilled jobs should run alarm bells somewhere.

          • Jonathan Roberts

            I answered your question on the other thread. And don’t refer to him as an ’employee’, as I said, he admitted to me that he’d never had a job so can in no way be described as ever having been an employee.

            I couldn’t care less if you think I was insensitive.  Hardworking taxpayers pay for the entire existence of the long term unemployed: if you can work, and there is a job available – you should work. No ifs. No buts.

            Keep making excuses if you like – how very old Labour.

            By the way, you seem to be using my name in a derogatory way, persistently refering to me as ‘Jonny’.  It’s almost as childish as your argument.

          • Anonymous

            Mr Roberts, sir.

            I don’t know how old you are (not very by the sound of it). You told me 63 the employees “seemed” happy, you thought he was a “good” employer. I was only asking you how you could be sure of this (it’s not your dads firm is it?).

            I can tell you, having worked from the early 60’s, that a company that cannot fill vacancies on that scale ujsually has a problem. Your host was hardly likely to tell you about them, nor were those employhees who “seemed” happy – many supermarket staff, for example, are’nt happy but have to pretend to be so.

            A little tip: stop using the old New Labour book of cliche’s:

            “No if no buts” (Purnell)
            “Hardworking taxpayers” (Brown).

            You’ll be using feckless and feral before you know where you are.

            By the way, were your efforts to get elected succesful? If so, perhaps I should call you sir and touch my forelock.

          • Jonathan Roberts

            I’ve said elsewhere the vacancies were because of eastern european migrants coming over for a few months at a time and then leaving. They kept jobs open for local people because they wanted more permanent staff.

            I can’t actually believe anyone thinks like you do, so I’m going to assume this is just a monumental wind up. I’m out. 

          • Anonymous

            We cannot know whether this employer is  a “good” one or not. We only have your very one-sided view Mr Roberts.

            You seem unable or unwilling (perhaps through arrogance?) to debate the matter, so yes you get off now, and if you feel like dropping by again – don’t bother

          • Jonathan Roberts

            you never reply to the substance of someone’s points do you Alan? Is that because you have nothing to contribute other than cheap shots? Some people are in politics to help, others are in politics to make excuses and fight pathetic little online battles.  I’m the former, you’re the latter.

          • Anonymous

            Who are you trying to help, Jonathan?. Your own little ego by the sound of it. You seem to enjoy telling people what to do and passing judgments on them.

            I have a great idea though: since this factory you keep whining about is so good and the employees “seem happy”, why not take a job there yourself?

            Try and fix up an interview sometime next week – I have a few free days so I will even drive you to your interview.

            But I suppose such a job would be beneath your dignity. Factories and getting your hands dirty wouldn’t be for someblody who likes everything to be “nice”

    • Anonymous

      Jonnie, You are are a true saint in the making.

      This is the second time you have repeated your anecdote about offering to drive somebody off to meet your frienmd the factory manager.

      As you find ity necessary to repeat yourself, I will do the same thing. This man, you claim, had 30 jobs unfilled. This fact suggests to me that there is something wrong in his company which makes people reluctant to work for him.

      Much as you might like it to be, this is not the 19th century where you can order your servants about.

      I would put it to you the man concerned either resented your interference and trying to “organise” him, or perhaps thought you were a friend or relative of the man desperately trying to fill his 30 vacancies/

    • Redshift

      I find this a bit hard to believe. I have literally just come off JSA because I found a job and I was on it for months because there was sod all jobs (ok, there was care work I was unqualified for, there was the odd 8-hour job on NMW or something similarly ridiculous which would actually give me less than JSA – but that aside sod all)

      I had to attend interviews every two weeks, justifying my approach to my job searches which included a minimum amount I had to apply for a week. Because there was not enough work around some weeks I had to apply for jobs that I was clearly unqualified or unsuitable for simply because I needed to hit my target – or it would result in my benefits being stopped.

      When I still hadn’t found work, the rules meant I had to increase my applications – despite the fact that it was clear I was making the effort in the right areas. My job centre advisor actually agreed with me. 

      The one thing they could have done that would have been useful is put me on the Future Jobs Fund. 6 months paid work at 25 hours a week on NMW. Better than nothing. 

      Instead, the Tories got in and scrapped it, introducing the Work Programme. This was useless because the taxpayer was now contracting a private company to try and link me up with jobs that I had already applied for. This just meant me going for more useless meetings – at taxpayers expense.

      I got a job off my own back. All of the reforms under both governments have been useless with the exception of the Future Jobs Fund. Time to stop this crap. 

  • Hear, hear, Owen.

  • Mike Barnes

    “A tiny number, thankfully, but Byrne is among them – and I am ashamed to share the party card as him.”

    Well said. I emailed the address on his website last night. Said I won’t be voting for this shambles of a party again, as long as people like him remain in it.

  • Ross

    Thank the lord for Owen Jones! 

  • Matthew Blott

    Owen Jones says he will be accused of
    playing the man in this piece – well yes, you will be, because that is exactly
    what you do. Liam Byrne’s expenses might make him a hypocrite but that doesn’t
    mean what he says is irrelevant. Another point on this, you drag up his past
    employment but at least he’s had a proper job and done something in a wealth
    creating sector – what have you ever done?

    I’m a recent new Labour party member and am probably around
    10 years older than Owen Jones. I remember listening to all the self-satisfied
    party members indulging their socialist fantasies after one landslide general
    election defeat after another and thinking as a young kid, what good is all
    this if we have a Tory government? Sadly, such things are lost on fantasists
    like Owen Jones who are far happier in opposition where they can shoot from the
    sidelines because nothing they say is ever going to be put into practice and
    held up to scrutiny.

  • The fact of the matter is that in an advanced technological economy we do not need *all the people we can provide for* to *work*.    

    Many of the jobs that are done (payroll clerk to human resources?) are essentially a form of capitalist make-work that can be, or soon will be, capable of computerisation. Or they are already outsourceable  (eventually there will cease to be new exploitable pools of outsourced labour, but not for a generation or so).

    So, what do we do? We have a huge economy capable of  producing all we need with the labour of perhaps 25-30% of the population. What the current system does  is to cast some aside as *unemployed*, gives some others the make-work jobs, and wrecks many lives.

    We need to find a way to separate “work” and “income”.  We have created a large pool of currently unemployed people who would have found work in industry; and soon will have another large group of middle class  “symbolic manipulators” who will soon be made unemployed by technology.

    Surely it would be better to change how we think about work.  Sick and disabled people simply do not need to be made to work.  Young people should be encouraged to stay in education as long as possible, so as to reduce the number of actual  workers (and incidentally to increase the number of teaching jobs). 

    And people need to be be able to retire younger.Rather than creating an permanently unemployed underclass, we need to plan to reduce the amount of work/employment needed over a lifetime.   We may not have a huge number of manufacturing jobs, but we will require building trades workers for generations: why make people work after 55? Give people a decent pension and many will be glad of the break, and to pass the jobs to newly trained 25 year olds.

    Teaching is a joy, but after 30 years most people have had enough: let them retire and enjoy a retirement they can enjoy, but allow others into the jobs.

    And so on.We will never have full employment again. We may create fantasies of make-work “service sector” jobs, but many of those do not need doing.

    • GuyM

      And how exactly do you pay for all this, other than with very high levels of tax on much lower top quartile salaries?

      • @4bb19de657a8bb7c52ed192a4543e458:disqus  

        It’s quite simple. 

        We do what UK sovereigns did – without creating inflation – for five hundred years until public credit was privatised by the banks.

        ie the Treasury could issue stock – undated credit redeemable in payment for taxes.

        The phrase ‘rate of return’ derives from the rate at which stock was returned to the issuer for cancellation.

        • Anonymous

          Unless you are talking capital purchases with enormous guaranteed returns, isn’t that just a giant inflationary Ponzi scheme?  Surely those future tax payments would be earmarked for future expenditure…

          • Anonymous

            Of course it’s a Ponzi scheme. Labour and sensible economic theories are like ships that pass in the night… and football clubs have tried mortgaging future  revenues and gone bust.

            But of course you can always sell “money for nothing” schemes to the credulous .. and the desperate…

            Mr Cook keeps floating impossible dreams as reality means  cuts..

          • Of course, I mean, it might actually help the 99%. This is of course intolerable and must be exterminated as contrary to proper thought before it can be discussed.

            “Reality” means murder and slavery to you, right.

          • Anonymous

            I think you misunderstood: this is like asking your children to refinance the mortgage on your own house so you can pay for your annual ski holiday after you lose your job.

            You’ll benefit, sure, but your kids won’t thank you for it, nor consider it a “fair” deal, once the bills start arriving.

      • In terms of imposing on actually productive workers, how is tax different from making such workers pay for useless make-work (for example the entire admin system of the US healthcare system – most of which is avoided in the much more efficient UK system)?

        You are approaching the issue from the wrong angle. You are still thinking of “wage earners” and “tax-payers”.  They are terms from times of technological impoverishment, and do not apply today.

        Your approach allows only two solutions: wage earners support an increasing number of family members, and leaves those without a wage earner connection to fall to the side.  Or wage earners don’t even support their families (they are just “individuals” after all), and those without a wage fall to the side.

        You entirely fail to grasp the problem of producers who produce more than producers alone can consume.

        • GuyM

          No I’m asking a simple question, if you intend to provide high levels of benefits to all, with shorter working lives and a lower working population, who exactly is paying for that level of state benevolence?

          You are dealing once more in ideological theory rather than real world realities.

          If you provide at the level you propose, how does it get paid for?

          • Kill them all, after all, it’s the REAL WORLD and if they were real people they’d have done it to you first!

            Keep up with the imagery, KillerX.

          • I’m not dealing with “ideological theory”. I am rather positing a problem in the modern economy: it can carry far more consumers than producers.

            One way to deal with this is to create a class of permanently unemployed people and accrue all the benefits of technology to the rich. Another idea might be to try to find a way to separate employment and income.

          • GuyM

            I don’t dispute there is a problem and i agree full employment is an impossibility, but…. your proposal involves significant additional cost, so how does it get paid for, how does that system work… else it is theoretical.

  • If Liam Byrne has no commitment to any values of the Labour Party how are his comments a ‘capitulation’ to the Tories? He has nothing to capitulate (in your misguided opinion).

  • Johnslinger1

    It is unfortunate that when anyone in the Labour Party talks about welfare reform, they are accused of targeting vulnerable people. We must be confident enough in ourselves to tackle this subject, or the vast bulk of voters will not come back to supporting us. Indeed we have a special responsibility to come up with progressive policies on how to reform welfare, as only Labour can ensure that there will be fairness in the future. A confident, forward-looking party, should be able to have debates about these issues in the spirit of just that – debate.

    Pragmatic Radicalism, which I edit/organise, may well run one of our Top Of The Policies events on welfare reform in the coming months. We ran a successful TOTP event at Labour Conference in 2011. The whole point is that people from the ‘great and the good’ to ordinary activists like me, can present a new policy idea in 2 mins, followed by 2 mins Q&A then a FPTP vote to select the top policy (and a…you’ve guessed it…Top 10). You can find out more at and follow @PragRad:disqus  for updates about future events/publications.  It’s not about who you are, or which ‘wing’ of the party you’re from, it’s about the quality of the idea. The events are also fun and fast-paced – unlike the usual fringe-type event. Oh, and they’re in pubs, with the likelihood of a free drink for attendees!

    Our first event of 2012 is on 17 Jan in the Barley Mow pub in Westminster – it’s on skills and is sponsored by @unionlearn and  @unions21  (thanks v much to both). If you’re interested in presenting an idea on skills, get in touch,.

    • Simon Deville

      The Labour Right have accepted hook line and sinker the Tory line that the reason we have mass unemployment must be something to do with a sudden outbreak of workshyness, and not at all to do with the collapse of the economy. By accepting this line the answer isn’t to resolve the structural problems with the economy but to further harrass the marginalised and the poor.

      If the benefit system needs reform, it should be to make it more generous and to start redressing the massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich that has continued apace since the days of Thatcher, and which sadly didn’t slow down under new labour.

      We need to be confident enough to tackle widely held misconceptions about the cause of societal problems. Simply accepting Tory explanations is what helped lose labour 4 million votes in the first place.

  • Chloe

    I absolutely agree with with Ben Cobley on this – I can’t agree with either the massive simplifications of Owen Jones or the Daily Mail.

    Also, I know politics has to sometimes be value-driven, by why does Owen consistently ignore popular opinion? He says “Defenders of Byrne will look to the recently published Social Attitudes Survey, which revealed hardening attitudes towards the poor and unemployed, and argue that there simply is no choice. But these prejudices have flourished in large part because of the legacy of Thatcherism and the failure of Labour to challenge it. ”

    At the end of the day the reason doesn’t matter, what matters is what people think. Labour’s job is to represent them. As Liam Byrne said, “What we have heard from people is that there is a new centre-ground in British politics. It’s not a place that the party gets to pick. The centre-ground is where voters say it is.” Exactly.

  • Dave Dalton1

    I think of myself as still being on the hard or extreme left, just about—that is, I think that in significant ways private property acts as a fetter on all-round human development. However, I find everything Owen writes so depressingly Old Labour, the more so because he is young Old Labour. On the one hand, I agree that LB’s proposals are weak and pander to the unthinking sociopathic middle classes who read and believe the Daily Mail (that is, probably a lot of them read it but don’t belive it). On the other hand, it must be the role of socialists (and social democrats!) to try to tell the truth—not to deny that problems exist, but to describe them accurately and then propose progressive solutions to them. If we don’t, if we just ignore them, or ignore how reality (as it is presently constituted) works, then we simply leave the solutions to the other side—by whom I mean the Tories and their hangers on in the business class and the aristocracy, rather than New Labour, whose raison d’être—adapting social democracy to the ruling economic hegemony of the day—has fallen away as the hegemony itself has broken up under the weight of two global economic crises in three years. For example, being on benefits for a long time—I know this from family experience—is a dispiriting and shrivelling experience. That’s not what it was designed for. If there is a lack of jobs to go around, we should take a leaf out of the capitalists’ book and make some—or rather give people the skills and infrastructure to make them for themselves. Also, the crisis of the market is also a crisis of public spending, because the two are inextricably linked, because the level of spending was adjusted to a level of income that may never have existed.

  • derek

    Great article Owen! I’d like to invoke the legislation of the land and call on the trade unions to take the government to court over the idea that you can force unemployed people to work for their benefits. The idea that you can fill previously paid jobs by forcing people to work for benefits is wrong and illegal and against the minimum wage.The idea that people can afford the additional transport costs and extra food cost from benefits is plainly stupid and not workable. It’s time for the trade unions to take this mob on and if they want to have more people in work then create the jobs.

    • Anonymous

      Please take the Government to court. The publicity will lose Labour votes.

      • derek

        ? and that’s about all that I need to express there.

      • Oh so you’re a slaver too now. What a surprise!

        • Anonymous

          More ad hominem remarks..

        • Anonymous

          More ad hominem remarks..

  • “I will be accused of playing the man, not the ball here”

    You are, and it detracts from an otherwise excellent piece about what Byrne should be doing. I have a rule of thumb which is that any article that trawls up the MP expenses storm-in-a-teacup has missed the point entirely. Luckily, I read past those paragraphs and got into the real meat of the article. MP expenses was storm-in-a-teacup: let it go.

    Last year I attended a Labour regional conference and in a workshop hosted by Byrne some of these issues were discussed. It seems to me that Labour are looking to shore-up their core, white working class, vote and the issues of “benefit scroungers” and “immigrants” have floated to the top from the surveys they have taken. The problem is that Byrne is taking the easy route of “Alarm Clock Britain” and immigration control, rather than the real issue which is the erosion of public services and inequalities. I guess they argue that if a school has too many students (“swamped” in Blunkett’s words) then the solution is to deport immigrants rather than provide adequate schools. This is lazy and it creates far more problems than it solves.

    Actually, the correct response to “benefit scroungers” is the quote you give from Purnell: “people on benefits ‘having miserable lives where their universe consists of a trip from the bedroom to the living room'”. Being on benefits is miserable, no one would choose it, so why do those who talk of “benefit scroungers” make it out to be something desirable?

    • Because it’s the axiom of right wingers like this man, and you should never ever NOT be as personal as possible when it comes to politics, that the poor need to be punished, and accusing them of “scrounging” (i.e. want to eat) is evil.

    • Anonymous

      “I have a rule of thumb which is that any article that trawls up the MP expenses storm-in-a-teacup ”

      So defrauding the public – and making them pay for your food, is a “storm in a teacup” is it?

      Why can’t people like Jonathan Roberts see that for Byrne to talk about scrounging cafrries as much moral authority as a man just convicted of drunk driving complaining about other drunk drivers

      • “So defrauding the public – and making them pay for your food, is a “storm in a teacup” is it?”

        Yes. Get real. We are seeing vicious attacks on the most vulnerable in our society RIGHT NOW. That is where we should focus our attention.

        But if it really turns you on, perhaps you should campaign for ALL expenses to be made public? By ALL I mean including the private sector. For example, this sordid story:

        Of course, people who bang on about storm in a tea-cup issues may have the ulterior motive of trying to divert us from the important issues.

        • Anonymous

          Richard, I don’t disagree with you in much of what you say, especially about the most vulnerable. It is just a pity you are not a little more subtle, and you would see the point I was making,

          That is, that those who howl loudest about “playing the system” – namely the likes of Grayling, Duncan-Smith, Purnell and Byrne, have themselves been “playhing the system” (Purnell can’r now of course as he is no longer an MP), therefore when you comp[lain (let’s be clear, THEY complain) about “the evils of scrounging”, they speak as culprits themselves and therefore have no moral authroity.

          I would also put it to you that, at a time when “we are all in this together” and there is no money, even £200 a month to some fat-gutted MP  to stuff his mouth at our expense, is far more than a storm in a teacup, when that individual is earning (well, getting) many more times than the average wage.

          • Alan, I am afraid I have argued on this site, right from the beginning, that we have to focus on the real issues. I was frightened before the election what the Tories would do to the NHS and tried unsuccessfully to make people here realise how important it was to keep the Tories out of power. All I found was hysteria over, frankly, small amounts of money. Yes, small amounts of money, compared to – say – the cost of a hip operation, and now people are being denied hip ops. I want people to have the hip ops they need.

            If I can be allowed to put on my tinfoil hat, I may even suggest that Cameron encouraged (if not engineered) the scandal. It was Labour who had the worst publicity, not the Tories, and we know that governments lose elections rather than oppositions winning them, the MP expenses simply made Labour look more unelectable. Cameron also used it as an opportunity to get rid of the old school Tories who he thought would not work his way, and get some new blood into safe seats. (Look at the expenses of cabinet ministers – Cameron was careful to make sure his front bench team were not affected, regardless of whether they had ‘flipped’ or claimed for removing wisteria from their homes.) And it also distracted the Press from examining the Tories policies. When people say “you didn’t tell us before the election you would dismantle the NHS”, the reason is that they were not paying attention. The Tories’ policy on the NHS was clear to be seen in their policy documents before the election, but the Press were far to excited by the storm-in-a-teacup that was MP expenses, than in doing their job which was to scrutinise the Tories policies.

          • Anonymous

            I don’t really care which party stole the most (because that is what it really meant), but when you consider both the New Labour and the Coalition governments make people jump through hoops for £60 whatever pounds a week JSA, £15 million pounds from Blears  alone, for example, was hardly a “small amount”.

            These MPs with their duckhouses, moats, food allowance, cleaning bills £2000 TV sets (which Gerald Kaufmann excused as being a by-rpoduct of his OCD) were taking many times more than the people they were castigating.#

            If politicians expect honesty from others, they must demonstrate it themselves. Many failed miserably, and, of course, thjey escaped prosecution, which most benefit cheats don’t.

  • derek

    I would also ask @Mark Ferguson to do a post-survey on Byrne and lets see where the deck falls on his stupidity. I’m personally calling for his removal from the party.

  • AndyN

    You seem, above all else, to love the sound of your own voice Owen. Do you actually have any workable ideas or suggestions as to how change could be achieved, other than parrotting some vague nonsense about ” creating a new attitude of mind?” 

  • Can you share the sources for this figure:

    ” Compare that to the £70bn lost to the Treasury’s coffers through tax avoiding businesspeople.”

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  • I thought Owen Jones did not believe in handing out attack lines to the Tories? 

  • Anonymous

    Paul H
    “I support democratic socialist activism so that *we can distrubute the fruits of trade and industry* in a better way than the “free market”.
    But I thought you were a participant in the free market:

    The University of North Florida has placed on leave an assistant professor accused of selling cocaine to an undercover detective at a Jacksonville nightclub.Paul Halsall, 44, remained in the Duval County jail Wednesday in lieu of $50,003 bail following his arrest Monday.

    • And this has to do with what?  

      Making me shut up?

      Some chance:  go away and pick on somebody who you CAN intimidate from behind an anonymous user name.

      • You know, a bit of web-searching can do wonders.  

        We need fewer Labour candidates who have sold out to the private sector: “providing political counsel/analysis and strategic advice to senior politicians and board-level figures across the maritime services sector, including shipping, ports and shipbroking.”

        • GuyM

          When the vast majority of workers in the UK, EU and western world work in the private sector, your anti private sector positioning is foolhardy at best.

          • I am not opposed to the private sector:  I am opposed to deifying it.

          • GuyM

            and so am I, I just prefer working in the private sector… I’d never work in the public sector.

            it is a means unto an end and nothing more, although it is more successful than other options

      • Anonymous

        It’s relevant as the selling of illegal drugs is the ultimate, free-market capitalist enterprise:

        a) Participants evade all government regulation
        b) It is predatory enterprise rather than productive enterprise
        c) It has no social benefit
        d) The economic benefits are not shared by society (as no tax is paid)

        So participating in such activities then spouting off about, you know, ethical socialism (or whatever) might not seem credible.

  • Jos Bell

    I entirely agree that we should not be drawn
    re-actively into broad brush labels. This is the opportunity to re-design the
    semiotic landscape of disability. Instead of reacting to cheap stunt rhetoric,
    instead of being sucked into the judgemental magnet of accusation and
    opprobrium and being complicit in re-defining the spelling of disability into a
    word which starts with s and ends in r, we should be true to our social justice
    roots and ensure we speak true. The statistics should speak for themselves, however
    we need to build on them with empirical evidence which speaks to the wider
    community. We need to educate, not promulgate insults, which as Kaliya has said
    are becoming mainstream and increasingly re-defining perceptions of disability
    to the extreme negative. 

    Firstly we should stress that many people in receipt of disability support do
    actually work – only BECAUSE they have that support. Other do voluntary work
    according to the limits of variable conditions. Disabled people contribute to
    society and to the economy.

    Secondly, we must acknowledge that disability is not a choice and can happen to
    anyone at any time. Out of the blue. ‘It could be you’

    Nobody elects to be born or to become disabled. Most people become sick or
    disabled at some point in their life – for most it is in older years, but when
    it appears the impact is sudden and shocking. The healthy years may also
    involve caring duties. The less the help from the state the more the negative
    impact upon the family – also interfering with work capacity of the healthy
    family members. Knit this all together and the micro challenges then become the
    macro deficit

    We need to be very clear to the electorate that positive disability support
    measures are good for the economy – indeed integral to sustainable growth.

    The vast majority of the disabled would like to work, however employers tend to
    run a mile from employing a disabled person – it is statistically almost
    impossible to re-enter the workplace after contracting a life changing
    condition. Ask anyone has tried to repeatedly obtain work in this situation and
    they will tell you that they rarely even have their applications acknowledged.
     For those with variable conditions, self employment is unlikely to
    provide an answer unless they work in partnership with other party or parties –
    and of course the need for capital investment is a huge barrier to most who
    would like to pursue this route. Savings are unlikely to exist. Banks are not
    lending. Not just a Catch 22 – a Pi to A Million trap . 

    It is vital that these real life situations are not to be conflated with the
    small proportion of the population who choose to exploit the system – bear in mind here that
    whatever group we examine, be they bankers, corporate directors , benefit
    claimants or athletes there will always be an element of corruption, it’s part
    of the human condition. In the case of fraudulent disability benefits claims
    the number is between 0.5 and 1.00%, established after applicants are put
    through an assessment process which is not just over-rigorous but full of
    flaws. Spend a week with anyone trying to make their way through this maze and
    take a whiff of the reality of the nightmare. You will want to run away – fast.

    The list of
    issues which need to be addressed in this vein is sizeable. Only those who are
    directly affected know the reality. Only when a representative number of people
    who are disabled and who are carers are properly consulted will the solutions
    emerge. Politicians must stop viewing everyone in this cohort as ‘a problem’ to
    run away from, to condemn or to temporarily mollify – they must recognise the
    reality and discover and develop the real solutions which are ready and waiting
    in the wings..


    so much a case of ‘the economy stupid’ – but it would be truly myopic not to
    incorporate a positive and sturdy approach to welfare rights as being integral
    to growing our economy and sustaining our society 

    • ReallyFedUp

      Well said, Jos! 

  • Anonymous

    The following caught my eye:
    ” Byrne fails to explain the reasons why(housing benefit is so high): the scrapping of rent control and the failure of New Labour to build council housing, forcing millions of people to rent from unscrupulous landlords exploiting the lack of affordable housing to charge extortionate rents.”

    A credible article would be dispassionate and objective about the causes: one of which is the pressure on low cost housing caused by indiscriminate immigration post 1997 as a result of Labour policies.  Like 1 million extra people to house.

    Strangely enough it is not mentioned.

    Given that lack of thought and honesty as to the causes of the spend on Housing Benefit,  I expect the rest of the article is researched as shoddily.

    Ad hominem attacks like this  tell us more about the author than the attacked.  

    If you really want to turf out the Tories, you need a credible plan which shows how you can afford to pay more Housing Benefit. Borrowing more in the current environment is NOT a credible economic plan.

    So basically this article is just a rant with no feasible solution..

    • Surely someone who is a real fiscal conservative would advocate tax rises.  The basic standard rate is much lower than it was 30 years ago. Raise it by a 2-3 in the pound, and all fiscal problems are solved.

      If that is unpalatable (and the reason the British state has been able to run a deficit for 200+ years has been it’s willingness to use moderate tax raises when necessary), let’s institute a land/wealth tax of 1% as in the Netherlands, Denmark, etc.  That also will solve borrowing requirement issues.  In fact a “held wealth tax” it might be better than an income tax rise, since it taxes wealth which is not being recycled in the economy.

      • GuyM

        Not if raising the fiscal base cuts demand in turn vat receipts and corporate tax returns in the economy and thus negates the tax rise.

        It the basic differential of what stimulates more…. private sector activity promoted by lower tax or state interventionism funded via higher taxes.

        I go with the low tax route, you go with state intervention.

        • Yes, I do go with state intervention. We can agree to disagree.

          I do see that a rise in income tax could cause a reduction in VAT receipts, but an income tax is fairer and more progressive.

          My main point, however, was for a wealth tax.  That would not cause a drop in other receipts.

          • GuyM

            Why a wealth tax?

            To get wealthy you will have paid tax to reach that point. It ends up as double taxation and is going to be avoidable by many people anyway.

            It does seem that those on the left are so anti self improvement that I wonder whether they’d all be happier if everyone was equally destitute.

        • You want America. Strangely enough, they have the same problems we do.

          Can’t have a society like the Nordic one which *functions*, after all, the poor need to be punished for existing…and they might exist NEAR YOU.


    • Rubbish. Rent caps need to come back.

      You’re refusing to consider the a solution, preferring your favoured social cleansing. Gotta have the evil in your daily rant, after all.

      • Anonymous

        And what do rent caps do? History says they reduce the number of houses to rent.

        Those who do not learn from history , repeat its mistakes..

        A solution has got to work.. and your ad hominem comments show you know your will not.

  • Stuart

    There are two good points in this article that the reverse-Daily-Mail tone of outrage! does a disservice – 1. housing benefit as it stands is in the most part a transfer of wealth from the state to really shit landlords. My last job was at a homeless shelter and some of the places local authorities were paying £300 a week for were almost unihabitable. 2. the economy we have at the moment is very relaxed about unemployment, so either we figure out a new economy that actually cares about employment as well as productivity and inflation (3/4 day week for all sounds good to me) or we admit that unemployment will always be with us and we introduce a no-obligations citizen’s wage instead of the raft of different benefits. Can’t imagine either would be very popular ideas but it’s stupid for politicians to moan about unemployment when none of them are remotely interested in full employment as a policy goal.
    The level of debate on welfare at the moment is embarassing, whether it’s pointless and self-defeating talk about scrounging or knee-jerk denoucement of any policy that suggests contribution and reciprocity (on behalf of the government as well as the person receiving benefits) are important in welfare.

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  • Patricia Shepherd

    Liam is my MP and I was upset to read about the so called scroungers that the nazi far right are always talking about.
      Why does he have to copy them,we need someone who will stand up and promise to regulate rents and many more important things like this,people are being made homeless because the greedy landlords are being so greedy.

  • Bill Oconnor2

    I think we can agree that Liam Byrne isn’t a shining star within the Labour party leadership. This is the guy who gave the Tories a complete own goal by saying that there was no more money left – a PR disaster. But let’s move on.

  • Brian

    Brilliant article, agree with every word.

  • Brilliant Owen. Exactly the type of robust response  to the ‘scrounger’ mongers that’s needed, thank you.

  • Jcolumbine

    Wholly agree with everything you say. Excellent post.

  • An excellent piece from Owen.

    Byrne’s hypocritical free-loading on the Parliamentary gravy train has bought politics and the Labour Party into disrepute. This has been confirmed by my own experience on the door-step. If I had a pound for every person who has mentioned the expenses fiddles my wallet would be fatter than Byrne’s.

    And I can’t remember one single occasion where concern has been expressed over Labour paying people not to work.

    Byrne’s inability to think politically is now plain for all to see. One can only wonder: how long until the next clanger is dropped?

    There’s no clearer evidence of rot at the top than Byrne’s continued presence in Parliament.

  • GuyM

    It does seem at times that all Labour really stand for anymore are benefit claimants, illegal immigrants and union members in the public sector.

    Has your party really become one with such a small and narrow base?

    • Anonymous

      “Union members in the public sector.”

      How would you describe/define the Guy by your reckoning?

      Also- why do you presume to lump together with “benefit claimants and illegal immigrants??

      Surely this is just the kind of misleading and carriacatured image
      the right wing tabloids love to portray; it suits their agenda and narrative
      by using blame as a weapon, which silences debate; by labelling people-
      it lets others off the hook, and there is no nuanced discussion on a complex topic.


      • Anonymous

        All illegal immigrants are benefit claimants…

      • GuyM

        I’m making no judgements on those groups in that post Jo, nor was I linking them in any way other than a list of component parts.

        My point was it is those groups that seem to be the dominant groups in Labour’s mindset. Is it any wonder then that other groups of your supposed “core vote” might feel alientated from your party?

        • Anonymous

          Thanks for that then Guy, but please re read and ask yourself how that came across?

          It’s easy for any of us to assume stuff about abstract groups of people, but in my experience the reality is invariably different from prevailing stereotypes.There’s a whole load of politically motivated rhetoric out there, pointing the finger of blame specifically at anyone or anything deemed a “burden on the tax payer,” blah blah.

          Never mind the fact that public and private sector are interdependent;
          society needs core services as well as enterprise and business for growth;
          it’s about people as well as money.

          I’d like to see far more joined up thinking and pragmatic discussion;
          sharing of ideas and consensus in some areas between all parties;
          eg funding for social care.

          I think people are probably feeling alienated from politics for a whole variety of reasons; not least because for some time there have been limited opportunities for public discourse; we are just “fed” the news and “told” stories….it’s about time communities think about ways to innovate and strengthen aspects of their enviroment, not just rely on big business or top down local govt to shape lives.

          There needs to be a mixture of approaches in my view, but fundamentally, it is the structure of society/community, and services that support that,
          which must be preserved. From that base, people can flourish.


    • Anonymous

      I did reply, but it seems to have disappeared?

      (I appreciate there are many comments to have to wade through Mark.)

      Thanks, Jo

    • And the Tories stand for the 1% and xenophobes.

      Done using idiotic slogans yet?

  • Anonymous

    “why the f would i work as hard, especially if there was some form of full employment policy in place?”

    People worked just as hard when there was a full employment policy in place from 1945 to the late 70s.

  • FonyBlair

    ‘In a party founded to represent working-class people’.

    This statement proves Labour are nothing more than a campaign group for a section of society….not a Government in waiting.

    When you grow up Owen, you will look back on some of your posts and cringe about the total lack of reality around your ideas. Just look at Incapacity Benefit….how has the UK population with all the added health and safety laws suddenly had such an increase in incapacity?

    Stop being so blinkered!!

  • Anonymous

    “Liam Byrne is also a prime example of the utter shamelessness of the British political elite. He is a politician who fuels prejudices about welfare ‘scroungers’.” And some. Fuelling whatever prejudice he finds in the gutter has been a defining characteristic of Byrne since he first stood for parliament and was the cornerstone of his 2004 election campaign.

  • This one is interesting.  For 2 reasons.

    1 )  The Sponging Class are real.  They’re a minority that are ex – Working Class, who have given up and are quite happy to breed their way out of poverty ( for example ).  Or lie and claim sickness to get off having to work.  Much as they are a small minority they are real, and have grown over the past 15-odd years as they learn to exploit The State.  The loopholes they use have to be closed, obviously, as it is highly unfair to let this lot carry on.  They are not Working Class.  Working Class people work.  This lot are real scroungers, much as their numbers are less than the Daily Fail will have you believe.  Labour needs to highlight that Scroungers are bad ( sure ), but also give the country an idea as to the sort of numbers of unemployed that are actually scroungers.  Keep the perspective there, so that Tory hate campaigns to justify cutting The Sick can’t be carried out successfully.

    2)  I’ve recently seen the unemployment figures for the last decade-and-a-half, and they steadily decline from the crisis of 1992-ish to a plateau at around 2003.  And don’t get any lower, even though there is a boom starting at this time.  They stay at this plateau until 2008, and then surprise surprise jump up again with the new crisis/ recession.

    So why plateau?  This all happens at the same time as Gordon Brown et al choosing to Borrow In A Boom to fuel Public Sector development and growth, as they felt the Private Sector had stopped investing.  Could this be why unemployment could not get any lower then this plateau?  Even in good years?

    If the Private Sector does not invest, and the population continues to grow, then it’s obvious you’ll start to run low on jobs.  Now add to that the natural ebb and flow in unemployment as people naturally get caught on JSA for a couple of months between contracts and…

    That plateau is starting to be explained.

    Now add how many kids these days have left school with too little, and are finding it very hard to get work.  Is that not a training issue?  Has that not grown over the past decade?

    Now add to that how you always have a section of society that don’t do well at school, and how the decline in manufacturing and mining meant that low skill starter jobs became more scarce and…  Apprenticeships were only pushed my Labour in about 2009.  Before then it was purely the class-room.  That plateau could be the chunk of the UK populace that are hands on learners, didn’t do well in the classroom due to this, and simply have not got the jobs to move into.


    My point is thus.  Much as the Scroungers are real they are a minority amongst the many.  And for many people it’s either a skill issue ( that can be solved by training ), or it’s an issue where their region is short on low-skill starter jobs.  Broken Britain is real after all.  It’s not everywhere, but places of high neglect do exist ( partly due to Thatcher obviously ).

    The problem is thus then.  Big chunks of the populace need training, and big chunks of the map need regeneration.  Labour should be able to cover the regeneration bit, as we had the Regional Growth Funds The Torys axed, and then sort of brought back in an underfunded way.  But what about training?

    I’m not talking about degrees as much as the bit that leads up to a degree. A-Levels, NVQ’s, City & Guilds, that kind of thing.

    Well, we’ve had a nice big push on apprenticeships, and that is still going. But…  At the Tory Conference of 2011 David Cameron announced a training package of upto £14,000 ( if I remember correctly ) PER PERSON to get them to the point where they can compete for jobs.  And, quite frankly, this really took him into the lead on the regeneration of our workforce.  Labour has to respond to this.

    So I have no problem with bashing scroungers as long as the target is clearly defined.  Those scroungers are real.  But we have to make sure we do not hit any innocent people as we back this crackdown on the scroungers.  We have to accept that 1/8 of those on Housing Benefit are Jobseekers, and that the rest are Carers, Elderly, Disabled, or simply short-term ill.  And we have to make sure our ‘investing in peoples’ skills’ plan is out there and clear as crystal.

    The Torys went pro-active on getting people into jobs.  This is actually a good thing, as it is an agent for the Jobseeker looking for work for the Jobseeker as well.  But if that Jobseeker has not got much in the way of skills these pro-active types will get nowhere.  And that is where Camerons’ big training announcement is such a big deal.  £14,000 can get you a lot of training.

    So there is the challenge.  Can Labour respond?

    • Fair enough comment.  

      But we need to avoid buying into Tory terms like “scroungers”.  We need someone here on the left who is acute as the American Republican strategist Frank Luntz on the issue of vocabulary: Labour/socially conscious people cannot win while using the vocabulary of the opposition.  What seems to be happening under Miliband is an acceptance of the Tory terms of debate.

      Secondly, you need to consider that the economy simply does not need so many people to work. That’s why there is a “plateau”.  In future years, those in the UK with so called middle-class skills will find themselves just as redundant as factory workers. 

      Thirdly, if you think the so-called crackdown on those you deem scroungers is being done without harming people in real need, you are simply not facing reality.  Read some of Sue Marsh’s writings.

    • Oh yes, this imaginary “class” who are used to beat the poor over and over and over. Which enables bosses to abuse workers, because being unemployed means automagic instant poverty.

      95% *IS* full employment. The plateau was because people were working! And now you’re bringing up the myth of a “class” – in reality a tiny number of people – to justify wasting cash on more wasteful initiatives to pump cash into a few private companies.

      £14k gets you sent to a few bored tick boxers. The problem should be handled at the level of the JobCentre, which needs to change from more bored tick boxers every two weeks to genuine help finding a job…say once a month.

  • Matthew Blott

    Owen Jones says he will be accused of playing the man in this piece – well yes, you will be, because that is exactly what you do. Liam Byrne’s expenses might make him a hypocrite but that doesn’t mean what he says is irrelevant. Another point on this, you drag up his past employment but at least he’s had a proper job and done something in a wealth creating sector – what have you ever done?
    I’m a recent new Labour party member and am probably around 10 years older than Owen Jones. I remember listening to all the self-satisfied party members indulging their socialist fantasies after one landslide general election defeat after another and thinking as a young kid, what good is all this if we have a Tory government? Sadly, such things are lost on fantasists like Owen Jones who are far happier in opposition where they can shoot from the sidelines because nothing they say is ever going to be put into practice and held up to scrutiny.

  • Anonymous

    Byrne is a despicable little man. He spends much of his time with a rictus grin, smirking at his own inanity.

    He must never be allowed to forget that he too is a scrounger and was exposed as such during the expenses scandal of 2009.

    Though he knows about scrounging, and is an expert at it, in the way David Freud could never be an expert at “welfare” despite James Purnell promoting him as a “welfare expert” (are’nt all multimillionaires?), Liam Byrne does not speak with any authority or credibility. It is to Ed Miliband’s shame that this idiot who wrote the “there’s no money left” note when he left government is even in the shadow cabinet. He should be on the back benches, where his mediocrity wouldn’t be so noticeable.

  • Anonymous

    Did anyone hear this on Mike Harding’s R2 “folk and roots” show just now?

    It was the Big Society Band, from I think, album of the same.

    Here was an excerpt of chorus line which I think would resonate with some!

    “It’s the same the whole world over,
    It’s the poor what gets the blame;
    It’s the rich what gets the pleasure-
    Ain’t it all a bloomin’ shame….”

    It reminded me of Victorian music hall-
    and great lyrics- rather befitting of our “austerity” times.

    Please check out- it’s enjoyable stirring stuff.


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  • Jonathan Roberts

    I despair at some of the debates below, including the ones I’ve taken part in.  We’re all meant to be on the same side yet the second things are said that someone doesn’t like it all kicks off, words get twisted beyond all recognition and the venom flows freely.

    If you took your view of the Labour movement solely from the comments on threads like this you’d think it was a party full of nastiness and poison.  Thank God Labour is actually full of nice people who are civil to one another, and others, in real life.

    • Actually, I apologise too, for some of the tone of my comments.

      Still, I believe in the arguments I made. Sometimes it is best to simply clarify where one disagrees with another person.

    • No wonder Labour is turning into a party of wilted flowers, if they’re willing to put up with that kind of nonsense.

      Remember “The Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing”? Well, right now it ain’t…

    • Anonymous

      Jonathan, If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

      Your Blairite views are outdated. Labour will never win another election if they insist on being a mirror image of the current Conservative coalition. Three parties all jockying for the same Daiy Mail readers vote will result in tye dominant party in the coalition remaining in party.

      I think frankly the 2015 election is laready lost – even if you threw out Ed Miliband and replaced him wikth his Blair clone bnrother David tomorrow.

  • People used to go to work while ill (even with TB – that’s why there were all those NO SPITTING signs on buses until well into the 1970s).  And then they died young, especially those who did manual work.

  • The problem with the Daily Mail, unlike say The Sun, which has lost its bite, is that it is so brilliantly written to achieve the goals its owners want.

  • For starters, because we’re keeping people alive. So sorry you dislike that.

    Then there’s the fact that in fact the figures have fallen off Thatcher’s peak of pushing people to rot onto it. Massive amounts are being spent to victimise the truly ill and reduce the figures only slightly now.

    But hey, gotta work em to death!

  • Daniel Speight

    My comment on the previous Byrne post was probably very late as another ‘Featured’ post seems to disappear into the ether, or at least is difficult to pull out. It was in answer to someone, maybe Jaime, being slightly disparaging of the Nordic model, by which they tend to mean Sweden, as Norway for instance has an oil wealth that we have long since spent here.

    Anyway here’s the comment again. It’s about using the tax system to increase equality in incomes in societies.

    And yet Sweden has had a fairly long-term imposition of high taxes. When I visited the middle class seem to live well, as least as good as ours in the UK. I guess the big difference is the rich are hit much harder than in the UK but as I doubt they are all moving to London.

    I met one of the Wallenbergs, a venture capitalist, a few years ago in Asia and he didn’t seem to be looking for an exit from Sweden.

    It gets interesting when you look at the Gini coefficient on incomes between Sweden and the Britain. In this measurement ‘1’ would represent a society where all the income went to just one man, and ‘0’ would be where everyone had an equal income.

    In the late 2000s before taxes Sweden had a coefficient of 0.426 while the Britain was slightly worse at 0.456. After taxes Sweden’s was 0.259 and the Britain’s 0.345. The Swedes used taxes to improve equality by almost 15% more than us, 39% to 24%.

    Because of the dislike by some of the Swedish model maybe Germany would be a better example to be measured against. Their figures were a massive 0.504 before taxes but a very fair 0.295 after taxes. That’s a 17% improvement over us. I can understand why others see a culture of greed when they look at the Anglo-Saxon countries.

    Now if only it didn’t snow in Sweden.

    • GuyM

      Again you equate “greed” with the desire to keep more of what you yourself earn.

      I am happy to pay for universal services like NHS and education (altough I’d prefer if they were better run), I have no desire to work to improve someone elses income.

      Why on earth should I work to be heavily taxed so someone else less prosperous has their income boosted at my expense? No thanks, I’d not ever vote for that, not ever.

      • Daniel Speight

        I would be very suspicious of myself Guy if I ever found I was voting the same way as you. The question posed by my comment is whether we have anything to learn from Sweden and Germany in the way they approach the question of taxation and equality. In recent years both of Britain’s main political parties seem to be in agreement with your view, while both Sweden and Germany, even with reunification, have moved ahead of us in many ways.

  • Franwhi

    Get Byrne out of the spotlight for God sake and get a real grip on this narrative – How about starting with the scandal of the increasing number of working poor in this country ?  Their plight should be highlighted because the Govt i.e. the taxpayer is susbsidising low paying employers throught the tax credit system.  How about the fact that the most vulnerable groups like single parents will be worse off even when they are in work due to planned cuts to tax credit ?  How about the issue of jobcentres being given targets for refusing benefit to legitimate claimants on spurious grounds ? There are so many “worthy” issues that would resonate with voters and if championed would strike a chord for social justice and appeal to people’s sense of fair play.. These are the real battles Labour should be fighting in a strategic way and encouraging people weighed down by fear and anxiety over present circumstances to imagine a better future for themselves and their kids in a more equal country. Hope is the one thing needed right now and every member of that Shadow Cabinet should be signed up to the hope agenda and be able to articulate it to the electorate in a meaningful and practical way.   Milliband needs to knock their heads together and stop these febrile nasty briefings from self seeking individuals with their siren songs – get a social justice narrative  that works and stick to it with a measured collective voice.    

  • Anonymous

    An excellent and honest article Owen.

    Liam Byrne was a merchant banker?

    He still is, if you are familiar with rhyming slang!

  • Daniel Speight

    I have just realized what’s missing in the statements of Bryne, Fields, IDS and co.. Not one seems to admit they were partly responsible for the rise in Britain’s reliance on benefits to hide away economic problems caused by Westminster.

    The de-industrialization of Britain wasn’t unavoidable. Germany and France to a large extent did avoid it. Tory and Labour governments made very little attempt at halting the decline. Their belief in the City supplying growth to carry a large part of the population being workless has now crashed, yet no mea culpas are heard.

  • Anonymous

    Matthew, Hypocrisy is one of the worst and most unpleasant attributes in life in general and politics in particular.

    You look a complete ass – as Byrne does – by pretending moral outrage at “scrounging” when he himself is very guilty of it. The claims for “food”, the arrangemengts regarding his housing.

    When you have been caught with your hands in the till, you lose any right to castigate others for doing in essence exactly what you have done yourself.

    I honestly don’t know if Ed Miliband agrees with what Byrne says – perhaps he doesn’t even know himself – one week he takes a step to the left, the next to the right, but if this is the message he wants to put over he should sack Byrne, who has form, and give the script to somebody who wasn’t caught out where expenses are concerned – Hilary Benn was innocent of such behaviour (though perhaps he doesn’t agree with Byrne), but at least appoint somebody who is entitled to hold the moral high ground.

    The current situation is ridiculous. It would be as distasteful and hypocritical as if you asked David Blunkett or David Mellor to speak out against adultery

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  • Mick Hills

    Brilliant article

  • Slesdger

    You can attempt to draw a veil over that or legitimise benefit / welfare fraud  by comparing it to other issues (the 1% example) but that totally ignores the divisive nature of this behaviour and attitude to society.

    Put simply, it sticks in the craw that those who work and pay the majority of thier income in some form of tax only for others to decide that they don’t to play their part.

    If Owen Williams doubts the level of welfare manipulation, I would be more than happy to introduce him to a number of people, families even, who use the welfare system to allow them not to work. These are not benefit fraudsters, rather people who play the system.


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  • Anonymous

    In any walk of life you get people who “play the system”, not least all those MPs and ministers who fiddle their expenses and expect us to pay for their food – people like Liam Byrne, in fact.

    • Slesdger

      Neither of which are acceptable.

  • Geowrit

     A century ago, Ivan Pavlov, one of the originators of behaviourist ( ” kneejerk”) psychology, once organised an experiment by training dogs to walk alternatively along circular and oval paths with only one path being rewarded.
    When he gradually made the paths more and more similar, the  dogs actually began to break down mentally.
    Today, much advertising and political discourse is based on similar principles, using positive or negative “kneejerk” lables like ” decent “, ” hardworking” , “scroungers”,  etc.
    The unacknowledged dilemma behind this discussion is –  in the absence of any human solidarity, or knowledge of economic science, or positive, practical suggestions to activate the economy – who should we kick, the rich or the poor?   

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  • Anonymous

    But, Dave, you fall into the trap of beliving that it was the Coaltion who started the assault on benefit claimants. This is just not true. It started back in 1997 with the unctuous self-righteous Frank Field started giving intyerviews pretending that everyone claiming was swinging the lead (a term I heard him use several times o radio).

    And yes of course,, all politicians should tell the truth – it is just sad so many in all parties seem unable to do so, certainly where their own wrongdoings are concerned.

    If I may say so,  I find it hard to understand how in one breath you can say you are on the hard or extreme left, then praise New Labour, who were really right-wing careerists who would have been just as happy in the Conservative party.

    Or do you just believe red rosette good, blue rosette bad?

  • Anonymous

    Chloe, you say “by why does Owen consistently ignore popular opinion?”

    Well, by that reckoning if you are saying we should all jump on every populist bandwaggon you should be out campaigning for the return of the death penalty, or deportation, or forced repatriation, because these ideas are very popular with a lot of people across the board.

    No you have to do what is right, not what is popular.

  • The scroungers, the fiddlers, the spongers and the fraudsters should definitely be persecuted, but Byrne is looking for them in the wrong place!  He should be looking in city boardrooms and trading floor – he’d find a superabundance of them there. 

  • ReallyFedUp

    I spend £4 a week on food – and that’s only afforded because my dad subsidises me out of his pension, it takes me 25 weeks to spend as much on food as Liam Byrne is claiming off the state in 1 week! I am severely disabled (I am typing this from my bed), need a home help every day,  a wheelchair user ,yet cannot get DLA. I actually work part time from my bed, at great pain, and it pays me about £1 an hour. I enjoy working actually, if it weren’t for the pain.  To be responsible I purposely have never had children as I would be unable to care for them. I wouldn’t normally want to tell people these things about myself but lately have been going public so that people can know what it’s REALLY like to live as a ‘scrounger’. I am prepared to work from my bed,  be responsible and life is hell. If it weren’t for my wonderful home help I could not continue.

  • Agente

    “After all, this is a government planning to drag cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy from their hospital beds to undergo assessments to see if they can work. It has sent letters to 700,000 terminally ill patients informing them that they may lose their benefits”

    Pay attention Owen, chap.
    1. Do your maths: is it likely that the UK presently has 700k terminally ill patients who also claim benefits? No – it isn’t – because as a nation we’d be b*ggered if there was.
    2. Read the link that you yourself cited.

    Unfortunately, this inability to do the basic stuff first has a habit of harming your credibility (and increasingly, that of the party that you support). I stopped reading. Pity. 

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  • AlanGiles

    I think it is worth revisiting Owen’s excellent article, with which I agree with every word, to highlight yesterdays missed opportunity by Ed to “do the right thing”: yet another example of thinking small (like the “made In Britain” labels) another own goal, another example of  insecurity and fear  which led to (once again) appeasing the clapped out big beasts of yesterday. In the end the “reshuffle” was about as inspiring as the parish council elections for the Lower Bogworthy North ward. 🙁

    *  Bob Efford (1928 –     )


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