Tuesday 20 June 2017

The Bedroom Tax: older than I thought!

I have to say that the Bedroom Tax is a bad thing - a bad, iniquitous, social engineering abomination of a thing - but also that it is misrepresented in many ways.

Firstly as being a LiberaTory coalition measure.  The phase of the bedroom tax being rolled out to all social housing tenants didn't happen til after the 2010 election, but even that had been announced back in 2008.

The earlier phase - which, like the one attracting faux outrage from Labour and their fellow travellers, was also a Labour initiative - was when it was rolled out in the private sector. As "Local Housing Allowance" it had a different branding and slightly different structure, but that's a factor of the different way that rent levels are negotiated in the private and social sector: Housing Association tenants can't haggle a couple of quid either way in their rent as it gets set at a given rate for a type of propert right across the whole of a given social landlord.

So I'd grant you that it was a "coalition measure", but a Co-Op/Labour coalition one, not a LiberaTory coalition policy.  Brown's majority was thin enough that it couldn't have happened without the Co-Operative Party lending Labour enough votes to get it into law: if you ever hear a Co-Operative MP rail against the bedroom tax, ask what they got in exchange for enabling it.

The cacophony of opposition to the 2010 phase compared to the silence in 2008 is notable. In part that is about how Labour's front organisations toe the party line, in part a reflection of how the social sector has as landlords funded organisations with staff and resources that can give a unified, co-ordinated voice, whereas hundreds of thousands of individual private tenants lack an equivalent. Our lackadaisical press leave awkward facts like this unmentioned.

But even before 2008 the first phase, perhaps we should call it phase zero, was the trialling of the basic idea.  That's from back when Gordon Brown was at the Treasury rather than in Number Ten, indeed it's even older than I thought it was. Some googling and I can trace it back to a remark from Malcolm Wicks, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, back on 19th December 2001, who explained in the House, "the under-occupation pilot encourages housing benefit recipients living in under-occupied social housing to move to smaller and cheaper accommodation in order to make more efficient use of housing stock".

That was about a successful pilot of the bedoom tax, so it must have started either just after the second 90s/00s Labour landslide or possibly even during the generally-not-that-bad 1997 government, which I tend to consider the second least bad government I've lived under. And just think: 2001, you could have had nine years of housebuilding to tackle the housing benefit bubble by 2010 if you'd wanted, and let supply and demand fix things.

Just when you think Labour are a bunch of Tories, they turn out to be a bunch of brazen spin-doctoring Tories instead.

The Election, For Liberals, In Brief

Journo: Hello, welcome to the programme. I'm Agatha Prejudiced, and with me in the studio first this morning I have the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron. Tim, thank you for coming on the programme.
Tim: Thanks for having me on, it's great to be here. (waves at camera) Hello mum! I told you I'd be on telly one day!
Journo: Now with this snap election being called
Tim: About Brexit
Journo: Yes, about Brexit, and with a crucial decision in front of the British people as to whether to stay, to go, or to do a conga along the English Channel, it's important people know what each and every one of their Liberal candidates up and down the country stand for.
Tim: Yes, and we want a second ref-
Journo: If I can just finish
Tim: -eren... sorry, go on.
Journo: And what they want to know is: is gay sex a sin?
Tim: Whu?
Journo: You believe in God, don't you. And Britain has never had a Liberal leader who believed in a deity before, apart from Gladstone and Lloyd George and ...well OK all of them apart from Clegg, but Clegg goes back to 2007 and no-one can remember the time before the crash so you're the first.
Tim: I... Sorry?
Journo: So why haven't you answered the question?
Tim: That I believe in God? Yes. Or do you mean about whether I can remember a time before 2007 because let me tell you, in 1984 Prefab Sprout released their first LP and I still remember that, I was straight down to Woollies after school...
Journo: No, that gay sex is a sin, because it is, isn't it?
Tim: Well, I've nothing against it, but I happen to be happily married to a woman so that's not really what I came on the programme to do. I thought we were going to talk about my plan for government? Which is to be in opposition, because we tried government and to be honest with you, it was a shitstorm.
Journo: For the eleventh time of asking, is gay sex a sin?
Tim: Yes. And no.
Journo: Bloody liberal.
Tim: Well, it's morality isn't it. I'm not in the running to be Pope, I mean the kind of stuff that was in Leviticus frankly it's up to individual people and their relationship with their god, if they have one, and thankfully we don't live in the kind of country where the church dictates that kind of thing to everyone - for all that some people would like it not to be that way
Journo: So it is a sin?
Tim: ....Oh, for my good mate Jesus's dad's sake. No. There. No. Happy?
Journo: And what about straight sex?
Tim: Eh... No, I think that's probably alright too. I'm a bit busy being leader of a political party to download any updates to the Bible onto my iPhone, but I'm pretty sure.
Journo: OK, but supposing it was a sin, does being married make the difference?
Tim: Well I suppose, if you thought... Can I just ask, have you read our manifesto? (waves small orange pamphlet) I was expecting I might get quizzed about that a bit and I've been boning up on the figures all night to avoid having a Natalie Bennett moment. Ask me about how many social houses you can build for a hundred million quid and what a police officer earns, go on.
Journo: (blinks, carries on regardless) So is that why you voted for same-sex marriage and against the spousal veto - so everyone had an equal chance of sinless sex if they happened to see the world that way?
Tim: Er. It could be a benefit, I suppose, I was just doing what seemed right. We would quite like proportional rep-
Journo: Aha! So what about people who deliberately buy a bed big enough for five people, and is the person who sells them the bed a sinner too for enabling that kind of filth? And what if one of the five people in question had just eaten lobster? Hmm?
Tim: (stares at ceiling for a moment) Oh I give in. Alright. This document here, this isn't our real manifesto. (takes Bible from pocket) This is the real Liberal manifesto. And it's been a bugger to edit, let me tell you, it's taken me two years staying up at bedtime with a highlighter pen and a black marker to cross through the bits that aren't policy now we've left the coalition and don't have to include the stuff Anne Widdecombe kept going on about.
"In the beginning was the word, and the word was" (flicks through pages looking for next uncensored bit) "Leaflets".
"There shall be"... "to choose a new leader for the Nation"... "Forty days and forty nights"...."of"...  "Leaflets".
"The LORD spoke to"....."Nick"...."saying, 30 pieces of silver".... "and the tribe shall wander in the wilderness for".... "three score years and ten".... And let me just add, although we have ruled out coalitions this time, in future we would be open to negotiating that three score and ten down to just ten.
"And".... "let them be healed".... "Gomorrah".... "did not bury the coins but invested wisely".... "Amen".
So there you go. Health, long term investment, different lifestyles, freedom of movement, all the big policy areas. And you know what, I know I said I'm not in the running to be Pope, but sod it, there's never been a Pope from Preston. I hereby quit as Liberal leader and am off to the Vatican to give that a go.
Journo: Tim Farron, thank you. Now next on the programme we are delighted to have the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has made some bold remarks this week about the housing crisis and the outrage of so many people being dependent upon foodbanks. Archbishop, good morning.
Bish: Hello.
Journo: Starting with the housing challenge. You say Britain needs more homes - probably around three million of them. How much would that cost and how many of them would be affordable properties for first-time buyers?
Bish: Oh bloody hell, my job is to pontificate on morals not plan a budget. (picks up abandoned Lib Dem manifesto)  Hang on, the answer's probably in here...

Questions Unasked

I'm fond of the principle of turning things around and considering the opposite claim. Take the number of times politicians regardless of stripe say "now is not the time for complacency". Perhaps I should pick one, wait for them to say it, and then message them every week thereafter asking, "is it the time for complacency yet?" It must be complacency's moment sooner or later, but if we are complacent about getting complacency its turn, it might never get its moment of not doing much in the spotlight because it didn't prepare.

Whatever happens in politics or elections, the party or ideology of the politician is always crucial to the moment. Whether the Liberals on one side, UKIP on the other, or the rainbow of assorted rosettes in between, however well or badly a cause has done at an election the politico will always tell you "our cause has never been more relevant or more important." Liberalism has never been more vital; the need to ensure a red white and blue Brexit has never been more pressing; the environmental challenge has never been so great; empowering business has never been so important to our nation's interests; the need for democratic reform has never been more pressing; the time for proper socialism is definitely upon us; and the NHS has never been in more peril, and the barbarian horde are at the door. It's never, ever, "well, no-one gives a monkeys about our ideology at the moment, and who can blame them as it seemed plausible in the 1950s but now it's plainly bobbins."

Similarly, I do love the questions that go unasked and what they tell you.

For instance, as I've observed elsewhere, the questioning of Tim Farron about his take on whether "gay sex" is a sin reveals the conscious or internalised homophobia of the journalists involved when there are other closely related questions that go unasked. Farron was never asked "and what about straight sex? OK, but supposing it was a sin, does being married make the difference and is that why you voted for same-sex marriage and against the spousal veto so everyone had an equal chance of sinless sex if they happened to see the world that way? What about people who deliberately buy a bed big enough for five people, and is the person who sells them the bed a sinner too for enabling that kind of fun filth? Well, what if one of the five people in question had just eaten lobster?" No, we never get that, just a question that tells us more about the journo than the answer does about the subject.

Which brings me to my motivation to write today, as we see the curse of the unasked question again in today's Sun (I know, but still) with a feature about a three-person relationship that seems to be blossoming and working well for all three and, well, not really to be news but they make for a good photo and that'll do.

Under the headline "triple threat: Married couple who added a girlfriend to their family say being in a threesome makes them BETTER parents" - yep, this is the kind of threat that doesn't seem to have anything threatening about it at all, just a 50% better chance of the kids being picked up from school - we find that "Parents-of-two Matthew, 31, and Michelle, 30, from Huntington Beach, California, met Courtney, 26" and they've all been going steady for a while. Michelle and Courtney have excellent hair: one does the pink and blue bits, the other purple, so if you put them together you kinda get a bi flag.

On the upside, it's a pretty positive poly story, though as you scroll through photos of the two women kissing it's also a reminder of how unlikely the same piece would be with more than one man in the thruple.

But it's a classic of the question unasked that reinforces a certain narrative about bisexual people. Courtney tells the paper, “It’s the best of both worlds. I love having a male and female partner and they both show love and affection in different ways.”

Now I'm sure she does and I'm sure they do. But maybe ask Matthew directly if he does too - I bet he finds some differences between Courtney and Michelle, and that they each show love and affection in different ways. But I guess asking that wouldn't fit a lazy "women are like this and men are like that" narrative, nor a tired "bisexuals need one of each to be happy". Sigh.

LEAKED That speech in full:

My Lords and members of the House of Commons.

My government will legislate in the interests of everyone in our country, but particularly those in Northern Ireland who choose to take their seats in the Chamber.

Legislation will be presented to extend the annual Eisteddfod to 340 days, so that the four Plaid Cymru members are busy there and can't turn up for any critical votes. This is definitely important to the people of Wales, and not just Theresa chancing it so that the only thing people remember from this speech is the Queen trying to pronounce Eisteddfod, which one did like a boss, because one is Brenhines.

My government will renegotiate the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union and international trade arrangements for the benefit of all. One will watch with great pleasure, and Philip will watch with popcorn.

Other measures will be laid before you if they look like they might get through. Don't hold your breath. One's ministers will try to spin that as being introducing family friendly hours.

My Lords and members of the House of Commons

I pray that the blessing of almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

Monday 12 June 2017

Drop the DUP? What happens then?

As the Tories are all set to hook up with the DUP somehow, Labour's social media is kicking into overdrive about stopping it.  Write to your MP!  Tweet!  Post images on Facebook!


What happens then?

Because we've just had a general election and to get all Brenda from Bristol about it, since 2014 we've had at least two major bouts of voting almost everywhere each year between Euros, Generals, Council elections and the blasted Referendum.

We may have a hung parliament but we have no appetite for another poll.  And if we get another in 2017 on current form it'll be a hung parliament once more.  No-one really wants either of the big parties but most people are voting for the Least Bad Monster.

So mid-Brexit, at a time where a government able to do something could not be more critical, what are Labour actually proposing?

Assuming, you know, they are not just aiming to throw the country to the wolves saying, I'm alright Jack, sod the poor, let it be a chaotic Brexit with no viable plan or international trade deals and all the problems like rioting and starvation that will bring.

Are they proposing to form a government?

Because like the Tories they will need to get to 323 votes and you can only do that by working with the DUP, or forming a Grand Coalition of Tory & Labour together.

So - Labour readers, all of you who have retweeted or shared that DropTheDUP thing... are you looking to form a government with the Tories or one with the DUP? Or is your personal position "I'm alright Jack, sod the poor, let it be a chaotic Brexit with no viable plan or international trade deals and all the problems like rioting and starvation that will bring."

To break the bisexual code here - you gotta pick one.