This image is a snapshot of an alphabetical list from Hansard, of MPs who voted against the Tory Welfare Bill last night.
You’ll note that South Tyneside’s two Labour MPs, Stephen Hepburn and Emma Lewell-Buck are missing. That’s right, along with most other Labour Party MPs they failed to vote against a bill that the Tories will use to further hobble the welfare state and make the lives of people on low incomes in South Tyneside worse.
You would think MPs were there to vote in the interests of their constituents, but not these two. They voted for party before principle.
After the vote SNP MP Peter Wishart asked the speaker of the house if Labour could be moved to the back benches as they no longer represent an opposition to the Tories. He’s got a point; in the last year or so Labour has consistently voted in support of Tory economic policy.
If I was a Labour Party member in South Tyneside, today I would be asking myself some very serious questions. Is Labour fit for purpose? Does it still represent my values? Why did I waste my time canvassing for two losers who can’t vote to protect fundamental Labour principles?
Fast food companies learned a long time ago that if you want to hook customers when they’re young, give them toys. Kids love them, and they’ll want to go back for more. Not long and they’ll be going not for the toy but for the food. It’s how they build their brand awareness.
So it’s no surprise that religious organisations use the same technique. Organisations like the evangelical church Samaritan’s Purse, which runs the Operation Christmas Child shoebox appeal every year. They give some poor kids in an awful place some toys, and expose them to their brand. Religion.
But where the fast food companies only want to sell food, Samaritan’s Purse want to sell everlasting torment, unless the child accepts that Jesus died for their sins 1 thousands of years before they were even born.
Here in South Tyneside though, instead of protecting children from some deeply disturbing ideology, people like Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn and mayor Fay Cunningham positively celebrate proselytising to children using toys. Toys in boxes often gifted by other children. Maybe they’ve fallen for the attractive concept of putting a smile on the faces of unhappy children. But it’s the idea that goes with the smile that should be worrying.
Sin. A made up condition for which they sell the made up cure.
So here are South Tyneside’s politicians, smiling for the camera, celebrating gifting shoeboxes with toys, guilt and sin.
Watch the video. It’s sickening.
Three weeks after voting in support of the Coalition government’s ‘annual welfare cap’, South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck rails at the government’s poor performance in administering the Personal Independence Payment, or PIP for short. Our MP raised in Parliament the plight of constituent Sue Martin, who has myalgic encephalomyelitis and has been waiting since July last year to find out if she qualifies for support through PIP to help with her illness. In most scenarios, I would say job well done to our MP.
Sadly, Ms Martin is not alone in struggling with PIP and Disability Living Allowance claims, and will likely be joined in future by many other people struck by debilitating illness, frustrated with an inhumane bureaucratic system and a capped welfare budget pot. This capped welfare budget will mean that different departments within the welfare system will compete with each other for a share of the budget. If one welfare function is over budget, then funds can be taken from one department to top up the other department’s failing budget. It doesn’t sound so bad, until you realise that people’s lives will depend on the political whims of ministers courting media attention and the competing interests of internal party political warfare.
Despite Emma Lewell-Buck’s plea over over PIP and her criticism of the government for ‘letting people down’, she voted for the very bill that could make life worse for people like Sue Martin, and other people who are unfortunate enough to need the safety net of the welfare system.
“I’m going to be a different sort of MP“, she said. When she was campaigning to replace David Miliband as South Shields’ MP, she played on the fact that she was local born and bred, with a deep Tyneside family history, and a social worker who knew the needs of and the difficulties facing the people of South Shields.
After safely winning the South Shields seat, Emma Lewell-Buck pluckily threw down the gauntlet to David Cameron, saying that he might need a lifeboat “after sailing HMS Coalition straight into the rocks, aided by his captain, George Osborne, and his cabin boy, Nick Clegg”. Well, our South Shields MP has joined the crew of the not-so-good ship HMS Coalition. Today, she voted with the Labour whip in support of the Coalition’s Charter for Budget Responsibility, otherwise known as the ‘annual welfare cap’, a cap on the overall level of spending in the welfare budget, excepting pensions and some jobseekers benefits.
It’s a nasty piece of legislation, another broadside in the Coalition’s dirty media war against those in receipt of benefits, and it seems, a war in which Labour wants to see some frontline action. Unfortunately, Labour chose not to fight against the Coalition, but instead chose the easy target in a hunt for the middle England vote – against those in our society who are most in need, the poor and the unwell. If Labour MPs wanted to distance themselves from the values of the creators of the NHS and the welfare state, they couldn’t have picked a more treacherous flag to run up their mast.
So is ensign Lewell-Buck a ‘different sort of MP’ for South Shields? What better benchmark could we find than the late Tony Benn, whom she claimed for her was “an inspiring figure… because of his absolute dedication to his principles and his belief in the rights of working people.” I find it difficult to believe that Tony Benn would ever vote for such a divisive policy, which in this time of savage austerity further victimises the poorest and most unfortunate in society, whilst the rich get richer. If Lewell-Buck is a ‘different sort of MP’, it’s one that’s hugely different from Tony Benn, but remarkably similar to South Shields’ previous parliamentary disappointments, David Clark and David Miliband.
South Shields could as well have voted a Tory in, for all the difference it would have made.
Political Scrapbook has posted an article on how South Tyneside Council has dragged its bureaucratic feet over a Freedom of Information request for its councillors’ statutory register of interests. Over a year passed and the best that the Council could offer was a ‘come down to the office and have a look’.
If I was being generous, I could dismiss it on the basis that South Tyneside Council has not yet reached the latter years of the 20th century yet and hadn’t heard of the internet. Or email. Or fax. However, that’s difficult to swallow given that the leader of the council’s day job is in PR, and the Council even has a ‘Sandhaven Beach’ smartphone app.
If, on the other hand, I was being cynical, I could suspect that the Council was being intentionally obstructive and making it as difficult as possible for people to access information about our councillors – information that should be easily available.
So, does South Tyneside lack a vision of what an open 21st century government might look like? Is it’s web strategy piss-poor? Is it incompetent? Or is there a pathetic and parochial local government culture of hiding dirty secrets?
That South Tyneside Council has had no problem spending our council tax money looking to unmask Mr Monkey, but won’t make information easily available makes me wonder where our councillors’ priorities really lie.
Until South Tyneside Council fesses up and opens up, the question Political Scrapbook’s raises, “What on earth are South Tyneside Council trying to hide” will hang around like a bad stench.
Now I wonder, will this story grace the pages of the Shields Gazette?
Hat-tip for this to the excellent Jacqui Thompson at the Carmarthen Planning blog. You can follow her on Twitter: @caebrwyn
In the local paper, two crimes. In one crime, a man was caught drink-driving for the fourth time in ten years. The other, a sixty-four year-old man with no previous convictions caught growing cannabis. The convictions are very different. The drink driver, who has a history of putting his own and other people’s lives at risk whilst in control of a deadly weapon, gets a four-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and a four year driving ban. The cannabis farmer is jailed for twenty months.
This is what passes for justice in the UK, applied through a blurry lens of morality which our society should have already outgrown. I can’t see a rational argument for putting sixty-four year-old William Smith, who has hurt no-one, behind bars. Yes he broke the law. He supplied cannabis for profit. But what risk did this man pose to society? Judge Jeremy Freedman said to Smith:
“You know very well cannabis, albeit a Class B drug, causes much harm and misery within the community and that is why it is prohibited.”
Ill informed nonsense. The scientific evidence that cannabis is less harmful than cigarettes and alcohol is clear cut. That’s not to mean that there are no dangers, there is certainly evidence of health problems related to cannabis use, but much of any ‘harm and misery within the community’ will be down to the criminal supply chain because cannabis is illegal. This ‘harm and misery’ though, pales into insignificance against the huge cost to society through alcohol related illnesses and crime. The biggest harm from cannabis use? I’m guessing that it’s otherwise harmless and law-abiding people becoming criminalised and brutalised by an out-dated legal system and black-hatted judges.
Judge Jeremy Freedman didn’t provide a judgement, it was a moralising sermon.
A recasting of UK drugs law to reduce the harm of drug use is long overdue, despite prompting from successive government science advisors, but whilst there are politicians desperate to look tough on drugs and judges like Jeremy Freedman passing moralising punitive judgements, it’s difficult to have a sensible grown up discussion about a rational drugs policy.
On a side note, Smith’s capture was another in a long line of cannabis arrests featured in the Gazette due to nasally skilled police officers sniffing out cannabis with their super sensitive schnozzles:
“Officers attended the address because of the strong smell of cannabis actually coming from the address.”
Yeah, right. They would make mint hunting truffles.