Political Promise

The Left’s scaremongering must be stopped

In Allie Wickham on March 22, 2011 at 10:42 am

The left, such as Labour MP Karen Buck, above, needs to calm its rhetoric over housing benefit reform, says Allie Wickham.

On the 8th January 2011, US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head by a gunman while hosting a meeting with constituents in Tucson, Arizona. The aftermath of the shooting focused on the volatile rhetoric used by politicians and the potential for inflammatory language to incite violence; Sarah Palin was criticised for using provocative imagery such as crosshairs targeting Democrat opponents. In Britain we claimed that this was a uniquely American problem and that, in spite of the adversarial nature of our politics, our politicians tend to show a great deal more responsibility. Yet the government’s housing benefit reforms have led to a series of violent diatribes from the left in recent months. In October last year Chris Bryant, a member of the Shadow Cabinet, told the House of Commons that the proposals amounted to the poor being ‘socially engineered and sociologically cleansed out of London’. That same month, the Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee wrote that ‘at last the Tories have a final solution for the poor – send them to distant dumping grounds where there are no jobs’. Finally just last week Karen Buck, the Shadow Work and Pensions minister and Labour frontbencher, outrageously argued that the cuts to housing benefit were designed to force ‘black women, ethnic minority women and Muslim women’ out of central London. These three examples represent a worryingly increasing trend in left-wing circles to use completely inappropriate rhetoric when debating housing benefit reform.

The government’s proposals to limit the amount of money that recipients of housing benefit can claim are controversial and certainly worthy of scrutiny and debate. A cap of £400 a week will be placed on four-bedroom houses, while those on jobseeker’s allowance for more than a year will face a 10% cut in the money they receive. This policy unsurprisingly has its detractors; it has been alleged that up to 82,000 people will lose their homes as a result of having their housing benefit capped. Those living in London will suffer greater due to higher property prices in the capital. Yet the Prime Minister insists this is fair, as no longer will unemployed benefit claimants be able to live in properties that low-paid workers could only dream of. Moreover the housing benefit bill inherited from the previous government had reached an incredible £20 billion a year; while most departments have faced 20% cuts, this reduction equates to a mere 10%. Whether you agree with the government that these reforms are necessary and fair, or with the opposition that they will uproot thousands of disadvantaged people, there is no reason why it should not be possible to have a calm and rational debate on the issue.

And yet both Labour Party politicians and left-wing journalists have resorted to a new low of political mud-slinging. When Nick Clegg rightly admonished Mr. Bryant’s words as deeply offensive to victims of ethnic cleansing across the world, the honourable member for Rhondda shamefully countered from across the dispatch box: ‘that’s what you’re doing’. Ms. Toynbee was forced to apologise for the thoroughly distasteful metaphor she used in her article. When contacted by Political Promise, she dismissed her choice of the phrase ‘final solution’ as a ‘thoughtless slip of the pen’, yet the continuing theme of ‘distant dumping grounds’ and the clear comparison with the Holocaust implies that she knew exactly what she was saying. Meanwhile Baroness Warsi, a Conservative minister without portfolio, was correct to reproach Ms. Buck for her comments and say that using ‘race, religion and class for political point-scoring is deeply offensive and irresponsible’. Ms. Buck’s apology was as contrived and unbelievable as anything you are ever likely to hear. How Mr. Bryant, Ms. Toynbee and Ms. Buck remain in their jobs after their frankly despicable remarks beggars belief. There is a debate to be had on housing benefit reform. The left needs to get its rhetoric in order if that is to happen.

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  1. A catchphrase David Cameron has habitually utilised in recent weeks, is the indictment that Ed Miliband’s Labour Party are blindly ‘jumping on every band-wagon’ available. However, it would appear pertinent after reading the above quotes that members of the Labour party are not passive passengers, but are peddling the proverbial band-wagon whilst making it dangerous with mindlessly abhorrent rhetoric and analogies. This is natural for the press where absence of sensationalism is impossible for even the centrally grounded papers.

    Whilst conceding that political correctness can be a fault-finding and finicky notion, our political class and media are the mouth pieces of the values of our society in a representative democracy. Even in the 21st century sound bite or ‘Twitter’ culture, sensitivity when choosing words should never be subjugated to political point scoring. Especially, when the emotive language used is likely to induce tension, rouse the militancy inside our populous and ultimately civil disobedience. British politics is essentially adversarial due to our deep attachment to class division; it is one of its principle hallmarks. Both the left and right in Britain, holistically, are not as zealous in their doctrines as most deep-seated rural republicans. Nonetheless, ‘scaremongering’ is not conducive to these carelessly perilous and insulting uses of emotive rhetoric.

    Contrary to the article, inappropriate rhetoric has not been confined to the debate on housing benefit reform. Neither is it confined to the Left’s hostility to what they perceive as Thatcherism. One only has to recall Tory peer, Howard Flight’s disdainful comment that the coalition’s child benefit cuts would, “give those on welfare an incentive to breed.” Moreover, the sponge of amnesia momentarily wiped the sensitivity across the usually steady-worded veteran of British politics, Jack Straw, when claiming some British Pakistani men regard white girls as ‘easy meat.’ Both are synonymously reckless as those of Polly Toynbee, Karen Buck and Chris Bryant. Buck’s and Straw’s are particularly reckless as they synthesise a current issue to that of pockets of Britain’s ethnic minority population. A perilous cocktail, especially as both comprehend the potentially serious ramifications of their words.

    Specifically to the legislation in question, the imperative point is that it is a proposal, not a foregone conclusion by any means. New Labour attempted to remove the elusive and unmerited ‘poverty trap’ to limited avail for most of their tenure. Tax credits were an administrative calamity and their efforts to make work pay apart from the emblematic minimum wage proved rather futile. Whether or not this legislation is perfect, mediocre to the core or bin-worthy is irrelevant. Few legislation proposals are ever exempt from criticism and rightly so. The consensual political arenas of for instance, the Netherlands (as tedious as their protracted committee system may be) appear more adept in applying constructive criticism which ultimately fosters good legislation. It is the manner in which the Left are conducting themselves that has and will cause disquiet in British society or perhaps worse. For one, overly emotive language and words used to link current government proposals to human atrocities which our world still bears the emotional and physical scarring is grotesque. Secondly and more specifically to Labour, pick more precisely the government legislation which your party disagrees with. The nation are not yet apathetic enough to believe that every public spending cut is based upon an ideological throwback from the 80’s. The band-wagon as it stands is an uncontrolled, irresponsible body which lacks specificity and could potentially be detrimental to Britain.

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