Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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We are being cheated about benefit cheats

Clamping down of benefit cheats, those who fraudulently claim government benefits, has been a oft-repeated mantra of the political right in Britain. By ‘right’, I include the neoliberal New Labour project. Much of the mainstream media, not just the usual hard-right press, have merrily chimed in without needing too much encouragement. The usual news item focuses on some benefit claimant who is holidaying on a luxury yacht, or some other eye-catching headline. This follows the usual methodology of the populist right, use an individual story, even hearsay, to illustrate your point.

There have been various government strategies to encourage us to ‘shop the scroungers’, and now the ConDem government will be entrusting the credit-rating agency Experian with tracking down benefit cheats — all performance and profit led.

However, David Osler has posted on the statistics show that benefit fraud amounts to less than 1% of all benefit payments. So, the greater fraud is that perpetrated by politicians and journalists who have vastly exaggerated the problem. In absolute terms, that 1% translates into £1 billion, but even then, as Dave points out, the bank bailout was £850 billion.

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A budget both unnecessary and vicious

The Liberal Democrats are doing most of the talking on this week’s budget, in an apparent attempt to convince themselves about it. My MP, Vince Cable, has been writing in the local rag about how we all knew that a tough budget was needed, that it will hurt, but is totally necessary. It is clear from various media vox pops that a number of people are being taken in by this ‘tough but fair’ line.

The only thing that is obvious is that there is a deficit in government finances. The threat that is wafted before us is that of Greece, but the UK’s credit rating is in a far better state than that of Greece. And the assumption is that the markets trump all other needs in our society. This is a deeply offensive attitude towards the people of this country, and demonstrates the hateful ideology behind this budget.

Vince Cable has been all over the TV trying to drum up support for this budget. However, when all its viciousness against families, disabled people, those on housing benefit and anyone who buys anything is listed, he defended the budget by pointing out the positives: all for business. So, the Con Dems are not only putting markets before people, but also business before people. They may retort that helping business creates jobs, and reduces unemployment, and thus is better for the general population. However, we have plenty of evidence that helping business mostly benefits upper management, and there is no ‘trickle down’.

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Getting Labour back to work

2010 Labour leadershipWednesday 9 June is the closing date for nominations for the Labour leadership. In the meantime, Harriet Harman has been doing a not-too-bad job as acting leader. Just like MLeadership 2010argaret Beckett before her, Harman’s stint in charge is merely a caretaking role, and the best a woman has ever got in the Labour Party.

Of the six candidates up for nomination, we have only one woman, and Diane Abbott is currently in last position with only eleven nominations (including Harriet Harman and Jon Cruddas). She is also the only black candidate: an unenviable intersectionality in the patriarchal den that still goes for parliament in this country.

The Labour Party faces the challenge of mounting a strong opposition to the Con Dem government and taking the lead when the public outcry against savage spending cuts comes. The Con Dems, however, can return these with interest using one simple play: it’s all New Labour’s fault. Of course, New Labour cannot be wholly blamed for our country’s financial situation, but The Current Bun and The Daily Hate don’t bother with those niceties. If Labour try to mount an opposition, the Con Dems will decry the record of the New Labour government. If Labour try to spearhead the campaign against cuts, the Con Dems merely have to suggest that the last government made such cuts neccessary.

As with the dying days of John Major’s government, Gordon Brown’s premiership was inhabited by ghosts: politicians lacking purpose or principle. It was only in the last few days of the general-election campaign that Cabinet ministers started to rediscover that they had some principles: like pearls, discovered after a very lengthy bothering over intense iritations.

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Berkeley sit-in

California is in a bad way, after years of no one wanting to take responsibility for the state’s budget. The University of California has responded to it budgetary problems by raising undergrad fees by 32% and sacking anyone who’s easy to get rid of. At UC Berkeley students staged a sit in protest supported by many staff and students outside. They all had legitimate concerns that education was being trashed because of the incompetence of others (blame who you like for the situation, but universities are not to blame). The sit-in was ended by police in riot gear: no discussion.

They call it a victory. Unfortunately, it’s not. I hope it’s the start of concerted resistance against those who wish to make others suffer for their financial incompetence. However, this is how you resist this stuff. I’m sorry to say that we may be seeing more people taking this kind of defensive protest against savage cuts.


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When cuts happen to churches

The leadership of all three major parties say that cuts are needed. New Labour promises ‘necessary’ cuts, the LibDems ‘savage’ cuts and the Tories are planning to rip public spending to shreds. Many of us point out that cutting public spending will hit the most vulnerable the hardest, and point out that priority changes and long-term, interest-bearing investment should be fully considered before cuts (even instead of cuts).

So, you might expect a Church of England diocese to place pastoral and mission concerns at the forefront of its priorities on a tight budget. However, the Diocese of Winchester, under the leadership of outspoken homophobe Bishop Michael Scott-Joynt, has just passed some particularly savage cuts. Continue reading