The Dissenter's Voice

The ocassional comments, opinions, rambling and rants of a liberal dissenter in New Labour's Britain

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Why Polly Toynbee hasn't got the answer

Interesting noises are eminating from the Rainbow Tories. Apparently the Cameroonies want to abandon Churchill policy & embrace Polly Toynbee instead.

The idea maybe of anyone wanting to embrace Toynbee, seems a little odd for me but for Tories it is even more bizarre. What Greg Clark, the moderate MP for Tunbridge Wells actually said was that the Tories should drop Churchull's attitude to social issues in favour of Toynbee's, in particular they should join the C20th and recognise the existence of relative as well as absolute poverty. This is welcome of course but has the rest of us have been living in the C21st for some years it is a little belated.

You see Toynbee's few is outdated as well, she is one of the most articulate advocates of the New Labour creed that work is the passport oout of poverty. This might seem like common sense to most people but then most people don't earn the minimum wage. For the vast majority of 'the poor' the range of jobs open to them do not include those that would allow them to escape poverty whether it is absolute or relative. Working as an unskilled labourer, in a fast food outlet or as a cleaner is not going to solve your financial problems. Indeed it may even worsen them as your benefits are withdrawn or you get tangled in the web of working tax credits.

No the answer to poverty is not more people working long hours in low paid, low skilled jobs.

Poverty is engrained & generational, by and large it is determined not by personal ability but accident of birth. The children of the poor end up poor the children of the middle class, middle class. Breaking that cycle requires a fundamental re-appraisal of our welfare system.

The current welfare system isn't designed to end poverty, just to make it more tolerable. It was designed for an age of full male employment, when the bulk of the work force had jobs for life & the unlucky few who were unemployed could expect to find a job in weeks or months. It was designed to bridge short term gaps to pull people out of economic deprivation - thats why benefits are itched at such ridiculously low levels.

Now working patterns are different, for most people will change jobs many times in their life, and more and more people are left out in the cold by the inadequcies of an antiquated system As Tory & Labour governments have tried to cut welfare bills by holding down benefit levels & trying to force people into the rough end of the labour market so the figures for long term illness have shot up with people trying to find an alternative to burger flipping.

That alternative must come through the transfer of wealth, capital ownership into the hands of the poorest people in society. It's only when you have enough money to put down a deposit on a house, start a business, go to university, or take out a pension that you start to become truly free. Neither minimum wage jobs or subsistence welfare is going to provide that.

It's time to turn our welfare system up side down. Instead of paying people a weekly pittance to stay poor the state should give every newborn a substantial grant that can be invested long term to make the capital purchases that will really make the difference to long-term economic opportunity.

What if every children born in the UK, were given a real baby bond of say £10,000 available from the age of 18 to be spent on major capital outlays? Just think how it would transform their lives. How many people for the first time would have real choices about their future in the world?

Yes, I know what you're thinking - a nice idea this is fantasy politics, think of the cost! Well, there are roughly 500,000 babies born in the UK every year, a £10k baby bond would also cost £5 billion ayear, a collosal amount yes, but much less than the £8 billion a year we already spend on child benefit.

If we really had the will to end poverty we could do it, there are ways & means of doing so, and lord knows I for one would rather given every new born child a fat bank account than pay for the bureacracy of tax credits & New Deal and the whole panoply of the modern welfare state.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Why I'm glad Nick Griffin was acquitted

here's a piece that I wrote for lib Dem Voice last week. Thought it was worth reprinting given the authoritarian humbug that we've had from Gordon Brown on the subject.

"Nick Griffin, the Leader of the BNP, was acquitted yesterday of charges of inciting racial hatred. In 2004 Griffin made a speech to BNP activists in which he described Islam as a “wicked, vicious faith” and said that Muslims were turning Britain into a “multi-racial hell hole”.

Griffin is a racist, he espouses an ugly creed based on fear and ignorance, almost every word he says is offensive. But being offensive shouldn’t be enough to land you in jail.

Yesterday, Mizanur Rahman, a young radical Islamist was jailed for his part in the protest earlier this year over the Danish newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Rahman waved banners and chanted into a megaphone shouting “Annihilate those who insult Islam” and “Behead those who insult Islam.”

Although he apologises now, Rahman’s remarks were full of hate, they were grotesque, offensive and shocking. But being shocking shouldn’t be enough to get you convicted.

I’m a black gay man and much of the anti-hatred legislation that Griffin and Rahman were prosecuted under was designed to protect people like me. But freedom is a delicate thing, and I believe that our current raft of hate crime laws in danger of undermining the very freedom they aim to protect.

These laws are meant to stop people inciting others to acts of hatred, but how can you do that? Where do you draw the line? Hatred, however repugnant is a legitimate view. You might deplore it but you cannot abolish it by Act of Parliament.

Certainly the law can and should criminalise the planning and instruction of acts of violence, but is describing Islam as ‘wicked and vicious’ or saying that those who insult it should be ‘annihilated’ really the same thing?

I believe that there is a right to be offensive, to say things that scandalize and outrage opinion. Far more important though is the right to be offended. I would rather hear things that hurt me than be stopped from hearing them for my own good.

Being hateful is wrong but I don’t want to live in a society where it is illegal."