It's been a bit of a rough start for our new coalition government as far as its personnel is concerned and it didn't look to be getting any better at the weekend. Firstly, Tory leader David Cameron was handed a personal kick in the teeth when Sir Anthony Bamford, the chairman of the JCB construction equipment firm and Mr Cameron's personal nomination for elevation to the House of Lords, was blocked from becoming a peer because of apparent concerns on his tax affairs. Sir Anthony had his nomination rejected by the House of Lords Appointments Commission when the tax authorities declined to support it, although neither they nor anyone else has made any suggestions of improper conduct. He had been a generous backer for the Tories, with his firm contributing to the tune of a cool £1.5 million and the knight himself coughing up £86,000. So no seat in the Lords for him, then. And it left the Tories even shorter in the upper house when Lord Laidlaw, another of the Tories' big backers, who has contributed more than £3 million to the party's coffers, forfeited his seat in the Lords because he was unwilling to lose his non-dom status and face the resulting tax bills. The noble tax exile apparently promised to become resident in Britain when he took the title in 2004, but has never honoured that pledge. Mind you, it's not surprising, because he's worth £700 million and would face a £50 million tax bill if he had. And, of course, we're still waiting with bated breath to see if Tory donor Lord Ashcroft follows suit or if he values his Lords seat enough to come back and cough up.
But it's not just the nobility or would-be nobility that is giving the coalition problems at the moment. The new austerity seems not to have sunk in with the new ministers in the Commons and that's left egg on a few faces. Defence Minister Andrew Robathan raised more than a few eyebrows when, instead of following the new ministerial guidelines about using public transport wherever possible, he took a chauffeur-driven government car across the Channel to attend the veterans' anniversary assembly in Dunkirk - a means of transport that he described as "appropriate and inexpensive." 'Nuff said. And now, as if all that wasn't sufficient, Treasury Chief Secretary David Laws has had to resign after it was revealed that he had paid £40,000 of public money claimed as expenses to his partner James Lundie for renting rooms in Mr Lundie's home, in clear breach of the Commons rules on expenses. The expressions of support for him have been effusive, from both Tory and Lib Dem sources, but he has admitted his guilt and is repaying the claimed cash. That won't give him many sleepless nights, of course, since he is, like so many others in this government, a millionaire in his own right. But it really can only be in this coalition that you can cheat the taxpayer out of £40,000 and be described by the Prime Minister as a "good and honourable man." Mr Cameron was joined by Business Secretary Vince Cable in his appraisal of Mr Laws, saying that "it is a big loss, but he has done the right thing." The right thing? Ripping off £40,000 of our money and only owning up to it when exposed by the press? And to cap it all, Iain Duncan Smith says that he "has the talent to come back." Words fail.
So, when you next hear that we're all in it together, that a new age of austerity has dawned and because of it your wages are cut or your job vanishes, bear in mind that the "all" who are in it together excludes Tory donors, tax-dodging multimillionaires, filthy rich "sex addicts," coalition ministers and all the rest of the rag-tag bunch of money-hungry parasites grouped around this disreputable coalition of profiteers and big business stooges. We're not all in it together. They are in power and in the money. We're in trouble and being squeezed until the pips squeak. It's a great world in Cameron's coalition. Once again, this government has announced new policies - and, once again, they have proven to be just old Tory policies dragged out of storage, dusted down and prepared for use yet again, a couple of decades later than their last airing. This time it's unemployment and the benefits system that comes under the coalition's scrutiny and, appropriately, it's a recycled Tory laying out the recycled policies. But, since Iain Duncan Smith, yet another unsuccessful Tory leader who has popped up in this Cabinet of all the failures, has spent the last few years developing policies to deal with worklessness and welfare benefits, you might have hoped that he would have come up with something new. No such luck, unfortunately, it's just the same old Tory whinges about benefit scroungers and the same old attacks on the least well off in our society. On he spouts about people becoming "parked" on incapacity benefit, whose 2.5 million recipients face a status review in the coming months designed to force them off benefits and back into work. Just what work he means isn't made clear. The 2.5 million people already fruitlessly searching for non-existent jobs are soon to be joined by as many others as the Tories can bully off incapacity benefits, presumably to take the millions of jobs that they have accidentally overlooked in the meantime.
And that's without counting the tens of thousands of civil servants and local authority staff who are destined to join them on the dole queues once the coalition gets into the swing of cutting the services that the unemployed and benefit recipients rely on for survival. It's all so old hat, really. It's the Tories falling back on the same mantra of beating up those least able to defend themselves that they have always employed.There is nothing new about it and nothing of real substance, either. And this supposed concern for those trapped on benefit it doesn't sit terribly well with the announcement in the recent Queen's Speech that the coalition is to scrap the regional development agencies. Not much help there in solving something that is a heavily regionalised problem and one, incidentally which dates back to the last time the Tories held office, when they decimated whole communities in their attacks on the coal and steel industries. Mr Duncan Smith makes great play of the fact that 1.4 million people in Britain have been on an out-of-work benefit for nine or more of the last 10 years and that income inequality in the UK is now at its highest level since comparable statistics began in 1961. But he gives little hope that any government in which he participates will do anything to improve matters. He highlights that people are better off claiming dole rather than in a job paying £15,000 a year or less.
But, unfortunately for all concerned, the problem is seen by Mr Duncan Smith and his Cabinet allies as benefits being too high and easily available, rather than wages being so bloody low that bare subsistence benefits can overtake them. "One of the biggest problems is that, for too many people, work simply does not pay," says the Tory gentleman. So make it pay, Mr Duncan Smith. Force your mates in the boardrooms to forgo a few billion out of their bonuses and jack up the minimum wage to a decent level. That will do a bit to solve income equality and it will give you clear blue water between wages and benefits. It will also inject some much-needed spending power into the economy and boost demand. But, for God's sake, don't fall back on battering the claimants again. Haven't you learned anything in 13 years out of power? Then again, you're a Tory, so perhaps you haven't. It is to be hoped, however, that your Lib Dems allies are getting a feel of just what they've allied with.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.