The late Michael Foot once described Tory war horse Norman Tebbit as a “semi house-trained polecat”. This uncharacteristic vitriol was provoked by the former MP for Chingford accusing Foot of being, of all things, a “fascist”. Nothing provokes an old Fabian more that than the illiberal use of the f-word to besmirch their socialist credentials.
During the widespread and serious civil unrest that marked the first Thatcher parliament, Tebbit became Secretary of State for Employment and famously told the growing number of jobless who were chucking bricks at the Old Bill that his unemployed father did not riot but got on his bike and looked for work. Under his son`s stewardship, unemployment increased to levels not seen since the 1930`s when dear old dad was peddling around the lanes of Enfield.
It might be something about Chingford, but the chap who replaced Tebbit as the sitting MP, mild-mannered Iain Duncan Smith, has come up with some ideas worthy of an Essex rottweiler looking for a bicycle to urinate against or a head to bite off.
Back in June during the earliest days of the coalition government, the caring face of Conservatism suggested forcing unemployed council or housing association tenants out of their homes if they did not find work. IDS is clearly an expert on workforce mobility. When appointed as Tory leader he employed his wife “Betsy”, daughter of the 5th Baron Cottesloe, at tax payers expense, to manage his diary. Mrs IDS, however, stayed home to manage the kids and Iain was dumped as Tory leader in a vote of no confidence.
The heir to Tebbit now has a new job as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The word “Employment” has been tactfully dropped from the job title as it is clearly a misnomer. He has, however, given us the benefit of his wisdom on the need for a less “static” workforce and the delights of public transport particularly in the charming town of Merthyr Tydfil. He complained to Newsnight that the good people of Merthyr “didn’t know if they got on the bus an hour’s journey they’d be in Cardiff and they could look for the job there”. Now that is progress we can all be proud of even if the grammar is suspect. The undeserving poor can now enjoy the bus rather than sitting on the cross bar of Tebbit Senior’s bike.
Sadly, there is a snag for the work shy Tydfilians. The Spending Revue has cut the subsidies paid to bus operators by 20 per cent which means fewer or no buses rolling down the valley into the promised land on the banks of the glistening Taff. The more adventurous job-seeker could try nearby Newport but unfortunately the government intends to close the passport office there with a loss of 250 jobs. There is work available in Somalia or Myanmar or Afghanistan but the men and women of Harlech had better get a move on if their passports are up for renewal.
It would not be “fair” to dwell on the fate that befell coal mines under a previous Conservative government or the earlier civil unrest and disorder known as the Merthyr Uprising. In 1831, locals rioted as a protest against pay cuts, job losses and the unfair collection of debt. It was the first time in British history that protesters marched under a red flag. With Iain repeating Norman and the likely return of feudal serfdom, perhaps history has more doppelgänger waiting to emerge. According to George Santayana:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
So, Norman Tebbit was correct all along and it is time for all of us to take the penny-farthing out of the bike shed. Or maybe not. Cycling England, a body that promotes the green and healthy transport option, has just been axed because it was such a wasteful quango. Whig Lord Melbourne, who approved the execution and “transportation” of Merthyr trouble-makers in 1831, would be proud.