When The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939, John Steinbeck’s masterpiece detailing the plight of the poor was immediately banned. The bigoted and the ignorant, faced with some uncomfortable truth, organised themselves and ceremonially burned the book. Thank goodness those days are long gone.
Even before the coalition government’s wretched Welfare Reform Bill was presented to the House of Lords for scrutiny, heavy weight cabinet ministers trolled into TV and radio studios and blustered that whatever the other place decided, their vindictive bill would carry on regardless when it returned to the Commons. The legitimacy of the House of Lords is, of course, questionable, but when a political party that does not have a majority in the Commons dismisses the last mechanism of accountability, a little bit of democracy dies.
The coalition government has suffered a series of defeats in the Lords but has managed to abolish the social fund, a safety net for those about to starve to death, the denial of support for children with severe disabilities and the eviction of poor people from their homes who do not seem to understand their place in the social order. Millionaire cabinet ministers call this “caring conservatism” as they tuck into a lunch, at tax payers expense, that costs more than a family of four on state benefits receive in a week.
The third and final reading of the bill in the Lords takes place on the last day of January. The coalition government have scheduled that the bill will return to the Commons on the first day of February to be passed into law regardless. Not content with ignoring the Lords and positively tumescent that an opinion poll conducted by the right wing press shows that support for bashing benefit scroungers is a vote winner, our government will save peanuts by continuing to order the chateaubriand, caviare, foie gras and Bollinger. Disability Living Allowance fraud, according to the government’s own figures, is 0.5 per cent. That has resulted in 199 disabled people being taunted as scrounging criminals because of a single fraudster who knows how to play the system. It’s a bit like saying that all multi-national companies and banks avoid paying taxes because a single company is taken out to lunch by Her Majesties Revenue and Customs. Stephen Hester enjoys a lot a lunches.
When an opinion poll empowers a government to harm its people, in sharp contrast to “reforms” to the NHS which everyone but cabinet ministers oppose, you might suspect that a nation is becoming out of control.
The propaganda war has been won and retired Archbishops, hacks who think disability is imagined and every bigoted and ignorant idiot who thinks that needy people are inferior are having a field day in peddling their hatred. For good measure, the Tory coalition announced 40 new Tory peers to avoid any embarrassment in the Lords in future. Another little bit of democracy has died.
Even as the government suffered defeat in the Lords, David Cameron gave a speech telling the European Court of Human Rights to stop “interfering” with his plan to take away the freedoms of his own citizens. Robust legislation protecting health and safety, the rights of trade unions and the duty of care for people with terminal illness will be chucked on the bonfire of bigoted and ignorant dogma. A little bit of democracy has died.
The coalition government are rushing through the imposition of elected mayors and police commissioners. In May, some of our major cities will undertake a referendum to ask if they want a single dictator to rule them and in November another single dictator to govern policing. The current system of local government and police accountability might be flawed, but who wants Ant and Dec running a community? A little bit of democracy has died.
The government, who were not fully elected, once blamed Gordon Brown for the deficit and all the ills of the world. Now they blame disabled people, the poor, Europe, warm weather, cold weather, aliens, bloggers and the man in the moon for the fact that the economy is shrinking and the deficit has actually increased in the nearly two years they have been in power. It seems the only option now is to print more money. Does that sound familiar? Those fortunate enough to be employed will need wheelbarrows to carry their increasingly worthless wages home and are being encouraged to despise the nearest, defenceless available target and focus their rage against the scroungers and the “feckless”, to quote George Carey.
Implicit in all of this are the Liberal Democrats who, for Andy Worhol`s brief 15 minutes of fame, are prepared to whore themselves under Cameron’s whip. Having made a total Rod Liddle of Proportional Representation, it is worth reminding Clegg, Cable and the utterly ridiculous Danny Alexander that Quisling met his fate by firing squad and Marshall Petain died in prison aged 95.
In 1939, when bigoted and ignorant Americans were burning The Grapes of Wrath, far away in Germany, other bigoted and ignorant people were burning something quite different. An awful lot of democracy and people died.