I Couldn't Care Less: Gesture Politics

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A hypodermic needle and a vial

Gesture Politics

George Osborne, the British Government's Head of Money, has recently introduced ingenious new plans for saving the taxpayer yet more money. Amongst these is a scheme to change the amount of time before you can claim benefit after becoming unemployed from three days to seven days. There are just three small flaws in this otherwise fine plan. The first rests on the argument that people should spend the first seven days ‘looking to work, not looking to sign on'. It's hard to articulate the outrage I feel at such a patronising assertion. The clear implication is that once jobseekers have a few quid in their pocket the motivation to look for work pretty much ebbs away and they are happy to just kick back and rely on state hand-outs. The main reason this is a necessary assertion for the Government is that it is morally easier for them to make cuts to the welfare budgets by implying that the recipients didn't deserve it anyway. The truth, however, is that while some people may be happy to live purely on what the state gives them1, there are many who aren't, and it is wrong to penalise those who are genuinely motivated to seek work to get at those who aren't. It's not the same as ‘everyone stay behind until I find the last pair of scissors'. This is denying people vital and essential funds until they are able to support themselves. In fact I would go as far as to argue that you can't deny anybody the basic duty of care you owe them, regardless of their conduct. Anyway, I've already touched on my second point, which is…

While people should, ideally, immediately hit the ground running with their job seeking, the fact is that they are unlikely to find a job straight away. What they will find straight away is that they need money for food, rent, utilities, clothes and other fripperies that people without duck ponds fritter their money away on. Now it is true that even if your company goes bankrupt there is a pot of money set aside by the Government from which the administrators of your former employers can apply to for the funds to pay your redundancy money. The problems with this are; firstly, that you have to have been with your current employers for two years before you are entitled to any pay out at all, and secondly, that even if you are you are entitled to apply for the money, you won't get it straight away. In the mean-time that rent needs paying and those cupboards need filling. All the time you have been employed you dutifully paid your taxes and one of the things you were assured was that, when you needed them, your taxes would be there for you. Which leads me neatly on to point number three.

The assertion Osborne makes is that this will save the taxpayers money. Mmm… well, two arguments there really. I have already noted that the many people who are unemployed were taxpayers and that this is money nobody saved them when they were paying it. But I also have my reservations as to whether this will really save money. A factory closes – 1000 redundant. Day 3, 1000 still without jobs. Fast forward 4 days – how many now have jobs? 5? 10? None? Is the number of people you never have to pay and the money you save really worth the damage you're also doing to people who are denied the money they need to get by? No it isn't. What Osborne is doing is making a gesture. He is trying firstly to appear as if he is doing something, anything at all, to address matters. He is also, not very subtly, reinforcing the Government's persistent assertion that people on benefits just aren't trying hard enough. He doesn't care, he just wants to look like he does. So lets move on from him.

Julia Gillard has achieved two impressive feats in recent years. The first is that she is an Australian Prime Minister non-Australians have heard of. The second is that she is Australia's first woman Prime Minister. Or at least she was, until her party ousted her in a leadership challenge. Kevin Rudd, who defeated her, was gracious in victory, complimenting his predecessor on her term in office. Julia was equally gracious in defeat. She did not, as far as I know, complain, or backbite, or leave2 with a knife in the back of her successor. She simply observed that her term in office will make it easier for ‘the woman after me, and the next, and the next'. No hating or blaming or demonising anyone, just reinforcing a positive outcome she hopes for. Nice.

Okay, so going on about politics is a bit dry, but I promise I've left the best for last. I am bringing down this week's curtain with the ballad of Wendy Davis. If you haven't heard of her, please be assured she is magnificent. It all stems from a bill due to be passed, or rejected, in the Texan senate. The bill was to make significant changes to the abortion laws in the state. You may well not agree with Wendy's stance, opposed as she was to the changes, but you can't deny she put her money where her mouth was. There is a thing, you see, in American politics called a filibuster. The idea is that, when a motion is debated, you speak on the subject for so long that there is no time left for the vote. There are rules, these days, to limit such things. I gather it used to be perfectly acceptable to read from Moby Dick or recite poetry. Today you have to stay on topic. You also can't break for meals or to use the toilet, you can't sit down, you can't even lean. So this is what Wendy did – FOR TEN HOURS. You can debate her opinion or even her methodology, but you can't argue with her genuine desire to make an actual impact. Ten hours without a pooh is what I call commitment. Ten hours without caring is what I call empty.

Articles by benjaminpmoore Archive


08.07.13 Front Page

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1Which, it's worth noting, isn't much, whatever you may hear to the contrary.2She is leaving. Gillard had called for the loser of this contest to resign and, having lost, she's resigned.

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