Why not fix something that is horrendously broken? You need look no further than 24 hours from Monday into Tuesday this week to see that our current political system is in gross need of repair. There were two key incidents that demonstrate the point – firstly, the vote to scrap the Bedroom Tax and secondly our Prime Minister’s speech at an opulent banquet where he explained to high society of The City that austerity is actually great.
The vote to scrap the Bedroom Tax was brought forward by Labour – they’ve been surprisingly slow to act on this ridiculous tax which is seen as the Poll Tax of today. The Bedroom Tax has been an easy example of where society at large suffers from poor Westminster governance, in the name of ‘austerity’ the UK government introduced a bill where if families are deemed to have one spare room, their housing benefit is cut by 14%, or around £60 a month. If they have two or more spare rooms, the cut is 25%.
By definition, Housing Benefit exists to help people who are on a low income or unemployed pay for their rent. Introducing this tax is one of those UK government examples of where ‘we’re all in it together’, targeting the poor who are already struggling in a difficult employment market where wages are static but their household energy bills are soaring. There have been reports that 50,000 people face eviction from their homes because of the Bedroom Tax; with even the United Nations’ special rapporteur on housing Raquel Rolnik commenting that the tax was causing “great stress and anxiety” to “very vulnerable” people. She added that the Westminster Government bedroom tax should be axed and that it could constitute a violation of the human right to adequate housing.
The Yes campaign in Scotland have been vocal in their disapproval of the Bedroom Tax – highlighting that this is a case where a tax is being enforced upon Scottish people despite our MPs voting against it. This is something that will never happen if Scotland votes Yes – we’ll get what we vote for.
After an unnecessary delay the Labour party leadership in London also recognised that this tax was regressive and so put forward a motion to repeal the Bedroom Tax. The vote was on Tuesday but unfortunately it didn’t pass, missing out by a margin of 26. The scandal comes when you look at the vote in more detail – 47 Labour MPs didn’t vote so the Bedroom Tax could easily have been scrapped if they wanted. However, these hypocrites are more interested in Party Politics than helping people – you see scrapping the tax is something that Ed Miliband is hoping to campaign for come the next General Election: he made that very clear in this speech (1min 12secs in if you can’t bear the rest of it).
The shame of Labour wasn’t really covered by the press but the excellent Aye 2014 blog exposes things clearly and Wings Over Scotland highlights the particular Medal of Dishonour for Anas Sarwar in all this.
As if the fact that the Tory government have introduced a tax that hits the poor and vulnerable in society isn’t bad enough, the Labour party are more interested in their own campaign for the next General Election than the people they represent. Remarkably and somehow unashamedly just a few hours before this vote, Cameron was entertaining the elite of society in the lavish Guildhall banquet hall.
There is an excellent Comment is Free piece on the Guardian from a waitress which opens with ‘At a state banquet for the new Lord Mayor on Monday, David Cameron gave a speech about his commitment to the cause of permanent austerity. He stood up to speak from a golden chair, and read his notes from a golden lectern…’ and she goes on to describe how bizarre it was to see our Prime Minister address the elite and yet be completely oblivious to the staff who were providing the service for the evening. The banquet included a champagne reception and a 4 course meal – all paid for by the taxpayer, and no doubt there were a host of people being entertain who just recently received a massive hand-out from the taxpayer as we handed over Royal Mail on the cheap (as covered in part 2 of my ‘No: what you’re voting for’ series)
The ridiculous contradiction was clearly lost on Cameron and indeed most people in the UK are so disconnected from the establishment that runs the country that events like this pass by without much comment. Thankfully though the Belfast Telegraph did highlight the hypocrisy and Steve Bell’s cartoon captured the spirit of the talk I think.
Voting No at the referendum next year is a vote of confidence for this ridiculous system that currently governs us. The very notion of that is ridiculous to me. It is little wonder that Russell Brand’s revolution proposal on Newsnight was so well received by so many in the UK. Hopefully Brand and others will see that we have the opportunity to dismantle the broken UK establishment with a Yes vote in Scotland next year.