Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Aux armes, citoyens!

The sheer arrogance of the Tories and their Lib Dem poodles as they go about making the poorest and the most vulnerable targets for benefit cuts increasingly makes them resemble the French court on the eve of the revolution of 1789.

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette lived the life of aristocratic indifference while the majority of French peasants could not afford bread because of rising prices. While the queen may never have uttered the immortal phrase “let them eat cake”, she might as well have. Her reputation for profligacy was such that she became known as Madame Déficit, held personally responsible for bankrupting the treasury.

So when housing minister Grant Shapps, defending the bedroom tax,  says his sons share a room, he is having a laugh at our expense. His house is big enough for each of his three children to have their own room if one wasn’t used as a study.

Treasury secretary Danny Alexander, a Lib Dem, has attacked “bedroom blockers” –  his description of social housing tenants who need help with their rent but are deemed to have a “spare room”. From yesterday their benefit was cut. This is the very same man who deprived the Treasury of over £100,000 during the expenses scandal.

He registered a property as his second home when he became an MP in 2005, despite admitting to Revenue and Customs that it was in fact his main residence. The trick allowed him to claim over £37,000 of taxpayers’ money doing up the London home, which he sold for £300,000. He used a tax loophole to avoid paying capital gains tax.

Not so much a spare room as taxpayers’ cash going spare – if you’re an MP that is.

And what about Iain Duncan Smith, who has spearheaded the attack on the poorest section with the bedroom tax, caps on benefit uprating, council tax benefit deductions and an array of other measures that target the disabled?

Yesterday, the work and pensions secretary, claimed he could live on state benefits of just £53 a week – if he had to. By this morning, more than 125,000 people had challenged him to do so via an online petition.

You can’t imagine IDS moving from the lap of luxury to a life of intolerable hardship where £53 a week means a choice between poor quality food and heating your home.

Duncan-Smith’s 16th-century Tudor house in the Buckinghamshire village of Swanbourne is said to be worth £2m. The property, which includes a swimming pool, tennis courts and three acres of grounds, belongs to the family of his wife. Duncan-Smith’s salary is over £134,000 a year. That’s 48 times more than a person living – or barely surviving -  on £53 a week.

April 1 turned out to be a joke played at our expense by the ConDems. Access to legal aid was savaged while the contracting out of large parts of National Health Service was introduced. Most of the policies described here were, of course, built on foundations laid by the previous New Labour government.

Yet the right-wing of the Tory Party is far from satisfied. Yesterday, the Daily Telegraph, wrote: “The NHS and welfare remain hugely expensive monoliths, prone to excesses that are unaffordable in an age of austerity. Today’s reforms are a step in the right direction, but only the beginning of what must be a very long journey.”

As is commonly known, Antoinette and Louis XVI met their fate at the hands of the guillotine. The French Revolution frightened the life out of the British ruling classes, who thought they were next in line for the chop.

What the ConDems show is that history sometimes offers up a second chance. They are impervious to protest, limited strikes and direct actions. Something a lot stronger and more permanent is needed.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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