Ealing North MP Stephen Pound writes:
I’d forgotten how extraordinary the impact of Parliament can be on the new Members and I feel quite the old hand as I watch the newbies scurry around in search of a familiar face or even the way to the Chamber.
The temptation to play the old tricks is almost irresistible but the potential for fun and games is not quite as obvious as it was in the armed forces when a new face could be told to go to the Bo’sun’s stores and ask for a long weight, striped paint or sky hooks. My particular favourite was asking if the fresh faced lad could make a big “spur lash” – which sounds like the sort of complicated knot that is an essential part of the shipboard skills of a modern Navy. Of course the answer led to the innocent being shoved off the dock into shallow water and making a big splash.
Horribly juvenile but immense fun!
Older Members have been inventing bizarre rituals and instructing the recently elected to observe them but we mostly give up when we realise that the actual customs of the Palace are so arcane and inexplicable that they will always exceed the imaginings of the most malicious.
Much amusement is also to be had by an observation of the gyrations of the new marriage of convenience that is the Conservative/Liberal coalition.
We’ve already seen four Liberals table an amendment to the budget statement that flatly contradicts the intention of their new owners and far worse is certain to come.
Already a couple of straws in the wind show that the Liberals will surely soon be doing what they always do when they succumb to the sensual seduction of the smoothies in blue – splitting into factions.
The budget statement was made with lip smacking and bloodcurdling enthusiasm by George Osborne but a truly horrific fact swiftly emerged – and one that has the direst consequences for us in Ealing.
No-one denies that public expenditure has to be reined in, and the last government was acting on this, but not in such a way as to deepen the recession and take so much out of the economy that demand would be depressed and the threat of a double dip realised.
Wiser heads amongst the Liberals realise this but they are getting no traction at all when it comes to making the point to the millionaires’ row that is the coalition front bench. All George Osborne can do is repeat the stale mantra about Labour not taking it’s share of the blame for a global crisis that spread from sub prime mortgage lending and a world of collateralised debt obligations that only the truly fraudulent could even begin to imagine. That Labour failed to reverse the reckless removal of market restrictions that was the proudest achievement of the Tories may be held to be our eternal shame but the deregulators can hardly expect to be taken seriously when the accuse their opponents of not re-regulating!
The UK debt to GDP ratio is well within the zone of acceptability and ludicrous scaremongering about individual debt levels being calculated on the basis of a subdividing of the national totals really fool only the innumerate.
The UK bond market was sound and well subscribed so that 4% levels were settling in and that in turn gave us the crucial triple A rating that enabled us to maintain and ultimately service a far, far higher level of historic debt from 1945-1999 without any of us taking a hit in our pay-packets. Labour was addressing the sovereign debt issue and our gradual retrenchment was calibrated to minimise social upheaval and the fairly flipping obvious point that throwing millions out of work is not only corrosive of family life but reduces tax revenues and increases benefit payments.
A political party that takes as its guiding star the editorials in the “Daily Mail” has to fall back on the unprovable and the offensive.
The easiest thing for the unthinking politician to do is to conjure up the demonic vision of a vast nation of the work-shy and the feckless which ordinary decent people can look on in horror. It misses the point that the reason why we know about the few appalling examples of people who really do screw all they can out of the system is that they have been found out - otherwise we wouldn’t know about them!
For years the government has been enforcing a “fitness to work” test and you can believe me when I tell you that it is a lot easier to quote the “Daily Mail” than to make a decision as to the employability of someone who suffers from a severe psychiatric condition. It is far far easier to curse the real people who have far more children than they can even think of supporting than to sign that piece of paper that takes those children away into even more expensive local authority care.
Legally enforced abortion may be the policy of China but I don’t see it coming in over here and if that it not to be the sanction then what action is being suggested?
I’ve always found that ambition is the best contraception and a teenage girl with decent career prospects and another role in life other than gym-slip mum is a lot less likely to have a baby before her exams.
I suppose that Labour – and real Liberals – failed in not pressing the humane alternatives strongly enough and in not bring the people with us. Guilty plea duly entered.
The social engineering implicit in the Blue/Yellow budget reached the absolute pits when the announcement was made that council tenants would be winkled out of their homes and forced to move to where the jobs are.
Maybe a life cosseted by inherited millions removes you from reality but it is not beyond the wit of even a Tory to make the fairly obvious connection between employment prospects and available council housing.
Yes – there are areas with vacant local authority housing and, yes, there are areas where there are more jobs than people to fill them but – guess what – the jobs don’t exist in Gateshead and the council flats don’t line the streets of Guildford.
If this wasn’t enough they are suggesting that anyone who has a spare bedroom should be slung out of their council house.
It doesn’t matter that you nay have bought the property five times over by paying rent for decades, the minute that your child turns eighteen then it’s out you go.
In Ealing Labour and Conservative councils have helped people move from larger to smaller homes as their family circumstances change. We’ve offered support – not the sanction of eviction – and if Ian Duncan-Smith wants to tell a widow on the Cuckoo Estate that she can’t carry on in her two bed tenancy because her kids have left home then I wish him well in the task.
Finally – and most seriously – is the nightmare that is a 25% cut in the money that goes to local authorities like Ealing to educate our children, keep the streets clean and the bins emptied and, most expensively of all, to provide for those unable to do so for themselves because of age or infirmity and to save the lives of children abandoned or brutalised by adults.
The former Conservative council in Ealing trimmed away what fat there was and I pay them credit for a good if ruthless job. We’re almost on the bare bones now and none of my constituents have the sort of protective padding that people like George Osborne, Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne enjoy.
It is easy to talk about tightening your belt when you’ve got a well stocked bank account in the background and the sheer hypocrisy of millionaires bragging that we’re all in this together sickens me.
Even as the axe slices through the hopes and aspirations of the people that I represent the cursed Coalition have had the gall to suck vast sums of public money from the education budget to take a wild punt on one of the most ill thought out and divisive fantasies ever conceived – the so-called “free school” madness.
Brentside High School loses out so that some pushy parents can set up a bijou academy free of any sane inclusive admissions policy and teaching what they will to the little darlings who they believe will suffer irredeemable damage if they have to study with the ordinary kids who go to what are actually some of the best state schools in London.
Cuts for the council, funding for the “free schools” and a national nightmare as the economy is driven into double dip recession.
Heaven help us all, but heaven help especially the weak.
Apart from that – even the coalition can’t dampen our spirits entirely during flaming June and I suppose that good manners means that I should congratulate Poland for managing to knock England out of the world cup – even they did so in German shirts!
Reproduced with the kind permission of Stephen Pound from an original article published in the Ealing Gazette
jUNE 29, 2010