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Shirkers, scroungers, Labour’s mess… time to confront these lies head-on

White flagThe dominant opinion in Britain today is that continuing austerity is necessary. There is no alternative. Shirkers and scroungers justify the sharp continuing cutbacks in benefits. Continued hammering of the poorest is warranted, as they are the authors of their own misfortunes. Immigration is at the root of Britain’s ills. And if only we could leave the EU, we could make a fresh start – and a prosperous one too. Every one of these beliefs is wrong, but not one  is being challenged as robustly and relentlessly as is necessary. And until they are, it will be difficult for Labour to make progress against such a powerful headwind of prejudice.

First, continuing austerity is not necessary. The alternative policy of widespread public investment in key sectors of industry would greatly reduce the £18bn a year burden of keeping 2.5 million people unemployed and would reduce the deficit far, far quicker than prolonged austerity. Second, while actual shirkers or scroungers should be strictly penalised, the vast majority of the benefit cuts have hit the working poor. There are now more children in poverty living in households where at least one person is working than there are in workless or retired households. Third, how can all those in the poorest families who despite trying hard cannot get jobs be held responsible for their own plight when there are only 562,000 job vacancies today, but 2,450,000 persons trying to fill them? The problem is not them, but an economic policy that deliberately keeps nearly 2.5 million on the dole because the aim is not cutting the deficit but shrinking the State and the public sector.

But the big distorting issues today are immigration and the EU (the latter of which I will return to soon). What makes immigration into such a toxic issue is that at a time when the economy is being perpetually squeezed, migrants from poorer EU countries take jobs at or below the minimum wage on unscrupulous employers’ terms that frequently breach regulated labour standards, while these migrants’ need for housing and basic public services tips over the shrinking capacity of public budgets to make such provision.

The answer to this problem is not trying to curtail immigration from the EU (which will be legally blocked), nor to limit their entitlement to benefit so long as they are energetically seeking work, nor to give gift vouchers to Home Office officials who meet targets to ensure asylum seekers leave this country (as reported last week), but rather to restore real growth by kickstarting the economy through public investment, to launch a major house-building programme, and to steadily build up our public services again.

These distortions and lies are of course regularly peddled by the Tory tabloids while putting the lid on far bigger problems that damage Britain far more. The Daily Mail never ceases its xenophobic propaganda against immigration but at the same time never mentions tax avoidance by the hyper-rich which according to official figures bleeds this country of £35-42bn in dodged taxes every year. Private Eye, a very accurate source of data on tax avoidance, explained a month ago (on 20 December) how Jonathan Harmsworth (aka Lord Rothermere), owner of the Daily Mail and one of Britain’s richest men, has one of the UK’s “most tax-avoiding property portfolios”. Time for the Mail to cast the beam out of its own eye before complaining about the splinter in others’ eyes.


  1. Mark1957 says:

    All well and good.

    We know the lies by heart, we know who the liars are and their hypocrisy, but how are we going to counter them Michael?

    This is the ever-present problem for the left; the power of the right to disseminate misinformation and control the public agenda.

    Our so-called “free press” has been bought and paid for.

    Until we find a way to get the facts and our arguments across, we will continue to be pushed evermore to the right…

  2. we need to re strengthen our unions, as this is the only real power base working men and woman have , the unions should also encompass the unemployed, help them join without having to pay contributions ? ,they can pay when they find employment, by doing this they will feel as if they have a voice, and understand the principals that labour stand for ? ,you should advertise on social media ,like on face book, unions work best with strength of numbers .you have three million people untapped out there ,looking for a common cause, some one or something to stand up for there rights make it the union it needs youth

  3. malcolm fisher says:

    Its very good to read such an article where there seems to be an understanding of the problems that I can identify with. We need meaningful industries and meaningful jobs. When the amount of people searching for jobs is so much greater then the jobs available it puts a mighty whip in the hand of the employers. People like me stand almost no chance of employment in this climate. At age 54, with chronic heart disease, migrated from I.B. solely due to a rule change. And due to my illness lost my HGV license that I worked and raised my family by for 29 years. Its a hard place now in the UK where someone that’s worked since 1975 and had a serious brush with death and left ill can be labelled a scrounger.

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