Owen Jones: A government of millionaires just made the poor poorer – and laughed as they did it

OWEN JONES Wednesday 9 January 2013

A brutal assault from ideologically-crazed demagogues comes down to this: you have been mugged and therefore your less deserving neighbour should be mugged too. 

David Cameron's invocation in the Commons of Michael Winner amuses George Osborne - while Nick Clegg looks less impressed
David Cameron’s invocation in the Commons of Michael Winner amuses George Osborne – while Nick Clegg looks less impressed


They cheered, they guffawed, they mocked.

Picture the scene, and don’t forget it as the next two and a half years of Cameron’s Britain drag on: a smug pack of over-paid Tory MPs – some worth millions – sniggering as they prepared to slash the incomes of Britain’s already struggling poor. Labour’s Lisa Nandy and Ian Mearns pleaded with them in the Chamber, vainly, to stop laughing.

Not since 1931 has a Government attempted to deliberately, consciously reduce the incomes of the poor. Oh, the hilarity.

The cap on in-work and out-of-work benefits is the culmination of a systematic campaign by the Tories and their media allies to turn large sections of the population against each other. “Strivers” versus “skivers” and “shirkers”; sinister images of the workshy and feckless with their curtains drawn: this is a near-daily diet of poison in Cameron’s Britain.

The substance of their argument is this: you have been mugged and therefore your less deserving neighbour should be mugged too. They said it to private sector workers about their counterparts in the public sector, attempting to stir up envy at their supposedly over-generous “gold plated” pensions and pay settlements.

Now the Tories attempt to exploit the resentment of public sector workers languishing under a de facto pay cut they have imposed themselves. Where is the justice if we do not pick-pocket your neighbour, too, with this benefits cap? There is a Yiddish expression – “chutzpah” – for such unapologetic shamelessness.

A government of millionaires makes the poor poorer while trying to turn them against each other. And so a new generation learns to appreciate the passion behind Labour pin-up Nye Bevan’s famed declaration in 1948 that the Tories are “lower than vermin”.

They jeer and they whoop now, but this is surely overreach. “Today Labour Are Voting To Increase Benefits By More Than Workers’ Wages” is the latest Tory hit poster, claiming that they are “Standing Up For Hardworking People.”

The Tories’ recently hired arch-spinner Lynton Crosby has been quick to inject his own brand of bile into the Tory operation. But this divide-and-rule propaganda makes no sense. Both those who work for their poverty and those who are without a job are having their pockets emptied by a cabal of ideologically-crazed millionaires.

It is quite true that both private and public sector workers have faced years of flatlining or declining wages. But now millions of them will be hit with reduced tax credits, too.

They must not get away with playing off people receiving benefits and workers facing shrinking pay packets: they are one and the same. First you are mugged by your boss, then you are mugged by the Tories.

The baying of the Tories is loud enough; the voices of those affected have been all but airbrushed out of existence by the political establishment and a supine or sometimes criminally complicit media. Save The Children recently revealed a world that most of the commentariat don’t even know – or want to know – exists: of parents choosing between heating their homes and feeding their kids; or skipping their meals to make sure their sons and daughters are nourished.

Such is the conspiracy to deprive the electorate of the truth about the Government’s onslaught on the welfare state that many don’t even know they are about to be hit.

With the Resolution Foundation projecting a 15 per cent decline in income for low earning families by 2020, they’ll know soon enough. 

Research by the TUC last week showed that the more people know about the realities of the welfare state – about fraud, who gets benefits and how much they are really worth – the less likely they are to support Tory attacks.

Here is the potential undoing of this vicious campaign.

And what of the Lib Dems?

Granted, it is a question that answers itself.

Four votes against and two abstentions excepted, every last yellow-bellied man and woman marched through the voting lobbies with their Tory masters to shrink the incomes of the poor.

That includes Tim Farron, the posturing Lib Dem President who will undoubtedly one day attempt to claim the leadership of whatever remains of this disreputable, discredited party: he may well be able to drive his diminished parliamentary party around in a London cab after 2015, just like the good old days of British Liberalism.

“Many of us have been fighting the corner of vulnerable people for months and months now,”

he tweeted me before voting to slash their income,

“And I’ll keep doing that every single day.”

I’d suggest he was Machiavellian, if I was not in danger of inventing strategic ability where there is none.

More than any other Coalition policy, this scandalous, grubby episode has exposed a rootless party, devoid of principle, stuffed with vacuous non-entities and mealy-mouthed voting fodder for the worst attacks inflicted on the poor since World War II.

Libs BenefitsNo forgiving, no forgetting; the dustbin of history awaits them, and deservedly so.

This is not to let the Labour leadership off the hook.

They were right to take on this cap – though, quite frankly, what is Labour for if it is not to defend the working poor and unemployed from Tory muggers?

Yet it was a decision taken in the face of internal opposition behind the scenes from the party’s Surrender Tendency. Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith came out and openly savaged Ed Miliband for it. A period of silence would be most welcome, Jacqui.

But Labour’s response will always be hobbled when it is delivered by the likes of Liam Byrne. The right have cheerfully dug out his own contributions to the vile attempts to turn the working poor against the unemployed:

“Labour is the party of hard workers, not free-riders. The clue is in the name. The party that said idleness is an evil. The party of workers, not shirkers.”

Or indeed:

“Let’s face the tough truth – that many people on the doorstep felt that too often we were for shirkers no workers.”

The grotesque sight of a Labour politician – a Labour politician – parroting the divide-and-rule bile of Tory demagogues.

Not only is it shameful, it is self-defeating: there is nothing the Tories desire more than for this “debate” to be framed on their terms.

They watch in satisfaction as senior Labour figures fuel the fire about “scroungers”, knowing full well that the more it burns, the broader the pool of their own potential support.

The Tories have a confident, clear, consistent message; exactly what is missing from their opponents.

Thieving from the poor while turning them against each other: any response but fury at what this government is doing is inexcusable. But it is not enough.

This government – a government with a flimsy, pathetic excuse of a mandate – is intolerable, and it must be stopped in its tracks.

No more silent simmering with rage.

Demand the Labour leadership offer an opposition worthy of the name.

Expose Tory lies at any and every opportunity.

Give a platform to those battered by Tory savagery.

Take to the streets.

Strike, and support those who do. Learn from this country’s proud history of peaceful civil disobedience.

Sounds too radical, too extreme, or too much like hard work? In the years to come, you will be asked what you did to stop this horror show. And if you need another incentive, picture again those baying Tories, jeering as they mugged the poor. 



The Independent





8 thoughts on “Owen Jones: A government of millionaires just made the poor poorer – and laughed as they did it

  1. DAVID SHAW says:

    Owen Jones, you are the only credible future leader of the Labour party. It is time you recognized that you speak for far more than you could even realize. We are with you in all you say. Labour Left is the only hope for the nation. Socialism and an egalitarian society where everyone matters. Anything else is a sham.

  2. jay says:

    I completely agree with the thoughts of the newspaper article and well said to the above commenter. Anything less and it’s a country and society not worth living in.

  3. jeffery davies says:

    owen its well said but how are we going to get them out and decent ones in is there enough that 99percent are poor were are the voters to stand up and get this paracite out

  4. david wilkinson says:

    Owen I agree with you totally and the other bloggers.Please think about running as a MP.I am ashamed at what is happening in this country-all our forefathers hard work being stripped away by these callous and yes evil tories and their bullys sidekick the liberals.I am a tired middle aged man but I have the rage and anger of a teenage reveloutionary.I will try my best to do the things you suggest but please keep up your brilliant and hard work.You are a shining light in a country full of darkness.

  5. jed goodright says:

    My anger is directed at this vindictive government, a government solely of the 1%
    But the current state of the labour party is of greater concern because there is nowhere , absolutely nowhere to go for poor, disabled and unemployed people in the uk in 2013.
    Their amendment in the debate on ‘uprating benefits’ alternately known as making you poorer by increments is totally unacceptable. Having Liam Byrne lead the debate was a gift to the tories. It seems labour just want to kill people more slowly and hope nobody notices. THIS IS THE POLITICS OF FASCISM

    I have been deeply upset by the events of the last couple of days. The offence that the tories have created is hopefully a watershed for the nation – to highlight the tory nastiness and highlight the total inadequecy of the opposition. We are going back to the dark ages. the people are being denied natural justice. The poor are being murdered. It looks like nobody cares. This is not a civilised society anymore. I don’t want to be part of it. I’m sick of commentinmg on here about the same issues all the time. My life is bigger than this but this is dragging me down …. again.

  6. jed goodright says:

    what I said on a previos blog still stands – this is what Byrne should have said – this is what I would say given the opportunity:

    jed goodright January 4, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    What balls and byrne should have said – but can’t cos they’re thick – is the current system is illegal, it is contrary to the United Nations Protocol on disablitity and disabled people, it is an anathema in a modern nation to treat its most vulnerable in such a manner, it is tantamount to criminal abuse and negligence. From today the WCA is banned. From today ATOs can pack up and leave. From today disabled people will find a peace they have not known for years, will have their incomes restored if not increased, will find greater access at all levels of our country, will not fear being abused because the perpetrators will be charged and taken to court.Current ministers and officials will be investigated for crimes against disabled people. The media will be further investigated into the role it plays into the dissemination of propaganda.
    from today a sytem of assessing people will be researched that accounts for a total social model of disability and treats people with respect. One that doesn’t make people iller than they ordinarily are. One that accounts for NEED NOT IDEOLOGY. Prof. Wessley shall be striped of his knighthood

    If I can do it why can’t these two miserable fuckers do it – they know what’s going on but they are too self serving to care. labour is FIN ISHED

    1. Christopher says:

      Wow Jed..Well said..

      It’s just a shame we don’t have someone with the balls and heart to stand up in parliament and speak with such passion..

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