John Hemming covers himself in glory again


Occasionally, when I’m not ruminating and writing over trivial matters, I like to devote my attention to matters of local interest, i.e. my fair city of Birmingham. At the Mambo I’ve tried to discuss fairly frequently the issue of the cuts in council tax benefit that are about to hit some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Now, the cut is being implemented by a Labour council, sadly, who it appears are unwilling to even countenance active resistance to this spiteful, cowardly policy that has come from the Tory government, who in a pretty crass but crudely logical move passed the responsibility for the cut, and the political shit storm that would follow, onto local authorities.

Labour have decided to make residents pay part of their council tax bills (creating the disgraceful situation that the most vulnerable in some areas won’t be affected but those in others will-ahh-the benefits of ‘localism’……..) as they say they have no choice financially:

The government offered us £2.1 million towards the cost, but only if we created a scheme that imposed an average 8.5% council tax payment (about £95 on 2012’s figures) across all groups apart from pensioners. To get to that level would take the government money AND £1.3 million from the council, which could only be found by making cuts somewhere else. Don’t forget that we’ve still got to make cuts of £110 million in 2013 – a figure that is likely to rise as the final settlement figures are still being developed. It looks like most councils are following this route, with only a third of councils so far deciding to run a scheme that takes advantage of the government money – all have to decide by the end of this month or will be stuck with funding the current scheme.

Some local councils have decided to continue with the current scheme, but they face much smaller shortfalls that they feel they can accommodate within their budgets this year. I would be very surprised if they maintain that position for the start of the 2014 budget year, especially with the additional cuts coming. Councils with smaller numbers of claimants may find it easier to absorb the relatively smaller costs, as might councils who have not suffered the same level of cuts – remember that Birmingham is hit by cuts at twice the national average.

So, while I don’t think that Labour should just be blithely be going along with the cuts opposed on them from the centre, it’s also clear that if the one accepts the budget settlement as it is they probably don’t have a whole lot of options. The central issue is that of the budget settlement and the choice that the Tory government have made to cut council tax benefit. They didn’t have to do it and passing the responsibility onto local councils is chillingly cynical.  

Lest we forget, the Lib Dems are part of this government, so have to take responsibility for this policy and its consequences, whether they like it or not.

So what do we have here? Local Lib Dem MP, locally renowned ladies man, shameless attention seeker and all-round Mambo favourite John Hemming is threatening to take the council to court over their decision to make people who were previously exempt pay.

So, just to reiterate: this policy is being de facto forced on the council by the very government that Hemming is a supporting MP of, and he is attacking the council for it. The opportunism is breathtaking. Why isn’t he opposing the original cuts in government support that have caused this problem in the first place? And would he be making this attack if the previous Lib Dem/Tory administration was in power and probably making exactly the same decision? Hmm.

In an act bordering on the satirical, Hemming has penned a House of Commons motion stating the following:

The Labour administration appears intent on punishing the poor by charging 20 per cent council tax to people on Jobseeker’s Allowance.”

Again, no mention of the original cut by his government, oddly enough. It’s his government punishing the poor. Does he really think that it isn’t obvious what the real issue is here?  

Hemming of course has plenty of previous when it comes to draping himself in the red flag and pretending he is a defender of the poor with hollow rhetoric. His actions would suggest otherwise.

The hypocrisy is nauseating. And doubly nauseating considering that he is happy to play cheap games over an issue of such significance for so many people at the bottom of the pile.

You should be ashamed of yourself Mr Hemming.  

(And the Labour group should be ashamed of itself for doing so little to fight the cuts in the first place…….)

Frank Field is the bestest politician ever


As an internationally renowned blogger I often get stopped in the street and asked: “so, Mambo, who’s your all-time favourite politician? You’re a man full of the milk of human kindness. You never have a bad word to say about anyone. But there must be someone you admire over all others?”

To which I reply: “well, my good man/woman, thank you. Your kind words mean the world to me, they really do. And you ask a perfectly valid question. But there are so many to choose from that it hardly seems appropriate to pick just one out.”

Now the cynical amongst you might right now be thinking “fucking Walter Mitty” but you’re wrong. I do get acclaimed everywhere I go.

And there lies a serious point behind my charming anecdote.

And that point is that I absolutely hate the self-styled ‘maverick’ Labour MP Frank Field.

He’s the most dour, charmless and boring man imaginable and politically exceedingly unimaginative, if I was being charitable in labelling his philosophy and beliefs. And if I was being uncharitable, well, you get the picture, if you’ve perused these pages previously.

Often proclaimed one of the Tories ‘favourite’ Labour MPs, he ‘s considered ‘sensible’ and ‘moderate’, but simultaneously ‘trenchant,’ ‘capable of thinking the unthinkable’ a student of ‘new thinking’, a ‘radical’ and he is forever being feted by the right wing press. And to be fair, he’s got that pained, embittered and misanthropic look about him that so many working class Tories have.

Now of course if he actually did possess all the characteristics he has had ascribed to him he would probably be a psychotic. And maybe he is. After all, he did tell once Tony Blair that he was so great that warranted a seat in Blair’s cabinet.

But he is the recipient of all these fawning labels simply because he is extremely right wing.

So when he is indulging in ‘new thinking’ it normally means he is advocating the restoration of national service. What a brilliant plan! Why haven’t we gone and done it already?!

When he is being ‘radical’ or a ‘maverick’ it means sitting on the board of a right-wing think tank that wants to take us back to the Victorian era or supporting whatever nauseating cause the religious right are banging on about at any given moment. Yep, radical.

Interestingly though, his radicalism and talent for thinking the unthinkable never leads this supposedly intellectually voracious man to embrace ideas that would really set him apart from the political mainstream. He’s a maverick in the way that Mariella Frostrup is a maverick. And nothing like as yummy.

And when he was/is being ‘sensible’ and ‘moderate’, he was supporting a witch-hunt against the Labour left or he is agreeing with the Tories on….well…everything, as far as I can see. Although he pointedly refuses to cross the floor to join them it is unclear why, as it would appear to be his natural home politically. Maybe he’s just worried about losing his seat and all the privileges that brings.

Now in his defence, and even-handedness is a trait that the Mambo never fails to be guilty of, he isn’t all bad. He does some decent work on climate change and human trafficking, a disgracefully under-reported international scandal.

But all people have their good points and the good causes he fights are hardly controversial ones. Everyone has at least one redeeming feature, apart from Max Barrett someone I can’t name.

So Mambo, I hear you cry, why have turned your fire on this man at this moment? Well to be honest, I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to stick the boot into the guy for a while but have lacked the appropriate pretext. And to be even more honest I’m still lacking that pretext, unless you think his latest article in the Guardian is a crime against humanity and not just a rather irritating exercise in unbearably smug, self-righteous pontificating.

I can’t stand people who say they want to ‘take the politics out of’ something, it’s just meaningless, anti-intellectual, cheap, conceited, populist shit. “Look at me, I’m trying to change things all by myself but I’m the only one being sensible and serious”, even though even a child could see that pensions are an innately, inescapably political issue.

The level of pension is a political choice.

The retirement age is a political choice.

Whether people should be extensively or partially supported by the state, or simply left to fend for themselves, is a political choice.

The notion that pensions are a ticking timebomb, and not one that could be solved by society choosing to spread its wealth around more equally, is a political one.

Field’s self-serving definition of an ‘apolitical’ approach to pensions will conveniently be a set of ideas that chimes exactly with his approach to pensions.

Normally this would be point where I would finish by having a highly satirical dig at Field based around the headline of the aforementioned article, along the lines of taking himself out of politics, or taking himself out with a shotgun, clawhammer or whatever instrument of death I found amusing.

But I won’t. I’ll keep my powder dry for another day.

Albert Bore’s Poll Tax?

Bore when he was a leftie. In opposition.

Bore when he was a leftie. In opposition.

One of the nastier policies of our delightful, life-affirming government is their recent round of cuts to council tax benefit (which it’s been revealed are just the beginning) whilst passing the responsibility on for the implementation of that policy of cuts onto local authorities. It’s all quite Machiavellian if you think about it, minus any trace of particularly impressive cunning.

So here in Birmingham that means that some of the poorest and most vulnerable residents are now going to have to pay 20% of their council tax bills (interestingly however, some councils have juggled budgets around to try and take some of the sting out of the measure. Not Birmingham.) The sums involved (£200+ a year in some cases) will make a real difference to the lives of people with a tiny weekly income already dealing with an inflation rate that is outstripping any increases in the support that they are receiving.

It is a chillingly cruel, ideological measure (in terms of the government budget the sums involved are trifling and I’m sure could have been found somewhere else, but that was never the point……….) and it is hugely disappointing, although not that surprising, that the leadership of the Labour Council in Birmingham simply going along with it like good little boys and girls.

Interestingly however, there are rumblings of discontent amongst the city’s Labour group and Bore’s stubborn, pessimistic determination to ram through cuts across the board (whilst bleating that he has no desire to do so and blaming everyone but himself for having to do so) has made it likely that he will face a challenge to his leadership in the not-too-distant-future. Clearly, there is a pulse in the Birmingham Labour Party, however faint, although it remains to be seen exactly what the putative challengers would be doing instead if they were in charge as I think we can rule out the setting of an illegal budget………..

The controversy over this measure has led to it being dubbed ‘another Poll Tax’, whether nationally or locally. Clearly there are a few parallels; it seems likely that there will be some who will simply refuse to pay, just like 20+ years ago, and of course that could snowball if people see others getting away with it, but I’m not sure if the comparison is a helpful or more importantly an accurate one.

In the first instance, I have already pointed that some councils have been trying (and succeeding) to move money around to ameliorate the worst effects of this, and in some areas people will be (largely) unaffected. It will surely be difficult to build a strong national movement against this if some councils are simply not implementing the policy in the way that Birmingham has chosen to. Resistance will be localized, and consequently less effective.

Secondly, I think people are in danger of talking the consequences (non-payment, court action, riots, demonstrations etc.) of this up because they want it to be like the Poll Tax riots. After all, that was one of the few battles the left has won in my lifetime and I’m sure it brings back some fond memories for those involved. It was a vivid reminder of what people on the streets can achieve.

Maybe I’m just an old defeatist cynic, but I suppose right now I don’t think that this will become the rallying point of resistance to austerity that some are hoping it will. I’ve lost count of the number of times in the last few years I’ve heard apocalyptic predictions by lefties of such and such a measure being ‘the final straw’ and that it will cause people to rise up and overthrow their oppressors. When people predict resistance that just doesn’t materialise, it simply demoralises those who are thinking of taking a stand.

And this measure is quite deliberately targeted against people amongst the most powerless and easily picked on in society and who lack the organisation and social weight to fight back, and who are considered politically irrelevant to the political elite.

And this just isn’t the 1980s. The lingering tradition of solidarity and political conscience that existed back then seems like a distant memory now. It may have been a Thatcherite nightmare at the time but there existed the forces to at least try and fight back. Do they really exist any more? Let alone in notoriously apolitical/right-wing Birmingham?

Sadly I don’t think there will be riots in the streets over this a la 1990, although I’m intrigued to see how Birmingham City Council will afford and justify paying the presumably huge costs of taking court action against those who refuse to pay.

Another privatization……..

Reoffending warning on short prison sentences

I slightly overslept today, frustratingly, so much so that I’ve had to delay my early morning run to this evening. Not the end of the world I suppose, as it gave me the opportunity to peruse the papers online before I wondered into work. (And after the extra hour’s sleep was positively invigorated. Full of beans I’ve been today.)

And what delightful array of stories I had to peruse. Owen Jones in the Indy has dealt with the real terms benefit cuts that the government has delightfully voted through after their public opinion softening-up campaign by their friends far better than I could.

I was also interested to read about the wholesale privatization of the probation service that the rather mis-titled ‘justice secretary’ Chris “Mr Charisma” Grayling announced. What a great idea.

A policy that follows the traditional Tory playbook during their 2 and a half years in office.

  • Decide that they want to privatize or cut something. Not because it makes sense, but just because they want to as they have a view of how they think society should work. You know, ‘the vision thing’.
  • Identify or just invent a problem, always under the general banner of ‘times of austerity’. It could be the fact that the NHS will have to face ‘new challenges’ over the next period. Or that education is ‘going to the dogs’. Or that the nation is ‘drowning in a sea of over-generous welfare payments’. In the case of the probation service, it is the stubbornly high re-offending rates.
  • If necessary, a series of media stories appear on the issue-purely coincidentally, obviously. The aforementioned benefits softening up campaign of right-wing hysteria is the most obvious in this regard.
  • Make a proposal to deal with the problem: which conveniently consists of the cuts and privatizations that were the objective in the first place. In the case of the probation service, the application of that most ghastly free market euphemism to the service: ‘payment by results’.
  • Ignore the chorus of opposition and expert opinion, or dismiss it as the work of the ‘usual suspects’/’Trots’/’Dinosaurs’ etc ,etc. There won’t be much in the way of actual debate and that which there is will be a repetition of a series of superficial clichés. The fact that the policy being suggested is in no way connected to the problem (real or imagined) is neither here nor there. It is a pretext. So for example:

Harry Fletcher, an assistant general secretary at Napo, claimed the decision was astonishing, given that the probation service had been awarded the British Quality Foundation gold award for excellence last year: “This move is purely ideological,” he said. “It is being rushed through without proper thought to the consequences. It will be chaotic and will compromise public protection.”

So the service is working at the moment and has been awarded for doing so but it still must be changed completely and sold off? What is the rationale here to improve the service? (And I know, there isn’t really one…..)

It’s revealing that the most serious offenders will remain the responsibility of the rump public sector section of the service. Clearly the private sector can’t be trusted with those. How odd. Either that or the private sector aren’t interested in something cost- and labour-intensive that they can’t turn a profit on. Again, very curious.

I’m yet to hear a single argument explaining how the mass privatization of the probation service is going to improve re-offending rates. Even Chris Grayling isn’t trying to pretend that it will, to be fair.

But that isn’t the point is it. That isn’t what this is about. It is simple ideological monomania. An idée fixe that the state must be pulled apart regardless of the consequences. The notion consumed the thoughts of Blairites during the Labour years, and is being taken to its logical conclusion by this government.

The pitiful delusions of Nick Clegg

A young Nick Clegg

A young Nick Clegg. Quite the ladies man, or so he tells us.

One thing people often say to me is: “we love your blog Mambo. You’re so even handed and you always see the best in people. Why can’t everyone else be like you?” Which is very true.

One man I try to be particularly even-handed about is Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. But his latest comments really do require a word or two of critical comment from yours truly.

Now the article in question is blocked by a Times paywall; I haven’t read it as I’m not prepared to hand over my cash to read a paper that is just very, very dull. But the article itself isn’t particularly significant; it’s this interesting line within it that has caused a slight stir:

“The biggest divide in politics today – here and around the world – is between those who offer leadership and those who only offer dissent.”

Now one could quite justifiably make the argument that it’s just profound-sounding but actually meaningless gibberish and safely ignored. But I actually think it’s quite a revealing few words.

In the first instance, it is a tacit admission of political bankruptcy. After all, the Lib Dems have built themselves a significant electoral base in recent years by being the party of (frequently totally incoherent and contradictory) opposition and empty dissent. They proposed and opposed things safe in the knowledge that in third party opposition they could say what they wished and not worry about the consequences. So in essence Clegg is critiquing, and lambasting, himself.

Secondly, it is a demonstration of serious delusion. Clegg is suggesting that by joining the coalition a) him and by extension his party are ‘leaders’- even though it is rather more accurate to describe them as mere errand boys who gave the Tories the majority they weren’t able to secure by their own efforts and b) it was a high-minded move based on a desire to serve the national interest in this time of emergency. Pull the other one Nicky.

Essentially Clegg is characterising the government’s critics as ‘dissenters’ as if dissent is somehow a term of abuse, and not the motive force behind all the progressive change we have ever seen and will ever see, the kind of change that Clegg and his party of ‘radical’ liberals often claim to be in favour of. He is implying that anyone opposed to this government’s agenda is an oppositionist for the sake of it. A laughable, cynical and borderline apolitical proposition, albeit a more subtle iteration of the TINA argument than his Tory partners are capable of-if the government is doing the right thing then any opposition is meaningless……. an interesting, slightly desperate-sounding argument from the Deputy PM.

Clegg is not offering ‘leadership’ in any meaningful sense, unless he thinks ‘leadership’ is actually capitulation to one’s coalition partners and the espousal of a thoroughly hackneyed and discredited set of ideas, ideas that got us into this mess into the first place.

I think it’s quite interesting that Clegg and other senior Lib Dems are coming out and trying to justify themselves and their record so vociferously at the moment. It betrays a real insecurity.

Found this when reading today that Chris Hughton, former Birmingham City manager, wrote a column for the Workers Revolutionary Party. Some interesting and at times controversial names included. Definitely worth a look.

X-Ray Spectator

I had been thinking of compiling a team of past and present footballers who happened to have interesting or even extreme politics. Of course, problems arose. Would a fascist winger track back to help out a commie fullback? Would that fullback overlap for the winger? The answer is: probably. Nevertheless I decided to make two teams – one with vaguely right-wing sensibilities, from Thatcherites to full-blown Nazis; and the other made up of old-school socialists, squatters and even a Situationist prankster (kind of).

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Of benefits and gyms

This guy wants you in the gym more often.......

This guy wants you in the gym more often…….

Here at the Mambo, our two main writers have strikingly different lifestyles. I am in many respects a puritan. DC on other hand is a hedonist. A man about town. A party animal.

I enjoy clean living. I wake up full of beans most days (apart from this Christmas when I was sick as a dog for most of my annual leave and only returned to a bean surfeit just in time to return to work). I also enjoy the sense of smug superiority that my teetotalism and commitment to exercise confers on me. My razor-sharp intellect and Wildean wit are I’m sure connected to my non-naughty behaviour. Healthy body, healthy mind.

Although maybe it points to a deep-rooted insecurity that I am completely unaware of and only the most skilled psycho-analyst could reveal to me.

Or maybe my ways point to a better way for humanity in general. Maybe.

But I wouldn’t impose my choices on anyone else and when I say they make me smugly superior I say so only in jest. I choose to be sporty. I know there are many who have no interest in it and in my heart of hearts I don’t honestly think that lack of interest on their part makes me any better than them.

That said, I would always preach moderation to my fellow man on matters of debauchery, and I confess to wanting the state to act to restrict an individual’s right to drink and gamble as much as they please, simply because the social bit of social-ism to me implies that no man/woman is an island and can do exactly what they want without if effecting those around them.

But I think we need to ask ourselves what the real motives are for the proposals to compel people on benefits to take more exercise. The idea comes from Tory Westminster Council.


  • Do they not think it is slightly ironic for a Tory council, you know one of the party that supposedly believes in the centrality of individual freedom, to be suggesting something so authoritarian?
  • Do they really think that compulsion will work? Or is this just a wheeze to get people off or cut their benefits, condemning them to destitution? Last time I checked, a desire for a healthy lifestyle has to be an active decision by an individual themselves and compulsion will achieve nothing.
  • Isn’t it slightly perverse that benefit claimants are potentially going to be forced to use council leisure facilities, i.e. the ones that face decimation after the savage round of local authority cuts starts, cuts disproportionately in the poorest areas, i.e. those areas with the highest numbers of…..benefit claimants?

Of course there is a wider ideological issue: the demonisation of the poor and unemployed. By portraying them all as feckless, weak-willed, fat and in need of being carted to their nearest gym, the Tories are implicitly suggesting that the unemployed are unemployed because of their own moral failings. And not the lack of jobs and the economic failures of this government. It’s the usual routine of blaming the victims of capitalism, a system that by definition, as Deborah Orr points out in a shockingly excellent article in the Guardian today, must have losers for there to be winners.

I know plenty of porkers in work and with lots of money. I know plenty of people with appallingly unhealthy lifestyles in work and with lots of money. Sending people to the gym when they don’t want to go and further stigmatizing them as indolent and lazy is only a serious policy if you desire stigmatization as your outcome. Which it seems the Tories do, as it provides them with a cover for their failings in government and a means to implement a series of nasty, spiteful and downright hateful policies that they would otherwise struggle to get away with.

And finally, isn’t there something bizarre that the man with oversight for local government and therefore the public health strategy that councils are being handed responsibility for (why?) is the fat, sweaty pig Eric Pickles?

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