Wednesday, October 10, 2007

***Update - All references in the post below to John McDonnell MP are actually to John Hutton. I feel an utter fool for having written in haste without having bothered to go back and check to see if I remembered the facts correctly, particularly as I quite like Mr McDonnell. I apologise to Mr McDonnell, and wish him nothing but good things. Sorry, all.***

I think the most dispiriting thing I saw during a thoroughly disheartening conference season was Andrew Neill's interview with John McDonnell at the Labour Party conference. Andrew Neill - who looks more like an inflamed testicle with every week that passes on This Week - pressed Mr McDonnell on why there were 'still' 5 million people on incapacity benefit.

Mr McDonnell responded by pointing out, with some pride, that this was 1 million fewer people than had been receiving it in 1997. These exchanges continued for some time, one suggesting that too many people were on incapacity benefit, and the other saying that there were fewer than there used to be, and that the government was working to ensure that there would be fewer in the future.

Did I miss the moment at which it stopped being the correct response to Andrew Neill's question to tell him that there might be 5 million people on incapacity benefit, because there are 5 million people in need of incapacity benefit. The fact that a Labour minister accepted the implications of those questions - that no one really needs incapacity benefit, and it is government's job to not give it to people - without question is a worrying sign of how far we have drifted into a neo-liberal dreamworld over the last 30 years.

The fact that it has become taboo for Labour ministers to suggest that some people need to receive incapacity benefit because they are ill, or because their family circumstances do not allow them to work; to suggest that the welfare system in Britain was established precisely because some people needed to take advantage of it, and the rest of society decided that one should not be penalised for being unfortunate became more and more depressing as it sank.

There will always be the ill, those whose families are breaking up, those who have been made redundant, the disabled. Government cannot solve all of a society's ills. What it can do is support those in need, help them when they need help, and to try to ensure that misfortune does not become lasting misery.

That's what he could have said. Adding: " brutal, callous millionaire, Andrew."


John said...

You have made a mistake. Andrew Neil did not interview me at Labour party conference and I am not a minister. I cetainly wouldn't have come out with all that rubbish. You had better check who it was and correct your blog.

John McDonnell MP

Nathaniel Tapley said...

Dear Mr McDonnell,

It was John Hutton, and I cannot apologise enough for my mistake. It's all the more embarrassing as I signed the pledge to join the Labour Party and vote for you ( I'll write a full correction post, and apologise for any inconvenience.

I also wish you all of the best in the future.