by Martin Odoni

Winston Churchill is popularly – and probably wrongly – credited with the amusing but insulting remark,

If, by the age of 25, you are not a liberal, you have no heart.

If, by the age of 35, you are not a conservative, you have no brain.

I wish to apply an addendum to that.

If, by the age of 18, you are in full knowledge of the Election Expenses Fraud, the deaths caused by benefit sanctions, the deceitful repetition of the fiction that ‘Labour caused the banking crash’, the equally-deceitful assertions that the National Debt is chiefly caused ‘by Welfare and excessive Labour spending’, the 2011 riots, the corrupt military action against Syria in flat violation of Parliament’s express wishes, the completely needless renewed recession triggered in late-2010 after there had been an initial economic recovery in the last six months of the previous Government, the pledge to eliminate the Public Sector Deficit completely by spring 2015 that is still over £50 billion adrift of the target over two years on, the repeatedly-failed pledge not to lose the UK’s AAA credit rating, the sell-off to private firms of vast swathes of the National Health Service, attempts to block a cap on bankers’ bonuses despite the Credit Crunch being caused by the banking industry, unquestioning military support for the House of al-Saud as it butchers the people of Yemen, the cover-up of a nuclear weapons test failure just a month prior to a vote on renewing Trident, the public panic-mongering over the National Debt when in reality there is no danger of bankruptcy, the dangerous new contract forced onto junior doctors, the program to rehabilitate the economy by driving up household debt once more and creating the very serious danger of a second Credit Crunch, the unashamed protection of mega-rich tax-dodgers, the guiltily-silent disregard for The Panama Papers, the cynical use in Parliament of dirty filibustering tactics to block Member’s Bills that include protection for domestic violence victims and tenants of irresponsible private landlords, the badly-under-priced sell-off of the Royal Mail, the idiotically large loss made on the sale of the assets of the Northern Rock Bank to Virgin Money,  the indiscriminate imposition of the Bedroom Tax on anyone claiming housing benefit including such people as domestic violence victims who live in ‘Sanctuary Scheme’ homes, the near-racist Election campaign for the London Mayor’s office, the idiotic and bombastic threats of war over Gibraltar, the reckless ‘Brexit‘ referendum that has destabilised the country just to pacify a handful of right-wing extremists in the House Of Commons, the shambolic and uselessly expensive introduction of ‘Universal Credit‘, the cuts of up to a quarter in further-education funding in some subjects, the ideological stupidity of the ‘Free Schools‘ program, the broken promise to reduce class sizes in schools, the closure of hundreds of Sure-Start Centres, the lack of interest in the Westminster Paedophile Scandal, the pointless plan to reverse the ban on fox-hunting, the moves to abandon green energy commitments, the closure of hundreds of public libraries, the refusal to hold a public Inquiry into police brutality at the Battle Of Orgreave, the ill-planned military intervention in Libya that has played an indirect but key role in the growing refugee crisis, the selfish refusal to take in more than a tiny handful of refugees, the cowardly broken promise to take in unaccompanied child refugees, the increasing dis-empowerment of workers due to new Trade Union laws, the sell-off of utilities and rail services to private companies that include some foreign firms (some of them foreign state companies, paradoxically), the “Snoopers’ Charter” Investigatory Powers Act, and the one-tone and intelligence-insulting General Election campaign of endless recitals of ‘Strong-And-Stable‘, and you have read the completely non-objectionable and at points very inspiring draft-Manifesto from the Labour Party, and you are still a conservative, then you have neither a heart, nor a brain.

That may just be the longest sentence I have ever typed, and I have no doubt readers can suggest plenty of other Tory-travesties I have forgotten – feel free to use the comments section below. For now though, here is a shorter sentence, but one that comes from both my heart and my brain; –




by Martin Odoni

An occasional joke about voting for the old Liberal/SDP Alliance back in the 1980’s was that it was a vote for firm, concrete indecision. Perhaps a little unfair, but it has to be said there was an echo of truth in it. The two parties couldn’t decide whether they were right or left. They couldn’t decide whether they were the same or different. They couldn’t decide whether their leader was David Steel or David Owen. They couldn’t even decide whether they were the same party or a marriage of convenience between two parties.

 After dithering over these questions for seven full years, the parties finally merged into one in 1988, whereupon they couldn’t decide what name they would have. They started out deciding to be known as ‘The Social & Liberal Democrats’, but couldn’t decide whether they liked people calling them either that or ‘The SLD’, so decided not to make a decision on that, then after a few months, they decided that they hadn’t decided that after all, and instead decided that they would be decidedly happier if they decided that they would prefer it others decided simply to call them ‘Liberal Democrats’. Or ‘LibDems’, that would be okay too, but they couldn’t really decide which of the two names they liked best.

Nick Clegg, the current, decidedly unpopular, leader of the LibDems, has turned this record of indecision into an art-form. I’m pretty sure he never decided to, but it’s what he’s done anyway. As leader of his party at the 2010 General Election, he was decidedly opposed to almost every aspect of Conservative Party policy. And in the spirit of firm indecision, he therefore decided, after the Election resulted in an indecisively Hung Parliament, to form a Coalition with the Conservative Party. Well, he eventually did, after initially being unable to decide whether he wanted to form a Coalition with Labour instead; he probably wanted to side with Labour, but couldn’t decide, so for a few days he decided not to make a decision.

Having been made Deputy Prime Minister in the Coalition Cabinet, Clegg then showed all the decisiveness and consistency he was now legendary for, by supporting the Conservative policies he had spoken out so bitterly against, and helping to implement them against the students who had made up the core support that the LibDem vote had been built upon. This included deciding to help push through a rise in tuition fees that he had promised never to support. He might have apologised to his supporters for doing it, but couldn’t really decide whether that might just make them even angrier.

Clegg’s party also helped push through the notorious ‘Spare Room Subsidy’ or ‘Bedroom Tax’. This was because the LibDems realised that the Government needed more money, but they couldn’t decide whether it would be more effective and morally-better to try taking that money from people who actually possessed some, e.g. rich people, or from people who didn’t have the two proverbial ha’pennies to rub together. Being unable to decide what the correct answer would be to such a knotty conundrum, Clegg decided to let the Tories make that decision for him. So when the Tories came to the ‘wholly unexpected‘ (NOTE FOR THE HARD-OF-THINKING: we are now in the wildest throes of satire) conclusion that people without money are patently the most lucrative source of cash, Clegg appears to have said, “Well, who’d have thought the Tories of all people would make a call like that? Still I’m sure they’re doing it for totally unbiased reasons…” and from there he just let the Tories decide for him which policies to vote for.

Doggedly refusing to be diverted from his unswerving course of 180-degree turnarounds, Clegg broke new grounds in the cause of indecisiveness when he decided that he could continue to be indecisive even about policies that had already been decided upon and enforced. To this end, he put forward opposition to the Bedroom Tax he had helped implement as party policy, and then decided that he had not decided any such thing, but had merely put the idea out as a speculative question – one he then decided to answer himself with ‘no’. He then publicly spoke out vehemently against the Bedroom Tax, stating emphatically that it should be repealed. Then only yesterday, when Labour put forward a motion in the House Of Commons to repeal the Tax, Clegg once again impressed everyone with his capacity for not making up his mind about policies that he eagerly enforces while speaking out against them; he and his party quite naturally voted to keep the Bedroom Tax in place for the remainder of the current Parliament.

I’ve written before that if you vote for the Tories you vote for petulance. But the strange thing is – and it’s a painful lesson I have only learned myself during this Parliament – if you vote for the LibDems, you’re not really voting for anything in particular at all. This is because, in doing so, you vote for a party that claims to be centrist, but in fact doesn’t really know how much radicalism it is prepared to stomach. This means that in a Coalition, the LibDems can be dragged to quite shocking extremes, even though their rhetoric appears to be opposed to them. The hope when the Coalition was formed in 2010 was that the LibDems would function as a ‘drag-factor’ on Tory extremism and cruelty. In practise, they have scarcely caused the Tories pause for thought, and have shown a frightening willingness to sacrifice almost anything to get an agreement on a Referendum for a fairly minor electoral reform – a Referendum that ended in a ‘No’ vote in any event.

On the one hand, it could be seen as a symptom of maturity in British politics that the two parties were able to come to an agreement and form a Government; certainly that could never happen in the tribally-polarised USA, a fact so painfully evident there at the moment with one party holding both Houses, while the other party has the Presidency. Further, I am quite prepared to concede that the Coalition, for all of its amorality and ineptitude, has managed to hold together far longer than I was anticipating back in 2010. One could even argue that Clegg has shown a measure of loyalty by staying in Coalition and fulfilling his promises to support Tory legislation, even after the primary goal of electoral reform became plainly unachievable.

But on the other hand, it has come as a horrible shock over the last four-and-a-half years to learn just how much Nick Clegg and his party were prepared to concede in order to get a few seats in the Cabinet. So much, in fact, that none of their supposed principles of fairness and progressivism appear to have left any real mark on any of the more significant policies of the Coalition at all. Loyalty to Coalition allies is one thing, but loyalty to the voters who put their trust in Clegg in the first place has been painfully notable by its absence. By facilitating, where in the past they had voiced opposition, the LibDems have allowed themselves to be part of a Government more extreme and hard-right than even Margaret Thatcher’s administration had been when it had a comfortable single-party majority.

If being too quick to make decisions can cost you a lot of votes, letting someone else make all the decisions for you can cost you a lot of seats – especially if those decisions are immoral and incompetent – and this is why there is a real danger of the Liberal Democrats having a single-digit presence in the House Of Commons by next Autumn. They have been ineffectual on the issues people voted for them for, and have been dominated by the policies those same people voted against. So the Liberal Democrats have looked both treacherous and ineffectual, offering people nothing to vote for.

Centrism is not meant to be a synonym for indecision, nor one for ‘manoeuvrable’ loyalties, nor even one for blindly following someone else, but the LibDems have let it become all three. In so doing, and in allowing that indecision to become a tolerance of astonishing social cruelty by Government, they are now as morally-bankrupt and as unelectable as the Conservatives.

by Martin Odoni

It is a common claim among egomaniacs, at least when simplistically portrayed in TV and movie dramas about the Mafia, that for people to respect you, they have to fear you. As followers of my blog will be aware from previous posts, I have up until now felt no respect at all for the Work & Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith. But if, as the movies insist, fear is a fundamental part of respect, then that has now changed. This week, I started quite genuinely to fear Iain Duncan-Smith.

Of course, I have long felt terror and despair at the fact of a man of such breathtakingly obvious ineptitude holding a high office. I am confident that I am in a majority there. But the man himself has so far been an object of maddening ridicule, not terror. There are times when I hear him flapping about helplessly in public interviews and making silly remarks that diverge one hundred and eighty degrees from reality, sounding feeble, ineffectual, and easily-confused, and I think, “I bet he gets beaten up by the girls from S-Club-7. He can’t look Hannah Spearritt in the eye, because it reminds him of when she out-muscled him…”

But no longer. Now I am scared of him. Because this week, a fresh example of the travesties caused by his infernal ‘Bedroom Tax’ was presented to Parliament during Prime Minister’s Question Time, and his reaction was so abhorrent and so devoid of human understanding that it almost made him seem like he is an entity from beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

To explain, the Government is being taken to court over its indiscriminate implementation of the ‘Bedroom Tax’. The plaintive in the case in question is a woman who is a victim of serious domestic violence, including rape, by her former partner. Her identity has been protected by the court, so we know her only as ‘A’, but she and her child have had a special room set up in their house called a ‘Panic Room’, where they can retreat to in the event her ex-partner tries to access the building again; the room has special extra security facilities to keep them safe in such an event.

It is shocking, but somehow unsurprising, to learn that the Government has decided to rule that this ‘Panic Room’ counts as an under-used spare room and is therefore subject to the ‘Under-Occupancy Penalty’. The ruling has been advocated and defended by the DWP, even though the very nature of what the room is there for means it cannot be used as a bedroom for another tenant.

Duncan-Smith defended the ruling at a hearing in the summer, arguing that the case should be dismissed and ‘A’ should just accept that she is no longer entitled to the same amount of benefit, which is quite nauseating enough. But when the leader of the Opposition, Ed Milliband, raised the matter at Prime Minister’s Questions this week, explaining details of the case, Duncan-Smith did something that really frightened me.

He laughed.

He mocked and wheezed at the plight of a traumatised, vulnerable woman whom he had already victimised by the ‘one-size-fits-all-poor-people’ outlook of his policies.

It is not the first time he has been guilty of seeing ‘comedy’ in the misery he has inflicted. Almost a year ago, he and his intellectually-bankrupt sidekick, Esther McVey, were in fits of mirth and merriment during a debate on the increased use of foodbanks around the UK. Oh, how they split their sides when they heard how people are going hungry in surging numbers! How they mocked and sniggered when they were informed, courtesy of figures from the Trussell Trust, that the overwhelming majority of foodbank-users report benefits-delays as their reason for looking for help. Oh yuk yuk, eh? Tee hee hee, right? Who needs The Thick Of It when we have topical political humour this cutting and tasteful, yeah?

Yet, for all that Duncan-Smith’s superciliousness that day angered and disgusted me, I still did not feel actual fear of him for it, nor even any great surprise. But this week, he was presented with his own bullying, with the way he shamelessly takes money even from a victim of domestic violence and sexual assault, and not only did he not apologise, not only did he stubbornly refuse to back down and make people in her situation an exception… he actually laughed again.

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Iain Duncan-Smith finds the rape of the poor, even in the most literal sense, funny. He finds it entertaining. He finds it diverting, an amusement so in accord with his tastes that it could almost have been devised for his own personal pleasure.

I do not imagine for a moment that he would find the rape and violent assault of a rich, well-dressed woman amusing at all. If something like that happened to his beloved Esther McVey (and no, before anyone tries to suggest it, I am not calling for a violent assault on McVey), he would doubtless be appalled and cry out for the heaviest punishment against the perpetrator, while also going out of his way to make sure that every possible comfort and support is sent McVey’s way, paid for by the taxpayer.

To be fair, that is how it should be, no matter who the victim is.

But the problem is that Duncan-Smith is such a blinkered, class-feeling throwback that his powers of empathy simply stop descending once they reach the lowest rung of the social ladder’s middle tier. Once he surveys the working classes, his sympathies seem to dissolve into resentment and contempt, as though the people who are most vulnerable and least privileged in society must be in that condition because they ‘deserve’ it in some way. “They’re so unsightly, they’re so smelly, so obviously they deserve everything we do to hurt them!” He is quite ignoring the reality that possession of a reasonable share of the wealth is what would allow the poor to live as more ‘aesthetically-pleasing’ people, and that is what he is taking from them, but far worse is the utterly malicious cruelty it leads him to. He does not just overlook the misery he causes, which would be amoral. Nor does he merely pretend to himself it is not happening, which would be delusional. He has now shown that he takes a gruesome pleasure in it as well, which is sadism. A degree of sadism that I find frightening.

With the right wing’s strange notion that ruthlessness is the same thing as efficiency, it follows that those people who most enjoy being ruthless, and who take the most pleasure from seeing the effect they have on their victims, will be ipso facto the people most motivated to achieving ‘efficiency’ – and doubly so if it frightens others into line at the same time. Given what an expensive fiasco, say, Duncan-Smith’s attempt to start up the Universal Credit has been, we can treat such empty logic with the derision it deserves, but at the same time, it may be the only workable explanation for why the Prime Minister refuses to fire his blunder-prone DWP Secretary. If he wants an efficient Government, David Cameron looks out for people who will behave ruthlessly, no more, no less. Iain Duncan-Smith laughs at the misery of the ‘lower orders’, therefore he is ruthless, therefore he commands fear, therefore he commands Cameron’s respect.

So after a fashion, and in the lowest sense possible, I suppose that means he commands mine too. But only if we accept that to fear someone is to respect them. Do not mistake me – my regard for Iain Duncan-Smith’s abilities and intelligence is as low as ever it was. But I now fear how little of a restraining effect either ethics or good sense have on his behaviour or his outlook. His religious zeal has always allowed him to express the most flagrant reversals of the plainest facts. Now we can see that his innate hostility to people ‘below’ him in the social order even makes him enjoy it. That sort of zealous sociopath is frightening even when he does not have his hands on Government. Right now, Duncan-Smith has his hands on, not just Government, but also on the throats of millions. And let us be honest; in such a prone position, who would dare tell such a rabid man that they do not respect him?

Vote For Petulance!

September 13, 2013

by Martin Odoni

I noted a few days ago that this coalition Government, especially the Tory presence in it, is the most petulant in living memory, always quick to throw insults around whenever it is validly criticised, or doesn’t get its own way. I would therefore like to acknowledge, with considerable gratitude, their apparent efforts over the last two days to prove me right.

For any who don’t know the story, two days ago a representative of the United Nations, Raquel Rolnik, official job description of Special Rapporteur On Housing, published a brief summary of her findings after investigating the effects of what has been pejoratively nicknamed ‘The Bedroom Tax’.

And yes, its real name, before I get the usual tidal wave of paranoid objections from Conservative supporters, is Spare Bedroom Under-Occupancy Penalty. Strangely, objections against the nickname are sometimes raised as a defence of the penalty, insisting that as it is not a tax but a benefits deduction, it isn’t as bad as the ‘Bedroom Tax’ label makes it sound. But in fact, the reality of it is rather worse than it would be if it were tax, because at least a tax would be applied more proportionally; –

The charge is levied on all social/council housing occupants who have unused bedrooms in their houses by reducing the amount of benefits that household is entitled to receive. By definition, the well-off are very unlikely to be claiming benefits, so the charge almost certainly won’t affect them (and even if it did, it would do them no recognisable harm, as the amount of benefit they would receive would be trifling compared with what they have in the bank already). But it has caused serious financial complications for the less well-off, many of whom were already on the threshold of hardship at best before its introduction.

So as a benefits cut, it can only affect people who are seriously disadvantaged – a sadly typical pattern with almost all coalition legislation designed to ‘tackle the National Deficit’ (HAH!). This means that a billionaire living alone in a twenty-five-room mansion, say, is not in any way financially hampered by the charge – unless he is disabled in some way and for some bizarre reason has been allowed to claim benefits for it – whereas a single mother living in a two-up-two-down terrace house with one child will have to get a lodger for the spare room, or lose state-support. Unfortunately, many people around the country do not live in an area where there are enough lodgers to go around.

The charge was introduced, officially, to encourage use of unoccupied residential space in response to the growing problem of homelessness. But as it pushes more and more of the poorest home-owners into financial woes, it hugely increases the likelihood of evictions, and so of upping the amount of homelessness.

Why the Government couldn’t have instead put far more investment into house-building – which would also have injected some much-needed stimulus into the construction sector to boost economic growth – or imposed the tax on wealthy people who clearly have far more space than they will ever need in their homes, has to date not been explained. But the most convincing thought-process the Government might have offered as an explanation would have been, “Well naturally we wouldn’t want to coerce our chaps [read: the rich] into having to give up some of their living space to – and worse still to rub shoulders with – squalid, uncouth poor people.”

Now some of these details didn’t actually make it into Rolnik’s initial press release, for the simple reason that calculating motivation was beyond her mandate. But she did speak of the Bedroom Tax in pretty scathing terms.

The response of the Tories, entirely predictably, has been to speak of Rolnik in very scathing terms as well. Some of their responses have been just plain offensive, some transparently dishonest, some downright hypocritical, but all of them reinforce the long-running pattern of a governing coalition made up of Primary School starters.

To start with the offensiveness, the Conservative MP for Peterborough, Stewart Jackson, went on Twitter and labelled Rolnik a ‘loopy Brazilian leftie masquerading as serious UN official’, thus insulting her mental state, her professionalism, her integrity, and possibly even her country, all in one incoherent sentence. It is noticeable that this ‘rebuttal’ was composed of nothing but insults, with no attempt whatever to explain what was wrong with what Rolnik had said. (And by the way, don’t an awful lot people on the right wing love labelling opponents rather than articulating reasons why they are wrong?)

More complicated was the dishonesty. The Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps publicly raged at Rolnik in the media, labelling her press release an ‘absolute disgrace’. His objections were at least a lot more coherent than Jackson’s: “It is completely wrong and an abuse of the process for somebody to come over, to fail to meet with Government Ministers, to fail to meet with the department responsible, to produce a press release two weeks after coming, even though the report is not due out until next spring, and even to fail to refer to policy properly throughout the report.” He also claimed that Rolnik had entered the country and conducted her investigation uninvited by the UK Government.

But coherence, let us not forget, is no measure of accuracy. Despite Shapps’ objections, Rolnik did meet with the department responsible i.e. officials at the Department Of Work & Pensions (including Andrew Parfitt, the head of its housing policy division), and with several Government Ministers such as Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, and Don Foster, Under-Secretary of State. Just not with Iain Duncan-Smith, and apparently that was despite her requesting such a meeting. Furthermore, the correct name of the policy was referred to in Rolnik’s summary, more often indeed than the term ‘Bedroom Tax’. (If the Report isn’t due until the spring, by the way, how exactly does Shapps know what’s in it? If he is referring to the summary Rolnik published, then he got the name wrong. Irony, anyone?) And Shapps, again, never really explained what was wrong with Rolnik’s conclusions, all he listed were procedural improprieties, most of which were untrue anyway.

The hypocrisy arrived in the form of Conservative objections that Rolnik’s conclusions were wrong, and that she did not have possession of sufficient facts to draw them. Given that the Tories themselves, especially IDS, have remained stubbornly set against running an in-depth study into the effects of Austerity measures, including the Bedroom Tax, on below-breadline households, they are fine ones to complain about others not having the facts at their fingertips. More importantly though, Rolnik has at least spoken to people around the UK in the communities hard-hit by the coalition’s extreme measures, so how can the likes of Shapps and IDS even be sure that Rolnik has her facts wrong, when they have very deliberately accrued less information than she has?

Predictably, the jingoistic yobbos in the right-wing press swiftly joined in the xenophobic mud-slinging, trying to discredit Rolnik’s findings almost entirely on the grounds that they were written up by a foreigner. The Daily Express referring to Rolnik as an ‘idiot’ and as a ‘Brazil nut’ was quite bad enough, but the Daily Mail descended almost to a new level of irrational, scare-mongering character-assassination, even by its own abysmal standards of anti-professional journalism, calling Rolnik a dabbler in witchcraft who offers up sacrifices of animals to the ghost of Karl Marx, or some such hysterical codswallop. Arguments against what Rolnik said have been few and far between, and blatantly untrue when they have been offered, with doubtfully-informed insult, innuendo and personal rumour being the standard offering in their stead.

In truth, an awful lot of this grotty right-wing slime-slinging is so crude and obvious that there is no need to get angry about it. It won’t fool anyone who hadn’t already chosen to dislike Rolnik, and it gives a worse impression of the people doing the hatchet job than it does of the person getting hatcheted. The Government has been caught red-handed, and as the right wing have no defence, they have two choices. Hold up their hands, take the criticisms on board, and accept that the Bedroom Tax is deeply unfair, or attack the critics like some teenage brat screaming, “I HATE YOU!” when his parents say, “Do your homework properly this time.” Was it ever in doubt which route the Tories would choose? Even before Rolnik’s press release was in the public domain, we could almost feel the Conservative Party backlash already on its way.

We can take this spiralling cycle of petulance as a sign of desperation on the part of British Conservatism. It is the lash-out of people who don’t want to face up to the terrible job this Government has done during its first three-and-a-half years, and who are now operating on the same undignified level as Fox News Channel in the USA; not concerned with what’s really happening, only with trying to find other things for people to take their frustrations out on, and dubious rumours with which to discredit their critics. This current display isn’t even a clever or sophisticated smear tactic, it is just crude personal abuse, and with its irrelevant obsession with attacking Rolnik for her nationality, it is also akin to racism.

By behaving in such ways, the Tories and their traditional allies in the right-wing media are doing themselves no favours. It shows them to be unworthy of sitting in public office, an office that demands as a bare minimum a modicum of diplomatic skill, and if the Labour Party were really on top of its game, it would take full advantage, holding up every single moment of bullying vitriol and ad hominem viciousness to public scrutiny, saying to the nation, “This is the sort of juvenile name-calling mentality that is at Number 10 at the moment! Surely you don’t want more of that!” Shame on you, Ed Miliband, for missing an open goal.

But just because the Tory behaviour is predictable and much too crude to sway anyone, that doesn’t make it any less telling. This really is all you get from about ninety per cent of the Conservative Party in pretty much any era. What the swooning droolers in the Daily Mail call the ‘patriotism’, or ‘national pride’, or ‘British bulldog spirit’ of the traditional right is, in practise, almost invariably stubbornness, insufferable pettiness, and xenophobia. We got plenty of renditions of precisely this same song while Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, particularly during her embarrassing rivalry with Jacques Delors, William Hague attempted to continue the mantra with his utterly brainless and irresponsible (but also, thankfully, ineffective) Save The Pound scare-mongering around the turn of the millennium, and now the anthem has been resurrected once more by the coalition. “When things are going badly, have a go at the foreigners. And when the foreigners are having a go at us, scare people about the foreigners.”

I recall in school at a very early age, I was regularly sitting at lunch with the same group of friends, when one of them started routinely telling lies about the rest of us to teachers, just so he could draw their attention away from the fact that he was frequently stealing food from other people’s plates. We can easily forgive him for that, because he was only six at the time. It is very difficult to forgive that exact same type of behaviour in men of advancing middle age who have their hands on the most critical mechanisms of the British Government.

Perhaps the guilt in this case is amplified by a further layer of hypocrisy; David Cameron has spent over a year trying to angle for military intervention in the Syrian Civil War, and when he finally tried (unsuccessfully) to get the support of Parliament, he did so on the basis that the Assad regime had supposedly violated International Law. The evidence for that is deeply suspect anyway, but more importantly, it’s a bit rich for the UK to make pompous noises about the importance of protecting vulnerable people and upholding International Law one week, and then two weeks later be found to have broken Human Rights’ Laws. If Syria is a legitimate target for military repercussions from the outside world, surely, with Rolnik’s scathing assessment, the UK now is as well? As things stand, I for one see precious little moral difference between what the British Government is doing to its own people and what the Syrian Government is supposedly doing to theirs. Only the military aggression is different – is killing people with guns and gas really worse than killing them through poverty and desperation? (It is happening, whether you are aware of it or not.)

Whatever their reasons for lashing out at Rolnik, it is pretty clear that it was reflex rather than reason that led the Tories and their supporters to retreat into such gutter-level abusiveness. The sheer speed of their retorts, clearly too fast to think them through, and the dearth of responses to Rolnik’s actual criticisms, tell us that this was not an honest defence, but out-and-out knee-jerk defensiveness. A raw nerve was struck, and Shapps, IDS and Jackson instinctively chose to hurt what was hurting them. And they tried to hurt her in the manner of a gang of playground bullies swarming around the smallest girl in the class on the first day she had to start wearing spectacles. (Not that Rolnik was exactly devastated by their bullying. On the contrary, in her impressively resilient response on Channel 4 News, her counter-punches were clearly far harder than anything thrown at her, not least because she focused on talking about the subject under discussion, rather than hurling more petty verbal abuse back at her attackers).

So, right wingers, that is what you people chose to put into power. These are the tantrum-throwing, bullying yobs that you want to represent you in the forum of the nation, and in the wider world at large. People who turn the most important subjects-of-discussion in national and world affairs into a bar-fight. People who make the United Kingdom look, to the rest of the world, like a stroppy, quarrelsome juvenile.

You can only be sure with the Conservatives, one of their slogans once proclaimed. If by that they meant, “You can be confident that the country will be run like an After-School Sports Team once you’ve put this bunch of hooligans into office,” then it was true. And yes, I know a lot of you people voted for the Tories because they’re very good at finding ‘others’ for you to blame for your problems, and they’re also very good at picking on such people on your frustrated behalf. But when the bullying is done, you will always find that the real troubles in your lives are still there, and wouldn’t you like those problems to go away sooner or later? And do you really think a bunch of schoolkids singing, Come ‘n’ ‘Ave A Go If Ya Think Ya ‘Ard Enuff are going to have the analytical skills, imagination and fortitude to solve such issues?

Because that’s effectively what you are pretending to yourselves every time you vote for the Conservatives. You vote for petulance.