Political point scoring? Politics by penalty shootout.
I am guessing anyone who has found their way to this page has seen Question time this week in which Shadow Cabinet Minister, Angela Eagle MP, was accused of political point scoring in demanding the resignation of Lord Freud for stating that those who were not ‘worth’ the minimum wage due to disability should be permitted to accept a lower hourly wage.
Lord Freud has been quoted out of context in many places. In reality the question seems to have been posed by a father who was concerned about the future employment prospects of his disabled daughter. Without this context the appearance is that Lord Freud is a heartless Conservative ogre with little respect for human rights. I kind of get the impression that a similar description would suit most MPs so I am not going to dwell on it. I have certainly met many MPs who have impressed me with their humanity but it seems that once they are given positions of power in the executive they have to make choices between their principles and practicality. For a prime example of this I would consider the pleas to end ‘Punch and Judy Politics’ before the election by
Mr Punch David Cameron. Another example would be the pro-Europe attitudes of many MPs until UKIP started doing well, whereupon their principles were pushed to the back of the shelf.
Certainly one aspect of the Punch and Judy system of politics is that one must always try to stick the dagger in when the time seems appropriate. Those who succeed in achieving positions of power seem to have got there partially due to this particular skill. Naturally Angela Eagle would say that Lord Freud should resign; it is probably the opinion of most people in the shadow cabinet that the entire Tory government should resign, so that can’t really be held against her. Of course she did seem somewhat surprised that her failed attempt on the point scoring goal seems to have been met with complete hostility by so many people that even those who agreed with her (all across the nation) quietly started examining a bit of fluff they hadn’t realised was stuck on their sleeve whilst feigning a moment’s deafness.
Since then there appear to have been a constant barrage of penalty shootouts against Angela Eagle for having used the opportunity to try and make Lord Freud look bad. Aside from the fact that Lord Freud was doing perfectly well with making himself look bad already it is the Punch and Judy nature of her response that lost her the opportunity to make an extremely valid point. In fact she did make the exact point she wished to make but it was completely missed on two occasions because the audience was too intent on scoring points against her for her attempt to score points. The newspapers have now gotten hold of the political football and are hurriedly scoring political points all over the place. Angela Eagle only tried to score one point and now there are balls flying all over the place.
The one thing she repeated which should have been heard was that it should not be an issue of money. It was put to her that Lord Freud’s intent was fully reasonable and everyone knew what he had meant, as though what he had meant was eminently sensible. Angela Eagle suggested that it was a weakness of the Conservatives that they always brought things down to the issue of money. The point she wanted to make, at which she should have stopped, is that there could be other ways of doing things. Employers could be shown how their businesses could benefit from the diversity offered by disabled employees. There could be ways to balance the work done so that those whose abilities didn’t cover all tasks could take up the slack in areas where they might excel, whilst more able bodied workers could cover for them in other areas. The efforts of disabled workers could be coordinated to make them more effective. Fittingly this task could be done by someone who had knowledge of what it is like to be disabled, this would enable many disabled people to be employed in this capacity as well.
Some of those were my own ideas rather than ones put forward by Angela Eagle. The point I wish to make is that she was right to the extent that all issues cannot be solved by simply throwing money at them. Whilst one way to get employers to take on disabled employees would be to subsidise wages this is not an ideal solution in our current economic climate. When all that is on George Osborne’s mind is austerity and saving money the first option in any situation should not be to pay out money to deal with every issue on the agenda. Subsidising the wages of the disabled is akin to paying employers to make the disabled go away. Whilst it is the disabled who should be getting paid for the work they are doing, it is the employers who are being paid to hide them from public view. The system would be ripe for abuse. At present there are a huge number of people with disabilities in employment and the reason for this is that it has been discovered that many people on the autistic spectrum are actually far better than mentally typical people in many technology jobs. By subsidising the wages of the disabled, government would only be encouraging employers to continue seeking out the best candidates for positions at a fraction of the cost. Large companies would become expert in sourcing the best candidates for the lowest prices. Also how would government accomplish the task of grading each individual to judge how great a subsidy they should receive? Throwing money at situations leaves them ripe for abuse by those who are most adept at abusing situations for monetary gain.
The most ironic thing is that it was a Labour politician who was complaining about the idea of government paying out more money versus a Conservative politician that was suggesting there might be a way of dealing with the issue by the government paying more money. It is my belief that most of our problems can be solved through methods other than spending cash. We have all heard stories where the official line in some organisation has been that things must be done in a certain way that costs hundreds of pounds while the people involved have been saying something like, “If you just gave me the £2.50 for the bus fare I would do it myself.” Again and again we hear tales of ridiculous amount of money being wasted not because the system allows it but because the system demands it. During the MP’s expenses scandal there were tales that the clerks involved in controlling the expenses were the ones making the suggestions of how best to take the most money.
There are many times in our daily lives when we can see the absurdity of pricing and costs with the implications that they will eventually have on our environment. I could waffle on for ages about ways in which money could be better used. I don’t think that Angela Eagle’s point was too difficult to understand; it was just too easy to miss, especially in the noise of the furor over her ‘point scoring’. Behind the call for Lord Freud’s dismissal she did make a very good point, one I think could be listened too and adopted by Conservatives, Labour, Libdems, Greens, whoever. Our first approach to solving any political problem should never be to simply throw money at it. We are all short of money, government included, but one thing that we all have in excess is common sense, but most of us rarely exercise it.