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You’re not unemployed – you lack self-reliance

Back in the 1930s, millions of people were out of work because they all forgot to be self-reliant

Mark Steel
Thursday 04 July 2013 18:46 BST
(Getty Images)

As political arguments go, this one should be entered for an award. A Labour MP, Simon Danczuk, was on daytime television defending the Government’s latest restrictions on unemployment benefit. The Independent’s Owen Jones disagreed; the MP became flustered and snapped: “I won’t take lectures from you – you come from the posh part of Stockport.”

The logic is unanswerable. What right has anyone got to object to cuts in benefits, when they themselves come from Stockport’s famous playboy quarter, the Monte Carlo of Greater Manchester, where Russian oligarchs buy waterside apartments so they can lounge on their billion-pound yachts in the nearby Manchester Ship canal. Nicole Kidman is the latest star to rent a villa overlooking the salubrious M60 orbital motorway, and Lewis Hamilton is just one of many celebrities often seen dining at the exclusive Griddled Egg by the bus station. Apparently, Made in Chelsea will soon be replaced by the even more privileged Sired in Stockport, in which Bernie Ecclestone’s daughter gasps: “Oh my GOD have you SEEN the emerald on Jemima’s bracelet” while sniffing glue in Edgeley Park with the Sultan of Brunei.

You can understand Mr Danczuk’s exasperation, having to struggle on an MP’s salary, and one of the most pressing reasons for their proposed 10 per cent pay rise is that at least he could then afford to live in the less common part of Stockport. Until then he seems determined to stick up for the poor, by insisting the Labour Party supports the cuts on benefits to the poor. Instead of defending benefits, he said, the unemployed should be “got back to work”, and we achieve that by “teaching them about self-reliance”.

This makes perfect sense, as long as you accept that the reason unemployment goes up and down is because of fluctuating levels of self-reliance. In the 1930s, tens of millions across the world were out of work because they all suddenly forgot to be self-reliant, the useless bastards. Before long, many of them had no shoes, and luckily no one gave them any, so by the end of the decade they perked themselves up, which was handy as otherwise there would have been no one to fight the Second World War.

Similarly, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking the banking crash and recession made people unemployed today. If hundreds of people in a town lose their jobs, that has nothing to do with the fact a car plant or insurance firm has shut down the day before. That’s a coincidence. What’s happened is they’ve all, on the same day, forgotten how to be self-reliant. The new rule helps them get back that self-reliance by preventing anyone from claiming benefits for their first week out of work, making the average wait for the first payment five weeks instead of four. As a result, the unemployed will say “I’m not waiting that long”, and all become architects instead.

Mr Danczuk had another reason for supporting benefit cuts, which was “I speak to people, and they want benefits cut”. So you can’t fault his commitment to democracy. He talks to people, then whatever they say, that’s his policy.

Presumably if he’d been a politician in South Africa in the 1970s, he’d have said: “I speak to people, and they want blacks herded into townships, denied the right to vote and shot at on a regular basis”, because he’s a man of the people. If anyone had the audacity to argue he could say: “I won’t take lectures off you. You come from the posh part of a Soweto squatter camp.”

It’s often true in a recession that many people want benefits cut. For example, in America in the 1930s, as described in the novel The Grapes of Wrath, destitute farmers faced hostility wherever they roamed in a desperate search for work and food. If Mr Danczuk reads that book it could make him highly emotional, as he screams: “Why are some idiots giving the unemployed a box of fruit. That’s only teaching them to be reliant.”

In Tudor Britain, when farmers were driven off the land as sheep were more profitable than people, the unemployed walked to the towns to beg, provoking Henry VIII to pass a law that beggars should have an ear cut off. Mr Danczuk would have gone on television to say: “I fully support these measures by the King. After all, I’ve spoken to people and they want ears cut.”

It may be that one of the reasons people “want benefits cut” is hardly anyone from the major parties presents an opposition to that view. The Labour strategy appears to be that whatever the Government says, the party will agree not to reverse it, although it does disagree with some minor aspect of it.

If the Government has any sense of fun, it should come up with nuttier schemes, just for a laugh, to see Labour desperately agree with it. “From 2015,” it could say, “We will burn the unemployed’s pets.” Labour would say: “We accept the need for pet immolation in these times of austerity, but we disagree with the way in which this measure was announced, as we would have announced it in a Somerset accent.” Because the job of Labour isn’t to take lectures off the privileged of Stockport – it’s to agree with cuts announced by down-to-earth, common-sense working folk like David Cameron and George Osborne.

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