You know a government is in trouble when it starts playing the reds under the bed card to distract attention from its own failings. But there is a real element of absurdity as well as desperation in last week’s accusation by Chris Grayling that corporations were pulling out of the Coalition’s work experience schemes as a result of a defamatory campaign launched by the Socialist Workers Party.
There is no doubt that this is a government in dire need of a smokescreen. Within the last week a number of major companies have withdrawn from the government’s work experience programme, following revelations that suggest the benefits system is being used as coercive instrument to provide companies with a source of cheap subsidised labour.
Graylings has accused the SWP of hacking his emails and claimed that ‘anti-capitalist extremists’ have frightened off the government’s corporate partners by misrepresenting its welfare-to-work programme. Such accusations are laughable and in fact contemptible.
Firstly, the campaign against the work experience scheme is a wide umbrella, of which the SWP is only one component. The Right to Work campaign has trade union affiliates and support from across the country that includes the National Union of Teachers, the National Union of Journalists, the GMB, Unite and Unison.
One of the key stories that have brought the work experience programmes to public attention is the court case against Poundland from Cait Reilly, an unemployed graduate, with no known political affiliations to any party.
Labour is also criticizing these programmes, with its usual shameless opportunism, even though it started many of them itself. Criticisms of the scheme have also come from within the government itself, in the shape of Lib Dem defence minister Nick Harvey’s leaked emails.
Secondly, the idea that powerful corporations like Tescos, Sainsburys, Burger King and Poundland have been frightened away from doing the right thing by the SWP isrunning scared by the SWP is laughable nonsense. The reason these corporations have pulled out is because they do not want to be associated with a scheme that is so blatantly unfair and exploitative that they fear their customers might not be able to stomach it.
None of this prevented the Tory party’s media outlets from presenting a dire picture of the spectre that is now haunting the UK and destroying the dreams of the nation’s youth through their attempts to give them a decent wage.
On Saturday former-leftist-turned-rightwing-zealot Janet Daley reached into her own prehistoric militant past to pen one of those clumsily ironic Citizen Smith-style smears that the British right never tires of, in an article accusing an SWP ‘rent-a’mob’ of ‘browbeating retailers terrified of bad publicity.’
In yesterday’s Telegraph Matthew d’Ancona could be found condemning the ‘so-called “Right to Work” campaigners’ for opposing what he called ‘ a ladder of hope for the unemployed from despair and worklessness to dignity and autonomy’.
In the Daily Mail , the gimlet-eyed inquisitoress Melanie Phillips entered the fray like the malignant ghost in The Woman in Black, earning every penny of her spittle-flecked prose as she denounced the SWP as
a marginal, far-Left revolutionary grouping of placard-toting obsessives and droning Marxist bores which until very recently had zero public impact except in the context of raucous and occasionally violent demonstrations.
Never one to allow logic or common sense to obstruct her line of argument, Phillips, like Janet Daley, blamed the new influence of the SWP on her bete noir the BBC, which
Day after day… gave them a platform, sanitising their true nature and unashamedly endorsing their message that the Government scheme was somehow immoral and unacceptable.
The BBC also interviewed government ministers, including Chris Grayling and others who supported the programme, but never mind, it’s all another good day’s work for a writer who increasingly seems to inhabit some parallel dimension.
And today the Daily Mail is back at the chalk face with some tough talk from Sir Stuart Rose, former head of Marks & Spencers, who claims that businesses have ‘shown a little less than backbone’ and not allow themselves to be intimidated by what the Mail calls
the scheme has been thrown into turmoil by protests led by a campaign group called Right to Work, which ministers say is nothing more than a front organisation for the hard-Left Socialist Workers Party. The SWP advocates the overthrow of capitalism via a Marxist revolution.
Really? Well oh my goodness, I’m truly shocked. And now today’s Telegraph has an article by Boris Johnson entitled ‘ the Loony Left, out to destroy youngsters hopes of a job,’ which excoriates these ‘so-called socialists’ and goes on to argue that
….the worst of it is that the companies themselves are taking fright. They don’t want to be thought of as silk top-hatted slave-drivers. They know that a spirit of anti-capitalism stalks the land, a fire-breathing beast that has shrivelled Stephen Hester’s bonus in its nostril-blast, and scorched Fred Goodwin’s knighthood, and now seeks whomever else it may devour.
All these denunciations of the ‘loony left’ are not only deeply dishonest, but the faux-concern for the nation’s ‘youngsters’ that accompanies them is also quite sickeningly hypocritical. Because whether campaigners against the government’s welfare-to-work schemes want to bring down capitalism or whether they don’t, their criticisms focus on a very simple principle; namely, that if someone works they should be paid a fair wage for the work they do and they should not be pressured into doing jobs that they don’t want to do.
This principle is not limited to the SWP. Even Tescos agrees with this (now at least), and has proposed to the Government that it pay trainees for job placements, with a ‘guaranteed job placement at the end of it, provided they complete the placement satisfactorily.’
But Johnson’s anxieties about ‘ the spirit of anti-capitalism’ perhaps get to the heart of the government’s phony Red Scare. Ever since it came to power the Coalition has been shamelessly using the deficit crisis as a lever to bust open the public sector and turn it into a source of profit, whether it’s the NHS, the education system or workfare programmes.
Once the ‘Big Society’ acted as a smokescreen; now it looks merely like an obsolete marketing exercise. On almost every level, the Coalition’s real intentions are becoming visible, from its discredited NHS bill and the resignation of its tarnished ‘family champion’ Emma Harrison the head of A4e, to the revelations of the love affair between education secretary Michael Gove and Rupert Murdoch, who is looking to take advantage of the Coalition’s academies programme.
In these circumstances, it is really no surprise at all that the government has decided to take refuge in the smear and the lie, and bring back the old shibboleths from the 1980s, and we can expect to see a lot more of them in the coming months.