If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Flight Decked?

Oh dear. It seems that Tory peer-to-be Howard Flight has put his foot in it. Cameron has told him to apologise, and apologise he has, and furthermore the apology was "unreserved".

What has he been saying? That the Jews were to blame for the Holocaust? That Global Warming Climate Change Chaos is a criminal conspiracy? That immigrants should be rounded up and sent home?

None of the above. His crime was to say:
We're going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it's jolly expensive. But for those on benefits, there is every incentive. Well, that's not very sensible.
Labour have called the comments "shameful" and said they showed how "out of touch" the Tories are, and Plaid Cymru have called them "disgraceful". Brendan Barber, of the in-touch-with-the-people's-mood TUC, said that Flight was "an insensitive throwback to the worst of 1980s politics". Man-of-the-people Eric Pickles has said that he found the comments "personally repugnant". David Cameron was clear that he didn't agree with the remarks, and was sure that Mr Flight would want to apologise. Which, after a brief interlude, he has. Shame.

The Tories are planning to remove child benefit from families where someone earns more than £43,000 a year. This will prove a slight disincentive for those familes (who may be accurately called middle-class) to have more children. At the same time, families on less than £43,000 (which will include those on benefits, or should) will continue to get the full child benefit that they do at present. I would be grateful if anyone could explain how anything Mr Flight said was wrong. The first two sentences are pretty much uncontested fact, or at least reasonable assumptions. It can only be his comment that encouraging those on benefits to "breed" is "not very sensible" that is causing controversy.

Paying people to have more and more children (i.e. breeding) when they can't even afford to support the ones they have is indeed not very sensible. I can see the argument for helping anyone who finds him or herself on low or no wages to support children they already have, and that is reasonable and humane. But the current system pays the feckless to be even more feckless. In an age of reliable contraception, there is no reason why anyone should have children they can't afford. Why I should keep on paying for Che'lsee to pop out her fourth and fifth sprogs while sitting at home watching Jeremy Kyle is a mystery. The noises from the Left are as expected. But for Cameron and Pickles to join in an attack on a man who is only saying what many ordinary people are thinking shows a lack of balls.

I happen to think that Flight is wrong on the issue of the higher earners. If you are earning over £43k, you can afford a couple of children, and these are the kind of people who are the least likely to have children they can't afford in any case. His remarks on the incentive that those on benefits have to produce even more children are spot on.

The Coalition - gradually revealing themselves as New Labour with a new coat of paint.


  1. BoyDave hasn't the Balls to tell his detractors to F@ck-off when they criticise one of his team for uttering the truth.


    The more sprogs a chavette drops, the more us taxpayers dish out in benefits to her.

  2. Your last sentence is too long. It should read...
    The Coalition - revealing themselves as New Labour.

  3. I wrote about my disillusion with the Coalition here. Cameron is looking more and more like Blair in a blue tie. They have made some good moves, but nothing, it seems, too radical. Cutting child benefit, for example, but only for the wealthy. Reforming benefits, but only a little bit, and in 2016 or something. Time's ticking on. My patience is running out.

  4. I thought, to be fair, that they had made a reasonably good start - all things considered. Certainly more radical a programme than Blair's rather wishy-washy first term. I sort of get the idea it's groundwork, trying to minimise the controversy while getting the concepts in place and generally accepted, to enable a much more significant programme from mid-term onwards.

    Hence, a certain amount of reining in of party members, in order to keep the message palatable whilst weaning people off the state-dependency mindset. It's without doubt an uphill task, given the amount of entitlement bleating going on against even the most modest of reform proposals.

    (Of course, I could be completely wrong and it'll just be five years of tinkering around the edges. In which case I won't be voting for them again).

    Not saying I approve, though - I would like politicians to be honest, blunt and open about what they want and I don't much care if it does offend thin-skinned liberalistas. I don't even necessarily want to agree with them, just to know where they really stand. In this case, I can't see anything wrong with Flight's comments (and I think the middle-class reference is not just removal of child benefit, it's the endless other squeezes that have been put on their income to subsidise both the super-rich tax avoiders and the welfare cohorts)...pity Cameron didn't back him and agree it isn't sensible to create incentives to be irresponsible. After all, I thought that was all part of the Big Society mentality...

  5. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt, I think. It's a bit like getting to a slab of cold beers on a hot day - you don't want to sip, you want to slake your thirst straight away. Perhaps I am expecting too much too soon, and they are playing a long game. If so, good for them, as it is more likely to be a permanent change.

    It seems as thought the 'Liberal' left are now equating his comments with sterilising the poor. If they are saying that, then they have already lost the argument. And any sense of proportion.

  6. I'm sorry that Flight apologised.

    But, I'm gonna play devil's advocate.

    The successful people should not be encouraged to have kids. It interferes with their career developement. The socio-economically deprived, however, haven't got anything better to do than raise future tax-payers for the state.

    Go on, disagree with that, without espousing Eugenics!

    Seriously, where's the flaw?

    Do the underclass necessarily produce bad kids? Can that be addressed?

    I don't actually agree with me on this. But why not?

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. (Comment removed for significant edit.)

    Keith Joseph (who used to be my MP when I lived in Leeds), got himself into hot water by saying exactly the same thing in 1974. In a speech in Edgbaston, he noted that teenage pregnancies in 'social classes 4 and 5' were on the increase, and that "the balance of our population, our human stock, is threatened". Even as a lefty student at the time, I found it hard to disagree with what he was saying: that people tend to pass on attitudes such as responsibility and the work ethic, and if the feckless breed more and the responsible breed less (which is what was happening and continues to happen), then we are heading for a society of feckless, workshy people. It was the references to 'human stock', with its eugenics overtones, that upset people. The genetic argument is highly debateable - although it makes sense in a gut-feeling way - but the idea that we will build a successful and happy society by encouraging the young and idle to breed while the hard-working consciously limit their number of offspring is obviously unrealistic. Of course, suggesting that things like intelligence and a work ethic are genetic was diametrically opposite to the mores of the time, and he was roundly attacked for his remarks. This speech probably cost him any hopes of the Conservative leadership, and allowed Mrs Thatcher to stand.

    "Do the underclass necessarily produce bad kids?" No, I don't think they do. In my teaching career I got to know many kids who lived in appalling poverty, and with very challenging home circumstances, who were responsible, hard-working and reliable. But I think they were the exception rather than the rule. In general terms, we are conditioned by our upbringing, and someone who sees his/her parents working hard, playing by the rules, and being independent is more likely to grow up the same as compared with someone whose parents are lazy, workshy and grasping. Numerically, the latter kind is more likely in an 'underclass', however you define it, then in the population of working people. I would not use terms like 'middle-class' here, as I have known plenty of idle, workshy bastards in the middle classes, and plenty of sound and upright people in the working class. I would draw the distinction between people who work for a living, at whatever level (or, crucially, who would genuinely like to but cannot for whatever reason), and people who are content to live off the state and do nothing productive. In this sense, a reform of the benefits system - to support fully those who need it, and to get those who do not back into productive work - is critical. That would be my answer to your question "can that be addressed?"

    Sorry for the long answer, but it's by no means a simple question.

  9. I agree, instinctively.

    I've always worked. Got no qualifications, and I've never earned all that much, but I've got a bit of saleable talent, and I quite enjoy my work.

    Would I work if I hated my job, and the state offered me an easy living? Quite possibly not.

    This is why, in my honest moments, I'm uneasy about condemning the work-shy. I suspect that I may be one of them.

    Does anyone here hate their career, but continue to work out of honour? Or are we just smug lucky bastards?

    Dunno where I'm going with this. But the solution must be to design the poverty trap out of the welfare state. Not just blame the feckless.

    Look, I'm only arguing for the sake of it! I aint no lefty!

  10. Calm down, no-one said you were :)

    Honest answer time - if I could give up work and be supported, even modestly, by the state, would I do it? Of course I would. I'm not sure if I would have given the same answer at age 25, mind you. I think when you are younger there is a need to work, and create, and fit in, and just do stuff. At least, there is if you have been brought up to want that.

    I have just found another (much lower-paid) job after 8 months out of work, and I am pleased to say that I didn't claim a bean while I was out of work. I'm penniless now, but I have my self-respect. If the state gives, the state will expect something in return, and I'm not about to enter any pacts with the devil just yet.


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