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PMQs: Labour attacks Cameron as the leader of a ‘Dickensian Britain’

19 December 2012

PMQs started off in a very consensual manner as Ed Miliband asked some worthy questions on Afghanistan. But this quickly changed when Miliband moved onto food banks. The Labour leader attempted to paint food banks as a consequence of the coalition’s policies. When Cameron mentioned the ‘Big Society’, Miliband shot back that ‘I never thought the Big Society was about feeding children here in Britain.’

A string of Labour MPs then made similar attacks on Cameron. One even waved a suicide note left by a constituent affected by changes to disability benefits. The question is whether the picture of, to quote one Labour MP, a Dickensian Britain with ‘grandeur for the few, the workhouse for the many’ rings true. I don’t think it does.

One sub-plot of PMQs today was Andrew Mitchell. He stood at the bar of the House, looking more like his old self and talking to various friends. His body language, though, gave little away as his treatment by the police was raised with Cameron by the Tory backbencher Rob Wilson.

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  • Iain Hill

    Beadle Cameron!

  • Kevin

    It blooming well does ring true.

    Do a search on “plummeting savings rates” and read up on the Government’s Funding for Lending scheme.

    Just one of the many ways the grandeur-workhouse divide is being implemented.

  • M. Wenzl

    “The question is whether the picture of, to quote one Labour MP, a Dickensian Britain with ‘grandeur for the few, the workhouse for the many’ rings true. I don’t think it does.”

    Please explain why.

    • M. Wenzl

      An answer has been provided by Isabel Harman on her coverage of the issue, although it still doesn’t ring conclusive as it addresses only the fact that food banks existed prior to 2010.

  • True_Belle

    Wackford Squeers, if I’m not mistaken!

  • Troika21

    I noticed that Cameron had nothing to say about the suicide note, it really punctured the usual bluster of PMQs. Also puts to shame the idea that fiddling with the tax system would change much in this economy.

  • David Lindsay

    The MP with the constituent’s suicide note, dismissed as a positively amusing on here of course, was Ian Lavery, whom there was a concerted right-wing press campaign to brand as unfit for office in the run-up to the last Election, on account of his disdain for the police (during the Miners’ Strike). You have changed your minds now, haven’t you?

    • HiFlite

      Yes but evidently so have the police changed.

      • David Lindsay

        Or you have.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Hmm. Dickensian and, possibly, Regency England vs the paranoid, bonkers, mawkish, post-democratic, post-New Labour immigrant flooded, infrastructure creaking England of trivial pursuits. And they call it “progress”. Quite a choice to ponder.

    • David Lindsay

      We are the conclusion of the Second Regency Age, all right. Its pomp lasted 50 years exactly, although the winding up will take a little while. Next up, then, the Second Victorian Age.

  • toco10

    A bit rich for Red(‘I never needed a proper job due to my wealthy Marxist Dad and his leftist political connections’) Ed to claim to stand up for the poor speaking from the position of owning a £1 million+ house and given what he and his disgraced Labour Government did to cause absolute havoc with the British economy and allow in 3 million plus new net immigrants the vast majority costing the striving taxpayer enormous sums in welfare payments.
    Finally he should apologise bigtime for the disgraceful and hate filled statements he made regarding Andrew Mitchell.

    • HooksLaw

      Guido is running the whole list on a video. He could not get the accusations out quick enough. Now we know just how empty headed Miliband is.

  • Sally Chatterjee

    Dickensian? We’re spending a fortune to pay people to sit idle on welfare. If Dickens was alive today I suspect he’d be writing about Pip Pirrip seeing his life wasted at home with a lazy sister given a free council flat whilst Joe Gargery spends his tax credits on Sky TV. Labour’s fake concern is as creepy as Uriah Heep.

    Dickens would be calling for bold social change, not free cash.

    • David Lindsay

      In ‘The Catholic Revival in English Literature, 1845-1961’, Fr Ian Ker identifies
      ‘Charles Dickens’ (1906) both as Chesterton’s best work and as the key to understanding his Catholicism. “It is a typically Chestertonian paradox that while Dickens was nothing if not ignorant of and prejudiced against Catholicism as well as the Middle Ages, it is his unconsciously Catholic and Mediaeval ethos that is the heart of Chesterton’s critical study.”

      First, Chesterton’s Dickens celebrated the ordinary, and rejoiced in sheer living and even sheer being. He was originally a “higher optimist” whose “joy is in inverse proportion to the grounds for so rejoicing,” because he simply “falls in love with” the universe, and “those love her with most intensity who love her with least cause.” Hence the exaggeration of Dickens’s caricatures, expressing both the heights of the highs and the depths of the lows in the life of one who looks at the world in this way.

      For, secondly, Dickens created “holy fools”: Toots in ‘Dombey and Son’, Miss Podsnap in ‘Our Mutual Friend’, the Misses Pecksniff in ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’, to name but a few. Dickens also “created a personal devil in every one of his books,” figures with the “atrocious hilarity” of gargoyles. In either case, since the everyday world is so utterly extraordinary and extraordinary things so much a part of the everyday, so the absurd is utterly real and the real is utterly absurd. Postmodern, or what? Read Dickens, then read Chesterton on Dickens, and then re-read Dickens: who needs wilful French obscurantism in the name of ‘irony’?

      And thirdly, then, Dickens was the true successor of Merry England, unlike his “pallid” contemporaries, the Pre-Raphaelites and “Gothicists”, whose “subtlety and sadness” was in fact “the spirit of the present day” after all. It was Dickens who “had the things of Chaucer”: “the love of large jokes and long stories and brown ale and all the white roads of England”; “story within story, every man telling a tale”; and “something openly comic in men’s motley trades”.

      Dickens’s defence of Christmas was therefore a fight “for the old European festival, Pagan and Christian”, i.e., for “that trinity of eating, drinking and praying that to moderns appears irreverent”, unused as the modern mind is to “the holy day which is really a holiday.” Dickens’s defence of Christmas was therefore a fight “for the old European festival, Pagan and Christian”, i.e., for “that trinity of eating, drinking and
      praying that to moderns appears irreverent”, unused as the modern mind is to “the holy day which is really a holiday.”

      Fr Ker traces these themes in ‘Orthodoxy’ and ‘The Everlasting Man’. The former presents Catholicism, in profoundly Dickensian terms, as “that mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar which Christendom has rightly termed romance”, which meets the need “so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome.” Yet so to view the world is precisely to realise “that there is something the
      matter”, which is why pagans have always been “conscious of the Fall if they were conscious of nothing else”, since (and this is obviously much more controversial) Original Sin “in the only part of Christian theology which can be proved,” so that “the ordinary condition of man is not his sane or sensible condition”, but rather “the normal itself is an abnormality.” Once again, this is like Postmodernism, only older, wiser, better.

      Better not least because, for Chesterton, it was this view of the world’s flawed goodness that made Dickens a social reformer, since he recognised people’s degraded dignity. One is made by Christianity “fond of this world, even in order to change it”, in contrast to simple (one might say, Whig or Marxist) optimism or simple pessimism (such as that of much of the political Right), each of which discourages reform. We have to “hate [the world] enough to want to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing”, for it is “at once an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet our own cottage, to which we can return at evening.”

      Such was the view of Dickens and of Chesterton; and such is the Christian view, uniquely, as all of Christianity’s critics unwittingly concede by simultaneously accusing it both of excessive optimism and of excessive pessimism. Chesterton presciently predicted that an age of unbelief would be an age of conservatism (in the worst sense), whereas for the orthodox “in the hearts of men, God has been put under the feet of Satan, so that there can always be a revolution; for a revolution is a restoration.” Furthermore, “A strict rule is not only necessary for ruling; it is also necessary for rebelling”, since “a fixed and familiar ideal is necessary to any sort of revolution.”

    • Troika21

      Got a job have we? Lucky you.

      Spoken like someone who has almost certainly never claimed welfare, and likely never needed it either. I have a list of job applications as long as my arm, and all I’ve got back is “Thank you, but no thank you”.

      I hate the fact that I need to claim JSA, I hate the fact that people like you would rather employ 200 people just to make sure that I don’t receive more than the pathetic amount the government is just barely prepared to give me to live on.

      But I need to live, I need food etc. I desperately want a job so I can get some dignity back into my life, and hopefully make it to 2013 without shooting myself.

      Sit idle on welfare and comments like that make my blood boil in the sheer ignorance.

      • Sally Chatterjee

        Careful not to make assumptions. It’s a fact some sit idle on welfare, we can find families where several generations are unemployed, sustained by welfare. Not millions – this is not the Daily Mail – of people, but surely too many?

        On personal matters, I’d rather discuss ideas here thank-you. But since you ask, yes I’ve claimed JSA. I’ve gone to appointments, punched those silly computers to print the job slips. I’ve sat through meetings with staff giving advice on my CV or how to dress for a job interview. And useless it was too, the staff in the JobCentre were the sort who couldn’t get a job elsewhere, demotivated and low grade.

        • Troika21

          I’ve spent time volunteering in the CAB; some of the people who came in do seem to think that welfare should allow them to ‘sit idle’, and are shocked, shocked, when the government turns round and asks what they’ve done about their situation.

          Fair enough, if you’ve had the unfortunate, soul-destroying experience of being a supplicant to JobCentre Plus’ great bureaucratic idols and its priesthood and its rules, paperwork and G4S staff itching for someone to cause trouble, then I retract my comments that implied you were ignorant of claiming benefits, I don’t really have much to go on from a Disqus comment.

          That being said however, you did not differentiate what you said about benefits, you wrote:

          We’re spending a fortune to pay people to sit idle on welfare.

          Which I am pretty sure you would not have wanted said about you when you needed to claim JSA, especially when it seems that every time I go to JCP my prospects of finding a job worsen: I definitely agree with your last sentence, I also find the staff there to be unhelpful jobsworths.

          • TomTom

            It appears that JSA is a small proportion of the welfare budget anyway and it was created for job-seekers not a general subsidy.

  • TomTom

    Dickensian ? what a farce. Dickens was a social propagandist like Upton Sinclair rather than a chronicler of reality. If this era is anything it is Regency. Then again Ed Miliband is only 2 years out of office so he is giving Cameron a lot of credit and Blair-Brown far too little…..

  • HiFlite

    As a matter of interest- did food banks not exist during the last labour gov’t or are they an invention of the last couple of years?

    • telemachus

      It has been necessary to increase them dramatically over the last 18 months as the poor get poorer

      • Chris lancashire

        If they have (any figures to support the assertion Tele old boy?) then it would continue the trend established under 13 years of Labour when the rich got richer and the poor got (relatively) poorer.

        • telemachus

          See Daily Mail( Hugo Duncan 24/8/12)

          “Even in recession the rich get richer: Savers have been hit for £70bn as printing money ‘helps rich’ admits Bank of England

          Record low interest rates have robbed savers of more than £70billion while printing money to revive the economy has mainly benefited the rich, the Bank of England admitted yesterday.

          Interest rates have been pegged at 0.5 per cent since March 2009 – the lowest level in the Bank’s 318-year history – in an attempt to prop up the economy.

          Borrowers have benefited to the tune of £100billion thanks to lower mortgage payments, with those on floating rates the main beneficiaries.

          The Bank of England has admitted that low interest rates have robbed savers of £70billion

          The Bank has also unleashed a £375billion money-creation programme through so-called quantitative easing (QE) as it struggles to kick-start a recovery.

          Ultra-low interest rates have hammered Britain’s army of savers and the decision to print money has led to a ‘death spiral’ in pensions by slashing annuity rates.

          The Bank yesterday admitted that savers were among the biggest losers from its policies and the richest families the biggest winners – with QE boosting household wealth ‘by just over £600billion’ as the value of shares and other assets recovered in the wake of the financial crisis.

          That is an average of £10,000 for every man, woman and child in the country although the 22-page report into the impact of QE said the most well-off will have benefited the most because they hold the most assets.

          Independent analysis suggested that each of the richest 2.5million households in the country has enjoyed a windfall of anywhere between £100,000 and £300,000 since QE was launched in March 2009.

          There has been ‘a massive transfer of wealth from the poor to the very wealthy and from savers to borrowers’, due to the Bank’s policies.”

          We all believe the Mail


          • Chris lancashire

            All round the houses dear chap, still no figures to confirm your assertion that the poor have become poorer in the last 18 months.

          • Hugh

            Er, do you not think people using food banks are a tad more likely to be borrowers than savers?

            • TomTom

              Actually no. They are probably impoverished as savings income has collapsed but food bills have not

              • Hugh

                Most people who use food banks are not reliant on savings income; they’re reliant on benefits. Moreover, the growth in foodbanks has been most marked in the last couple of years; interest rates have been low and inflation high for considerably longer.

          • HooksLaw

            Low interest rates which the government inherited. QE which the govt inherited.
            Massive deficit and debt which the govt inherited.

          • TomTom

            “Borrowers have benefited to the tune of £100billion thanks to lower
            mortgage payments”It is actually £50 billion and Pension Fund Losses are £140 billion. So the Future is being consumed by the Present…..sound familiar ?

      • Colonel Mustard

        New Labour taxed poor workers more and the rich less than the present coalition government so more lies from the troll who is in the “business” of rubbishing the present regime by any means.

        And when it comes to comments quality beats quantity every time. But maybe Labour pay him per comment and we are approaching Christmas after all.

      • HooksLaw

        What a pity labour wasted billions in benefits. Benefits need to be better targeted. Perhaps we should cap payments to a lower figure than £26k

        • telemachus

          No-one argues with effective targetting but when the diabled have their benefits cut with fatal consequences one must question the competence of the Government

          • HooksLaw

            Disabled? There was a strange massive increase in the ‘disabled’ under labour.
            The system was being widely abused – as you can see when looking at the projected numbers who will lose benefits. Blair in fact wanted to abolish the DLA but Brown stopped him.

            The severely handicapped and mentally ill have (or will) benefited from changes.

          • Chris lancashire

            No, one would be questioning the competence of a government that DIDN’T cut benefits. Oh, sorry, that’s Labour policy.

          • TomTom

            There are more registered disabled in Britain than anywhere else in Europe….clearly Blair-Brown rendered healthy people disabled

        • Russell

          No perhaps about it. The cap should be less than what someone earns after tax working 40 hours a week on minimum wages. That would be considerably less than £26,000 per year.

      • TomTom

        That Prawn Cocktail Offensive by Brown-Balls in The City really came home to roost, didn’t it Tel-Boy ?

      • 2trueblue

        Child poverty grew during the 13yrs Liebore were in power. The gap between rich and poor also grew.

    • Mr.D.Advocate

      But of course dear chap, don’t you realise all the ills of the last two years are entirely caused by Conservatism and the forces of the right. – Left Wing mentality 101

    • HooksLaw

      The Trussell Trust started its foodbanks in 2000. It seems to be far and away the largest supplier of foodbanks.
      I guess the more money it gets the more foodbanks it will open.

      The Labour Australian govt are bringing out a welfare credit card

      When you look at the size of the welfare bill and the amount spent on tax credits you have to wonder about the need for foodbanks.

    • Sally Chatterjee

      Give away something for free and the demand is huge.

      Hand out cars or mobile phones for free and people will queue around the block. It’s the same for food. Food banks will find people queuing too because it’s free.

      Charities doling out food should be helping people with home economics and budgeting. Teach a man to fish and all that.

      • Dimoto

        You don’t understand Sally, it’s all about making the food-bank staff feel good about themselves. (see RSPCA fox-hunting prosecution).
        Meridian did some interviews the other day – almost without exception, the food recipients were people who “found themselves a bit short at the end of the month”, beats pay-day loans I suppose.
        Although that was in the ‘affluent’ south.

    • dorothy wilson

      The answer to your question is yes. See the article on Conservative Home.

  • Magnolia

    You can’t govern just by victimhood. Ed loves to identify with the victims and he flits from victim to victim like a little butterfly. His family background escaping from the nazis, singling out the suffragettes and civil rights protesters to identify with during the cuts demonstrations, jumping on Leveson to show support with the hacking victims and now his vibrato for the starving children of England.
    We can all find a little story of victimhood in our lives if we want to wallow in it.
    It’s not a plan to rescue the country and it’s not the defining quality of a great leader.

    • telemachus

      No not a great leader but the interim babysitter for the man on his right
      You will see how at question time power and gravitas progressively emanates from his right
      Miliband’s role is to destabilise an incompetent administration.
      He does that well but it is Balls that sticks the knife in and has him rattled
      He cannot stop himself elevating Balls week on week
      This week the Santa gibe.

      • Scary Claus

        You really are in a world of your own if you think Balls’ displays at PMQs do him credit. The man’s an idiot.

        • telemachus

          Anything that rattles Cameron is to be applauded

          • Scary Claus

            I think the word you’re looking for is irritates, and he hardly has to do anything to manage that.

      • Julian F

        You may be surprised to learn that I would like to see Balls as Labour-leader, telemachus. He is avowedly pro-Israel and I like that in him. At the Salute for Israel Day in 2008, he said: “But let me also say to those people who say that their mission is to destroy the State of Israel, to those people who say that they do not support the values and the aspirations of the Israeli people, to those people who would deny even the right of the Israeli state to exists, let us say to them, ‘You will not succeed. You will not succeed and never again should the Jewish people ever have to run from tyranny in our world”.”

        We need someone who gets this basic tenet of foreign policy right to be at the top of the Labour Party.

        • telemachus

          mischief my man
          Ed also supports the 2 state solution which is impossible with the latest settlement announcement

          • Julian F

            July 2012: Mr Balls used the LFI lunch to reiterate Labour’s support for Israel, warned of the threat posed by Iran and urged vigilance with the election of a Muslim Brotherhood president in Egypt. “It is important that we say loud and clear — we understand that Israel feels threatened, but Israel is not isolated, you are not alone.”

            • telemachus

              Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, in July.

              “At the same time I will also be seeing the fast-growing Palestinian high-tech communications industry, which is becoming an ever more important part of its economy. I’m very pleased that I will be meeting a range of Palestinian business working in the industry. I will also be meeting the Palestinian Prime Minister to look at the steps being taken to secure private sector investment and develop business growth. I recently met the Palestinian Ambassador in the UK ahead of the trip and I am keen to look at how we can strengthen economic links between UK and Palestinian businesses”

          • Julian F

            Pretty much everyone in UK politics pays lip-service to the two-state solution. Balls has the balls to stand up for Israel notwithstanding the impossible situation in which it is placed by the terrorist “Palestinians” and their mindless apologists.

          • TomTom

            What he wants an Independent Scotland ?

    • HooksLaw

      On a day when Nissan announce 250 million investment Miliband says we are Dickensian.

  • @PhilKean1

    And I attack Cameron for a different reason

    It seems that, in the opinion of David Cameron, Britain’s chronic housing shortage, the UK’s unemployment crisis, and schools and the NHS being overwhelmed – ALL due to unlimited EU immigration – doesn’t yet constitute a emergency, and that allowing unrestricted access to the flood of expected EU immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria ALSO doesn’t constitute an emergency – or that it would LEAD to an emergency.

    We know WHY the Liberal elites refuse to put emergency immigration controls in place. It is because they see unlimited EU immigration as an essential part of the process of making Federal EU integration irreversible.

    And when even Britain’s Prime Minister is a fully signed up advocate of closer integration, just who is there who we can rely on to protect Britain’s vital national interest?

    • Chris lancashire

      If you look at what Cameron has done on Europe rather than what you – or he – says it is quite clear he is NOT a “fully signed up advocate of closer integration”. If he were he would have rolled over on the EU Budget – he didn’t. If he were he would have acquiesced to the EU banks plans – he didn’t he vetoed them.
      I know these akward facts don’t fit with your prejudices but they remain, facts.

      • HooksLaw

        A waste of breath.

    • Russell

      You should post this comment to the No.10 website direct to the PM and ask for him to explain what indeed he regards as an emergency.

      Every Englishman can see what has happened over the last 10+ years, and what is going to happen in the next few years, apart from it seems Cameron!

      When is this useless man going to start protecting the interests of people born in this country

      • @PhilKean1

        Totally agree. Except that I know nothing will change under Cameron.

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