October 19, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
This week has been an utterly disgraceful one for politics. An unpaid advisor to the coalition government who is employed to think outside the box on ways to reduce the welfare bill specifically by getting them employed has almost been destroyed by all parties for doing exactly what he is supposed to do. As we near the general election, politicians are so terrified of saying anything that might offend anyone that they decided to wilfully misinterpret Lord David Freud’s remarks on disabled people. I mean wilfully by the way. They knew EXACTLY what he was saying, they completely understood the context of what he was saying, but they actively chose to misrepresent his remarks for fear of the possibility that they might lose a vote from Mr or Mrs ‘confected outrage’ from Tunbridge Wells.
Watch Labour’s Shadow Leader of the House of Commones Angela Eagle on Question Time here – http://youtu.be/qI_r8ZeVH4M (from 2:06) what she does is nothing short of a disgrace. She, who by all accounts is an extremely intelligent person, decides to tell the audience that Lord Freud had said that disabled people should work for £2 an hour, which is absolutely NOT what he had said. The panel have to remind her that what he said was the state should find a way of topping up their wages to make sure they receive at least the minimum wage. She still carries on, insisting that he should resign, but her smug attitude visibly evaporates when the audience (and lets not forget, Question Time audiences are usually a sucker for facile left-wing populism) turn on her. A member of the audience (about 4 minutes in) tries to make it clear to her what Lord Freud was talking about – but so determined are Labour to score political points on the back of the 50% of disabled people not working (without providing ANY answers themselves) that she continues to dig her hole.
I don’t blame Angela Eagle though. She was doing her job of representing the Labour Party. Let’s not forget just how important providing disabled people with the dignity of work actually is. Lord Freud made his comments three weeks ago, and instead of releasing the transcript and tape then, they waited until Prime Minister’s Question Time this week, to try and neutralize good news on the economy. Eagle was given a line to take, and she took it. But I wonder what she thought when she looked in the mirror that night? Is this why she went into politics?
Here is a fact. In 2003, the Labour Party suggested that ‘therapeutic’ work (employment of the mentally disabled) should not qualify for the minimum wage. At the time a document was drawn up that envisaged such work as “packing and assembly…for mental health outpatients” being paid “varying amounts up to £20 a week”. The document was the result of discussions with charities such as Mencap – who actually declared that an exemption from minimum wage regulations should be allowed for those employing the mentally disabled, because “most people with a learning disability want to work and we urge the government to give them that chance”. Which charity led the outcry against Lord Freud this week? Who do you think?
Worse, far far worse, has been the reaction of those within the government that Lord Freud has been, for free remember, serving. Esther McVey – who actually works with Freud at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), said that “these words will haunt him…he will have to explain himself”. Thankfully the DWP Secretary of State, Iain Duncan-Smith, managed to persuade Freud not to resign. But it wasn’t helped by the refusal of the Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (who was on Question Time) to muster up the courage to explain what Freud had (clumsily) tried to say. Instead, they depicted him as a sinner and begged forgiveness and a ‘second chance’ on his behalf.
The attempt to destroy the name of someone who is just doing what they are supposed to do is a classic example of why the standard of politician is falling so much. Why would anyone with any sense of public service, seeing what has happened to Lord Freud this week, ever go into politics themselves?
Thankfully, the parents of those with mental disabilities have been lining up to point out that they actually aren’t particularly offended by Lord Freud’s remarks and are in fact quite annoyed that their children are being used as political pawns. Dominic Lawson has talked of the joy his daughter gets working unpaid in their local pub for two hours a week. Ross Clark lamented that his daughter would love any job, but, if it were, say washing up, someone would have to be paid to do it with her as she would not be able to do it properly.
Both parents pointed out that employment is psychologically essential. The skills used are important and the sociability of work even more. Lawson mentioned that Sigmund Freud had observed once that the principal ingredients of happiness were love and work. David Freud is one of Sigmund Freud’s great-grandsons. At least is brave enough to understand what his great-grandfather meant – even if no one else will admit they will in what has been a terrible week for political integrity.