Tell-Tale Teather

by George_East on November 19, 2012

Yesterday’s interview in The Observer with sacked Lib Dem Minister, Sarah Teather, in which she described the Government’s benefit cap, which will come into force in April next year, as ‘immoral and divisive’ was  revealing for a number of reasons.  However in this short post, I want to highlight three.

 1. Teather is a Careerist Coward:  

Great play is made in the interview that Sarah Teather, did not vote for the measure, despite being part of the government at the time.   She managed to contrive being away from Parliament on the day that the critical vote took place.   However given that she has now gone out of her way to give an interview to a broadsheet newspaper (who splashed it all over its front page) in which Teather emphasised both the cynical nature of the policy (see more about this under No 3 below) and that, in her view, it was immoral, the question must be how she could remain in a government which was introducing such a policy.   According to Teather the policy was ‘horrible’ and ‘traumatic’.

If the policy is immoral, in not resigning, she was accepting that she was content to be party to the immorality, whether or not she voted for it.  Collective responsibility is just that – all government ministers from David Cameron down to PPS’s are responsible for the policy.

There is no bravery in denouncing a policy after you are sacked, particularly in circumstances in which her own constituency, Brent Central, and her own voters are likely to be badly affected by the policy.    It smells very much like a cynical, belated and somewhat desperate attempt to save her seat to me.  When it actually mattered, that government limo was still far too appealing for her to do the principled thing.

2. The Lib Dems don’t understand arithmetic

Teather gives the view in the interview that Nick Clegg had shown ‘immense courage (oh yes!) in seeking to minimise the effects of some of the benefit cuts.  This though totally misunderstands the parliamentary arithmetic.  Iain Duncan-Smith and George Osborne are incapable of getting pretty much anything through parliament without Lib Dem support.  If the policy is ‘immoral’ and designed to ‘denigrate’ those on benefit, then surely it is one to which the Lib Dems should simply not be prepared to support.

The truth of it is that, like so many other policy areas, the Lib Dems like to pretend they are against something after it has passed or that they are restraining the Tories, when they are perfectly capable of scuppering the policy completely if they wished:  cf the self-serving veto of the boundary review.  They actually act as  an enabler for right wing policies that the Tories would never risk if they were in a minority government or had a small majority of their own.

3. This Government is every bit as cynical and nasty as we feared

The truly grim revelation though within the interview and something that it is depressing has not got wider traction in the 24 hours or so since it was published, is that Teather confesses that the purpose of the policy was not (as has been presented) to save money but to score a cheap political advantage by demonising some of the weakest people in our society.   Yes, we on the left always easily assume bad motives on the part of this government, often to ridicule by members of the right wing and the ever so serious centrist commentariat (I’m looking at you Retoul).  

But in this case we have it from the horse’s mouth – from a member of the government when the policy was being devised.    This is how Teather describes the motive behind the policy:

the primary motive behind the policy…was a desire to court popularity by unfairly demonising the poor.

“There are all sorts of things you have to do when times are tight that have negative consequences but you do them for good purposes. But to do something for negative purposes that also has negative consequences – that is immoral,”

So there we are.  The purpose of the policy was to play to prejudices about those claiming benefit by demonising them, in the hope that this would court votes with the wider electorate and no doubt play well in the tabloids.   Not saving money or dealing with deficit.   It had been devised to turn voters against the weakest and create a wedge issue with Labour.  It doesn’t matter how much damage it does or how much pain will be inflicted.  It’s all part of the game.

It is indeed the very definition of immoral and it is one of the reasons why this government is the nastiest in my lifetime and why, Sarah Teather, you are a weasily coward for not taking a stand until you’d been turfed out of the goverment limo.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Killingworth November 19, 2012 at 9:52 pm

One other point which has only just come home to me (I’ve been at a Residents’ Association meeting) is that the combination of the housing benefit cap and the “mansion tax” (actually more Council Tax bands) will lead to a major population turnover in inner west London. The proportion of residents who are British citizens will drop markedly. The proportion who hail from lands where money doesn’t talk, but rather swears, will increase exponentially.


Eddie Kaye November 20, 2012 at 9:38 am

There is the other theory thought – that it is a pathetic attempt to save face by a particularly pathetic politician…never mind, at least she has her fledgling career as a stand-up comic to fall back on.


Nick Evans November 22, 2012 at 11:46 am

Given that “revelation 1” indicates her cynical mendacities, and “revelation 2” her political incompetence, can we actually believe revelation 3?


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