ConDem housing benefit policy changes have occasioned the use of vivid metaphor to illustrate what is actually involved for many tens of thousands of people. Leading Guardian commentator Polly Toynbee apologised this morning on BBC Radio 4 for using the expression 'final solution' in her column on the subject on 25 October. Here's the context:
Rent was always the glitch in the benefit system, and Beveridge never found a logical answer. Well, here at last is a final solution he never considered: put all poor people in distant dumping grounds where nobody wants to live because there is no work, then call them workless scroungers, lacking in aspiration for the children they have taken out of class to throw together in schools where nobody's parents work.
Chris Bryant MP for Labour and Boris Johnson, London's Conservative elected mayor have both used the expression 'social cleansing'. Johnson ramped up the debate referring to Kosovo, where events triggered by Serbia's then dictatorship were a stark reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. Four days on from Toynbee's use of the expression 'final solution', there is much greater public awareness of the issues surrounding the ConDem's intentions regarding housing benefit. There is a severe shortage in inner-city areas of social housing for large families, and private landlords have become increasingly greedy. All of us us in the Labour Party have to put our hands up and admit that in government under former leader Tony Blair we completely failed in our responsibilities to tackle these issues. A recovery plan was initiated under Gordon Brown, but it was woefully late and the electorate punished us. We are going to have to apologise for that if we hope to win back the electorate's trust.
Whatever Labour's shortcomings nothing justifies the ConDem proposals. By the use of vivid language a political outrage with profound human consequences is now better understood. It seems likely that the political consensus will settle around the expression - ConDem social cleansing: a policy driving relatively poor people mainly in work and their families out of their homes to be replaced by better off people.
Earlier this week. I was pilloried on Luke Akehurst's blog for the use of the German expression "Obergruppenführer" to describe the current and former London Labour Party regional directors, or regional secretaries as they used to known when I first joined the Labour Party. An apology was demanded.
It is childish, tasteless, insulting and gratuitous to use a title associated with the organisation that perpetrated the holocaust to describe Labour Party officials who have been trying to deal with very complex and volatile political situations in a professional way.
What's more, as Party employees they can't answer back.
Peter should apologise to them. This is completely uncomradely and unacceptable language.
I might oblige Luke one day, not to mention Terry and Ken, whom I know well, like and have worked with closely from time to time. My current self-appointed task as a member of the Labour Party is to illustrate a fundamental and now long-standing internal organisational problem. Ed Miliband has 'inherited' a party structure and operational culture which is, for the most part, inconsistent with the needs of a democratically-run, solvent, ethical 21st century mass political party in which members have a proper say.
There is a highly disciplined command and control structure operated by Head Office staff through eleven regional parties - with their own 'boards', but staff answerable and accountable to a 'super' regional director at Head Office. There is a veneer of accountability to the Party's National Executive Committee. De facto control is in the hands of the senior management team, answerable previously to No.10, at least under Tony Blair. There is incontrovertible evidence that they had started to develop their own agenda when Gordon Brown was in Downing Street. Now Ed Miliband's leadership is at risk, unless these issues are dealt with. We know that Luke and Labour First members believe the staff can do no wrong. But that is not the experience of too many other members. So I am open to suggestions as to how the key post holders should be described given the current command and control culture, and the urgent need for change.