Monday, 29 September 2014

Zombie Politics

Imagine you're a Conservative politician reeling at your party conference after a defection and a resignation. What you really need is a fresh new policy to throw at an adoring populace, so what do you do?

Well, Iain Duncan Smith obviously thinks he's onto a winner here.
People will be barred from blowing benefits cash on booze and gambling under a controversial scheme to hand out welfare money on “smart cards” announced today. 
Instead of handing claimants cash, they would have credits put on a card that could only be used to buy food and other essentials. 
Iain Duncan Smith is certain the scheme, to be fully piloted if the Tories win the election, will help alcohol and gambling addicts stay on the wagon.
Because this is the same policy he 'announced' two years ago, netiquette surely excuses me for re-publishing what I said about it back then too.
You see, this is how IDS views the world of the underclass: (cue idyllic 1930s English countryside ditty)
Bert: 'Ere, Joe. The social 'av just given me this 'ere smart card. Instead of me benefits, I gotta use this in shops and it won't work if I try to get me fags and booze!
Joe: The bastards! So what yer gonna do, then?
Bert: Nuffink I can do, is there? I'm just gonna 'av to give up the drink and smokes and go get a job!
Whereas anyone who has ever lived amongst or near the type of people IDS is targeting know the conversation would, more likely, go like this:
Bert: 'Ere, Joe. The social 'av just given me this 'ere smart card. Instead of me benefits, I gotta use this in shops and it won't work if I try to get me fags and booze!
Joe: The bastards! Anyfink I can do to help, mucker?
Bert: Well, I suppose. You can still buy that stuff, can't ya?
Joe: Yeah. 'Ere, tell you what. Why don't I get your baccy and beer, and I'll give you a food shoppin' list for the same amount. Then I just come round your gaff and we swap.
Bert: Sorted! Cheers, mate.
So, in short, IDS's plan will only work for those who can count on no-one trustworthy enough to do a deal with. Not so much smart cards for the feckless as for the friendless. It also shows his astounding lack of understanding as to the resourcefulness of working class (or, indeed, non-working class) folk. They've been dancing round the - mostly class-motivated - avalanche of sin taxes and government regulations on their way of life for millennia, why would they stop when faced with something as poorly thought-out, and easily counteracted, as selective smart cards?

A convenient headline grabber for the Daily Mail contingent, then, while also gently introducing the idea of smart cards as a means of lifestyle control to a largely bovine public.
But that's only tackling the utter absurdity of a state thinking it can effectively enforce such a silly idea. What about more practical - and fundamental failures - of the policy?

Firstly, only the most ridiculous of 'public health' tax spongers deny the overwhelming evidence that moderate alcohol consumption is beneficial to health, trumping teetotalism which is comparatively more dangerous.

So in IDS's crusade to inhibit a minority of welfare claimants from unhealthy consumption, is he really going to prevent the majority drinking moderately and thereby enhancing their health? Yes. Yes, I think he is.

Who knows why this effect happens with alcohol, but considering happiness and an absence of stress are universally accepted as good things for our well-being, that's a possibility. And I'd be astounded if a flutter on the dogs, football, or Grand National once in a while doesn't create the same beneficial effect.

Additionally, where will these smart cards be accepted? Not your local small shop or farmers market, that's for sure.
A smart card scheme will almost certainly require smart card readers and/or “approved outlets” where these cards can be used.  No point in a smart card system if the shop can sell you anything it has on its shelves. Either the stores will need to be on a Government “approved list” and agree not to sell a list of forbidden items to the card holders, or at the very least the purchases made will have to have a bar code such that information is somehow be fed back down the line to Big Mother (and the computer says no). 
Whilst I am sure that Asda, Tescos, other large retail outlets  (and indeed the IT giants behind the Smart card system) will all bend over backwards to facilitate this scheme, what of the small independent shop keeper of market trader? They almost certainly have neither the time, wherewithal,  or language skills to go through the bureaucratic nightmare that will almost certainly be entailed in complying with this scheme.  And I don’t know about your local market, but at mine only 2 out of about 30 of the stalls even have credit card machines. 
The consequence of this scheme will be to place a huge number of outlets off limits to those forced to use such cards for at least part of their purchases.  Rich and middle income parents are able to call into the market at the end of the day to pick up the fresh fruit and veg bargains, but the poor who have used all their cash and left only with their smart cards till the end of the week will effectively be barred.
Only in statist circles can a policy be sold as somehow "helping" the less well off while simultaneously barring the majority from healthful behaviour; harming outlets such as local shops and farmers markets in favour of restricting all purchases to multi-chain conglomerates; and ignoring the obvious and simple avoidance strategies which will form a new black market in both the smart cards themselves and trading of the benefits, with claimants having to pay a commission for the privilege.

There used to be a time in my youth when politicians were detached enough from public health extremists that they could take a considered view of their rantings in light of all evidence - the moral contempt which we have always suffered from the most anti-social in society was always tempered by the legislature recognising the problems which would come with pandering to them. This no longer seems to apply.

Duncan-Smith's plan is as barmy as it is ill-judged and spiteful. He sees votes in endorsing self-satisfaction and superiority complexes amongst the sneering and bullying self-installed righteous. It doesn't matter that the only potential of his policy is to harm, and it makes a mockery of the Tories' claim that their party is one which espouses common sense and isn't populated by bigoted 'fruitcakes and loonies'.

The way it looks to me, it's going to be a long time before politicians 'get' why they're despised if this is the crap they're coming out with.


Sam Duncan said...

Sheesh. For years, I've asked NHS worshippers why, if it's so great at and/or necessary for providing such an essential requirement, we don't have a National Food Service as well. And now a “Tory” government wants to start one. Thanks, guys. You just made voting for someone else a whole lot easier.

Then again, it might have the unintended effect of showing the slow-witted why free markets are so important. But, since it's the Tories who've come up with it, they'll probably draw the wrong conclusions. As usual.

Geoff Cliff said...

I quite like the idea of the 'smart-card' and would like to see the idea extended. Cabinet ministers and MPs should receive their salaries this way too, and purchases of meals for IDS and his ilk should be limited to, say £1.50. So instead of enjoying £40 breakfasts and £120 lunches, they could learn what it is REALLY like for OAPs and those on benefits! And MPs' expenses could be paid on the same basis, so that money could be spent only on legitimate expenses, rather than duck-houses and luxury fripperies. Yes, I think IDS is onto something here ...

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Indeed. The authoritarian element has always been strong in the Conservative party, but it used to be allied with an evidence base and an understanding of personal responsibility and that choices have consequences. The only consequences of this choice by IDS are that the most nasty in society will be encouraged by a policy which will have no positive effect whatsoever and could actually be harmful.

I don't see them doing much to stem the rise of the school lunchbox police since 2010 either. Seems like if you're a wanker who likes telling others to live how you tell them to, the Tories are your natural home.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Oh you went there? Great stuff, you win the thread whatever happens. ;)

Dioclese said...

Smart cards are a good idea in principal but like all government projects it will be delivered too late, not working and over budget even if it does get off the ground - which I sincerely doubt!

nisakiman said...

If they introduce these cards you can bet that the purveyors of health giving delights such as Big Macs and Finger Lickin' Chicken will be among the first to sign up for it.

And then, once the infrastructure is in place, it's only a short step to introducing smart cards for all alcohol purchases. Limited, of course, to the 'recommended' weekly units intake. "Bottle of vodka Sir? Sorry, the card says no. But you can buy a bottle of Babycham with the units left available to you for this week..."

Bemused said...

Our society appears to be so wrapped up in, and warped by misery that the only thing you hear about and overtly supported is whatever latest hair brained scheme to impart more misery on somebody else is. A paradise for the inadequate.

Norbert Zillatron said...

I see:
- A black market for "smart cards"
- Hackers "fixing" cards for a fee

Blad Tolstoy said...

Iain Dunky Smiff used to describe himself as "the quiet man" when he was leader of the Conservative Party. I think this followed from the film: "The Quiet Man" (circa 1952) which had obviously impressed him. Smiff made great play of the fact that when a quiet man speaks he has greater impact because he spends a lot of time being quiet and, hence, taking everything in carefully. Smiff failed, nonetheless, to consider the old maxim that a quiet man is close to a silent idiot which is how it turned out to be in his case.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Like this, you mean?

nisakiman said...

Heh! Yes, just like that! :)

Sam Duncan said...

Yes, but then some busybody notices that they've signed up and campaigns to get 'em struck off to protect the health of the volk nation. Bang goes a chunk of their business, and a bunch of jobs.

'Course, as Dick pointed out, if they don't sign up in the first place a lot of businesses will suffer anyway. And yes, next stop controlled alcohol purchases. The whole idea is bloody stupid.