TOO MUCH MYSTERY COULD CONSIGN THE WASPIS TO HISTORY
It hasn’t been a great few days for the Women born into Britain after 1950, and now deprived of a pension at 60. After expending monies they could not afford on a battle-bus to London at the end of June, they were largely ignored by the media, completely ignored by the DWP/Treasury axis of arrogance, and then met briefly by Her Disloyal Lowness Ros ‘Jewels’ Altmann….to be told with staggering predictability that – now her hands were ‘no longer tied’ – she had, um, nothing to offer them.
For this silly, egotistical woman to let them waste what little money they have on an audience with her was beyond selfish: it was wicked. Altmann could have salvaged a small amount of honour and dignity out of the farrago of false dawns she has offered the Waspis, by stating unequivocally that there was no point in them coming to Westminster. But with the selfishness that typifies so many shovers and makers these days, she didn’t.
However, it won’t do to blame everything on Ros’s vulgar pursuit of veneration. The fact is that some in the Waspi Executive had watched her dash one hope after another, but still continued to grovel at her clay feet. They above all must live with their naivety – and control freakery – in creating the farce that has been The Waspi Campaign.
Don’t misjudge me here: I am in awe of what the rank and file, organisers and sympathetic SNP and Labour politicians have achieved in terms of trying to raise awareness of the sovereign crime that’s been committed by this and previous Administrations. The badgering of constituency MPs – coupled with the dedicated talent of the SNP’s Mhairi Black in particular – produced a turnout of 185 in the Commons last January.
This has to be the best crowd-sourcing of MPs since the days of libertarian John Wilkes. And what’s more, those present voted 185-0 for a motion insisting that the DWP/Treasury bullies reconsider their cowardly victimisation of what represents, in total, more than three million law-abiding female citizens.
But two points were blithely ignored by elements within the Waspi leadership. First, none of the Ministers involved turned up to the debate….doubtless they were down in their silos listening to nostalgic Bay City rollers CDs. And second, the Camerlot Government treated its humiliating defeat as an Unevent. It ignored it….and ploughed ahead to a Budget inflicting worse pain still on those least able to afford it. Along the way, it appointed an ambitious mediocrity in the shape of Stephen Crabb to head the DWP. His first public view on the Waspis emerged from a session with the relevant Parliamentary Committee, to which he expressed the blithely misogynist opinion that his victims were flakey dreamers.
During a post-Budget debate period in which Osborne back-pedalled on his more psychotic recommendations for welfare reform, the Waspi movement achieved zero consideration. Not a single column inch of media support.
Since its inception as the leadership, the real power in the Waspi Executive has run up quite a few expenses. What it hasn’t done is deliver so much as a Mars Bar for the destitute women it represents.
There are dedicated local and regional organisers in the Waspi campaign who work all the hours God sends on a voluntary basis. The last thing this post wants to do is skewer them. But the problem with assessing the performance of the campaign’s leadership is that one is reduced to using phrases like ‘elements within’, ‘sources inside’ and so forth. It is secretive and unaccountable at the level of the 1970s Kremlin.
After all the demotivating events of last week, the last thing victims of the State Pension Sting needed was to lose the one medium of information they had – their Facebook page. Last Sunday at 4pm, it was taken down. So media-unfriendly is the Executive, details of why this was done remain sketchy and confused. Several sources identify founder Anne Keen as the perpetrator of this deed. If that be true, the motives of Ms Keen are – in the context of what is a gender tragedy – impossible to divine.
After communicating with a number of Waspi members, late on Monday I put up a temporary Facebook page – called Waspi-Sting – partly designed to give the victims an outlet for frustration in the short term….but more importantly, to bring more openness into the business of organising a more pointed and grown-up approach to the problem of producing Government discomfort. There is an obvious need now for more professionalism, more militancy, and far less acceptance of any crumbs on offer.
Since then, a Waspi site allegedly administered by official local organisers has also appeared. I am delighted to see this, but once again it is shrouded in a Soviet level of cautious mystery.
In the current climate of fragility, more pumping out of dry ice clouds is bad news: from here on, the campaign needs more openness and accountability, zero division, and an uncompromising attitude to injustice. Waspi’s rank and file deserve – and should demand – frank clarity about what’s happened, why…..and what comes next.
What should come next? My own view is that an audit of skills and contacts among the membership should be conducted concurrent with online polls to decide what the ‘Ask’ line in the sand is. For me, that should be ‘full restitution of pension rights, balls to the ‘No Alternative’ lies, find the money or else’. But as I keep stressing, this is not my call: it is up to the women at the coalface to make that decision. They are the ones facing bread and water, not me.
If Waspis find their needs are better dealt with by the new “official” site, I’d applaud that: singularity of focus is vital now. But without a much broader and higher profile for the obscene injustice involved, these unfortunate women will find no justice.
One might even say that in this case, calling the government calumny an injustice doesn’t do it justice. Bear in mind that the Whitehall negotiators across the table from deprived Waspis will have, on average, a civil service pension 17 times bigger than theirs…but equally unfunded. Labour big beasts like Harriet Harman have pensions 27 times bigger, and yet (even as a former Minister for Women) she has taken no interest at all in the plight of those without her advantages. What a sad comment on British socialist ideological muddle that is.
Only tough and rightly indignant action will deliver anything for these deserving women. They need to take on the responsibility for achieving their goals, but above all they need honesty from those who chose to be given the power to negotiate on their behalf.