Last Sunday, Frances Coppola wrote a strongly anti-Waspi blogpost in which she coined the word ‘Graspi’ to describe those women cheated out of a promise made over 60 years ago, and then broken by the 1995 Pensions Act 43 years into the term. Even in our cruel contemporary culture, it is rare for wit to be used in such a heartless manner. This post represents a detailed demolition of her case. It is written on behalf of some 3.2 million affected women who have thus far managed to grasp not a single penny from evasive, arrogant and unaccountable politicians.
Ms Coppola (with whom I crossed swords earlier in the year) seems good on dates, history and a line supporting Sovereign incompetence, but weak on human realities and busy women going about their normal lives secure in the certainty that the State would keep its word.
Coppola’s description is correct in every detail, but contains several sins of omission. First, the Act itself was a moral disgrace and should never have been passed. It is not my task here to apportion blame among those who passed it or indeed those who failed to oppose it. There simply is no justification for an action, whatever its ‘legal’ status, to break a promise of national governance without once mentioning in the debates surrounding (or the content of) the final Act that such was being done. Second, it is a myth that the Act was high-profile at the time: an audit of the 1995 media covereage shows irrefutably that the chances of the target audience seeing it were slim. (Coppola herself now accepts this: in the 15 intervening years, government efforts to ‘publicise’ the need for preparation were risible). Fourth, three separate Governments over the period gave mixed signals about the Act – it was passed by Tories, condemned by Labour which promised to review it, fudged by Gordon Brown, evaded by Tony Blair, and ignored by George Osborne – the man who then reneged on the 1995 Act and passed the 2011 accelerator. Finally, during the 2010 election, David Cameron issued a specific promise that “no pensioner will face destitution under a future Conservative Government”.
So much for clarity and consistency.
Coppola accepts the iniquitous nature of the 2011 Act, but then – not for the first time – makes this extraordinary assertion:
Frances needs to catch up on the news here. While Anne Keen and the ‘W5’ Executive have remained secretive and inconsistent about what they want, the feeling against this group among the mass of members is that, like me, the Waspi rank and file have always opposed the 1995 Act – and the devious avoidance of its ramifications by numerous post-Major politicians since its passage. The Executive has been shown to be undemocratic and censorious in the way it conducts what have been fruitless negotiations with DWP and Treasury officials….whose equally unfunded pensions are, as it happens, on average 17 times the size of the FSP as it stands today….as well as being index linked in a majority of cases.
Given my dismissal of the ‘legal’ nature of the 1995 Act (the rabidly anti-Semitic Nuremburg Laws in 1936 Germany were also legal under the Weimar Constitution) we must therefore search for the rationale behind Coppola’s support for it.
This seems to be that the W5 is being devious about its real aim – to roll back the 1995 Act. Others within the campaign, she argues, are more prepared to compromise and do a deal.
But that doesn’t make them right. The majority of us in and out of the Waspi organisation continue to want full restitution of the SPA rights granted to 1950s women. Coppola herself winds up admitting that the more senior of them are abundantly clear about it:
Correct. And also supported by MPs Frank Field, Owen Smith and MhairiBlack – the last of whom moved mountains to help organise a Commons debate last January that voted 185-0 for the Government to reconsider its SPA policy…a vote the Government utterly ignored.
The irony of building an argument based on ‘concealment’ will not have escaped those who are now victims of State perfidy in this matter. However, Coppola adds, “So this group of women is demanding special treatment”.
Hang on: they were unfairly targeted in the first place: isn’t there a need for some special redress here? But even ignoring that observation, special treatment vis a vis who exactly?
This is the core weakness in Frances Coppola’s argument, and always has been: that she buys into the “there’s no money left” myth. Ergo sum, some other social group must suffer in order to reinstate the pensions promises made under the 1947 Act.
That is nonsense: that there is not enough money for politicians to do everything they’d like to do by wasting it is not in doubt. And waste it they have – persistently, consistently and without accountability for over seventy years. £23 billion on Connecting for Health – an NHS intranet that was ditched in its entirety. Yet the Coppola School insists that ordinary British female citizens must now pay for Whiteminster largesse.
It is a severely refracted version of logic and justice.
But the idea of “no money left” was first of all deconstructed by this site’s March page by page analysis of the the last Osborne Budget document: and then blown out of the water by the revelation of unfunded Civil Service pensions amounting (including future obligations) to some £1.27 trillion….roughly half the stated UK National Debt.
‘Now we know what the WASPI campaign’s demand really is, we can reject it with a clear conscience,’ Coppola bizarrely concludes, ‘Good. That’s settled’.
Its flaw is obvious to any objective observer: if there really is no money left in the UK Treasury or the DWP budget, why are UK gilts at their lowest yield level since 1935? If there is no money left, how are we to replace Hinkley Point, build HS2, pay the remaining EU contributions to which we are committed, renew Trident, afford to house 450,000 more immigrants every year, or indeed fulfil any of the ill-judged sovereign policies with which our politics have been littered since the Second World War?
Frances Coppola makes an allegation – ‘When I pointed out that their [WaspiExec] demand would impoverish younger women who are at least as badly affected by the 1995 Act as they are, WASPI laughed it off’. My observation is that here lies a classic case of disagreement between two equally wrong-headed points of view.
What Governments since 1995 have done is make decisions to paper over the evidence of their own incompetence, obfuscation and fiscal incompetence. It was not and never has been a case of dividing up the last piece of cheese in Mrs Hubbard’s cupboard: rather it was a blatantly Hobson’s choice based on decisions about priorities – their priorities, not ours – and the cynical choice of a social group they perceived to be vulnerable.
Why were MP and Civil Servant pensions not delayed?
Why were 6-figure banking bonuses not delayed?
Why were all RBS rises not delayed until such time as the taxpayer had been reimbursed in full?
Why did George Osborne double his take from National Insurance, then justify this by cutting welfare benefits and decelerating Waspi pensions further?
Coppola has no answer to any of these perfectly reasonable questions for a ‘fair’ society to mull. Her only answer is to write that women fending off mendacious bullies are ‘demanding special treament’.
Well, the neutrals will decide for themselves. In the meantime, the more gratuitous the governmental excuses become, the more determined the real Waspi majority will be to demand a fundamental SPA rethink…..and complete restitution of all the promises made to them some sixty or more years ago.
A PS for Frances: emailing me will be pointless, as I long ago asked gmail to block your missives on the grounds of nuisance persistence.