John Glen MP: It’s time to take party politics out of the food bank debate

John Glen, MP for Salisbury, has received some favourable comments for his call to take party politics out of the food bank debate (See Guardian article here and his own Conservative Home article here.  But this damascene conversion to the virtues of evidence based, rational, non partisan debate is pretty galling given his own party’s track record. 

Here are some quotes from John’s article:

“This means not isolating one cause because it is politically expedient to do so”

“We cannot rely on anecdotes, hearsay and unsubstantiated statistics”

“Too often, the discussion has drifted towards two polarised political arguments.”

“sweeping generalisations about causes do not do justice to the complexity of individual family circumstances.”

 “I hope that the work of the APPG’s hearings and inquiry will lead us to move away from the unedifying headlines.”

 “politicians across the political spectrum will be better able to comment authoritatively if they have a greater body of detailed evidence on which to base their assessments.”

And yet it is the Tories backed by the right wing press that have been leading a campaign, using just about every one of the “dark arts”, to smear and vilify all benefits recipients. Tactics have included smearing by association using isolated but salacious anecdotes, sometimes even non existent examples (i.e. the nonexistent households where “three generations have never worked”) or the blatant manipulation, misrepresentation and abuse of statistics to create a false impression about so many aspects of welfare.  John might retort that all parties play this game and, disappointingly, he would be right but no party has played it so effectively and with such venom as the Tories have over the past three years.

 Here is another quote from John’s article:

“there is seldom discussion about how the cost of housing has risen for all generations; or how the employment market has become more flexible, and people often move in and out of different jobs at short notice; or how the cost of utilities and food have risen as a proportion of total household spending, and the amount that households are saving has steadily dropped as a result.” 

John clearly reads the wrong papers because all of these issues have been very well discussed, just not by his government or its supporters. Numerous concerned groups have been warning that the move towards a low income society of zero hours contracts, job insecurity and rising rents backed up with an emphasis on punitive ‘incentives’ rather than positive rewards (like a living wage) would have exactly the consequences we are seeing.

The rise in the use of food banks is clearly a complex issue with a range of underlying causes and John’s call for a non partisan, evidence based approach to the issue of increased food bank use is commendable as are many of the other points he makes. However he will have to forgive us if we wonder where he was when cabinet ministers were poisoning the debate with their divisive, ‘polarising arguments’, ‘sweeping generalisations’, ‘politically expedient unedifying headlines’ and abuse and misrepresentation of government statistics.

Finally, I am having difficulty fighting back my sceptical instinct that says this sudden call to take the politics out of the food-bank debate has more to do with the slow realisation amongst Tories that their policies are a major part of the problem.

Is the call for “politics to be taken out of the debate” a desperate attempt to obfuscate the issues and avoid or spread the blame?   Whatever the truth of the matter, I hope that the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) does its job properly and promptly so that effective evidence based solutions can be developed that address the underlying as well as short term problems as soon as possible.

(As usual, please respond if you think I have made any errors of fact or logic in my comments)


Daily Mail chooses Easter Sunday to attack Christians for feeding the poor:
The right-wing press seem to have responded by putting two fingers up to John’s request for the debate to be based on evidence not anecdote: Mail on Sunday reporter lies to CAB about being destitute then is outraged when he is given a foodbank voucher (evidence of wide scale abuse or just one example of the “dark arts” of a Daily Mail reporter and its headline writers?):  dailymailliestocab

More appropriate tabloid style headline for article above: “Low-Life Reporter Cheats Compassionate Clerk for Poisonous Paper”

UPDATE: following publication of this atrocious Daily Mail article donations to the Trussell Trust have increased by over 500% – demonstrating, once again, the lie that the Daily Mail is the voice of Britain.

An open letter to the Daily Mail:

The hate filled Daily Mail reaches a new low:

John Glen MP: “No Alternative to Universal Credit”:

BBC Wiltshire MORNING SHOW with Conservative MP for Salisbury John Glen:


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