Enemies of the people: Rebecca Pow edition

We cannot hope to debate the contours of the basic income in good faith… if we have representatives whose loyalties we cannot be completely certain of.

You might be wondering what business a basic income blog has writing about alleged ‘enemies of the people.’ Isn’t it supposed to be the job of a blog such as this to discuss what a basic income is, what its advantages could be, how it may be achieved (including the mechanics of it), and lastly, the challenges we may encounter fighting for its institution? Those are precisely my aims in writing these weekly blogs. And, today’s blog post does not veer away from these aims in the slightest. Let me explain how.

Firstly, the basic income isn’t really about a basic income per se. Most advocates of this idea understand this. At its core, it is really about the things society can and should do to guarantee for all its members a dignified standard of living. For this, it is crucial that we have representatives whose commitment to the plight of ordinary people isn’t in doubt. To the extent that there exist elected representatives who will pose a bad faith hindrance to the basic income, part of the job of discussing the challenges to the basic income involves calling them out and exposing them. In many ways, the fight for a basic income must include taking on politicians whose actions and words appear to place their loyalties to the people in doubt.

Enter, Rebecca Pow, Conservative MP for Taunton Deane.

During the budget debate in parliament this week, Mrs Pow said something that many people found rather curious. She said: ‘the people in Taunton Deane speak to me, they’ve actually got more money in their pockets, which is what they want…so people have actually got thousands more in their pockets.’

I’ll let the Daily Mirror explain why that is such a bizarre thing to say: ‘Rebecca Pow’s local foodbank is giving out thousands of emergency parcels… the organiser of the Taunton Foodbank told the Mirror: “Our figures say something very different”. Just weeks ago the charity, run by the wider Trussell Trust, announced it had given out 1,075 emergency food parcels in six months — a 40% rise on the previous year. Project manager Sue Weightman said: “I wouldn’t say on the whole people in the Taunton Deane area are better off.”’

That would probably have been enough to show how disconnected she is from the people she was elected to represent. But I have decided to investigate further to see what some of Mrs Pow’s parliamentary votes say about whether she is listening to her constituents. And, if she’s not listening to them, who she seems to be listening to.

At a time when the number of children living in poverty, two-thirds of whom live in working families, is at its highest since 2010; at a time when 3.8 million Britons who work live in poverty, when reports of NHS nurses using foodbanks are rampant; when most people have indicated that they would like the government to spend more to help people, theyworkforyou.com has indicated that Mrs Pow has ‘almost always voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits.’ Polls even show that a majority of Brits would rather pay a bit more in taxes in order to fund these very same social benefits Pow wants to defund. She clearly isn’t listening to her constituents who are calling out for help.

Furthermore, perhaps if she spoke to her constituents, she might find that a significant majority of them probably want the banks taxed at higher rates. According to a recent poll, 77% of voters want Theresa May to refrain from cutting corporation tax, and use the money that would be saved from not cutting corporation tax to fund the NHS. The bankers helped crash the global economy by issuing sub-prime loans, racking in short-term commissions, and sticking the tax-payer with the bill when things got rough. Polls consistently show that Britons want the banks more tightly regulated to avoid a recurrence of such bad behaviour, but also taxed more. Meanwhile, according to theyworkforyou.com, in 2015, Rebecca Pow voted three times against higher taxes on banks. How could she be voting this way if she’s been speaking to her constituents?

Rebecca Pow says she speaks to her constituents. Well, perhaps if she spoke to them a bit more, she might find that most of them probably would like to have investigations into the mess that was Iraq. A 2013 poll found that 53% of Britons believe the Iraq war was wrong. And, with good reason. The Iraq war cost Britain and Iraq dearly, in blood and treasure. As the Chilcot report shows, the Prime Minister’s (Tony Blair) judgement in the lead up to that war was deeply flawed. However, Rebecca Pow has consistently voted against investigations into the Iraq war. For example, on 30th November, 2016, she voted against an investigation into whether there were disconnects between public statements made by persons in government in making the case for the war and what they were saying and doing in private. This was crucial toward determining if the allegations of possession of WMDs levelled against Sadam Hussain were just an expensive charade. The bill failed, thanks in part to her vote. She clearly isn’t listening to her constituents on the Iraq war.

But who on earth is Mrs Rebecca Pow listening to? How may we explain all these votes against things her constituents probably like, and for things her constituents probably despise? Her entries on what’s called the Register of Members’s Financial Interests might offer us clues. For those who don’t know, the Register of Members’s Financial Interests is a little-known register where MPs and Lords must report their sources of funding and other interests they may have, which, as Martin William exposed in his book (‘Parliament Ltd: A Journey to the Dark Heart of British Politics’), isn’t exactly very well kept as some MPs often ‘forget’ to report some of their interests. But this is not to say it can’t be helpful.

Going by the donations linked to her in her entry on the Register of Interests, Rebecca Pow seems to have found favour with some pretty well off people; people who probably have ‘thousands more in their pockets’ as she said on the floor of parliament. Over the last couple of years, Rebecca Pow has received tens of thousands in donations from wealthy individuals, including some £5000 from the Stalbury Trust, an organization for the ‘promotion of conservative principles,’ and which, according to OpenDemocracyUk, probably played a part in the mystery around the influence of ‘dark money’ (that is, money from highly secretive wealthy people who don’t want to be identified) in the Brexit vote. Among the donations from individuals were donations from private equity manager, Bert Weigman, and son of Billionaire financier James Goldsmith, Ben Goldsmith. There are also several donations from one Philip Gibbs, including one for a cool £10000, whose identity I cannot ascertain.

Of course, I am not suggesting that Rebecca Pow, or in fact any of her donors, has done anything illegal. What I think this reveals, however, is perhaps the identity of those mystery ‘constituents’ who she claims have thousands more in their pockets; those ‘constituents’ she’s been listening to, whose views and interests explain her votes against things her real constituents want, and votes for things her real constituents in Taunton Deane don’t want and would not benefit from.

If watching the influence of money destroy politics in the US and Britain has taught me anything, it is that we cannot hope to debate the contours of the basic income (or any policy that will benefit ordinary people, for that matter) in good faith, with a clear vision of the facts and an undiluted desire to do what we must to ensure everyone has a dignified life, if we have representatives whose loyalties we cannot be completely certain of. That is why I am calling out Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane.

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