Friday 13 January 2012

Where is 38 Degrees? The World Wonders.

This week, disabled campaigners launched the SpartacusReport , demolishing the logic, and truthfulness, of the government case supporting the Welfare Reform Bill’s brutal assault on disability benefits. And on Wednesday night the government suffered 3 consecutive defeats in the House of Lords over amendments to the Bill, the biggest defeat of this parliament to date. Having spent two years studiously ignoring us the media didn’t seem to know how to handle that, the BBC seemed almost to imply that we were being irresponsible for daring to oppose cuts.

Getting access into the media, and to non-disabled people as a whole, is a very large part of the reason we have been appealing for a year or more for mainstream campaign groups such as 38 Degrees, UK Uncut and OccupyLSX to get behind our campaigns, even if only by drawing them to their members attention. But progress has been terribly slow, at a time when, with the Welfare Reform Bill almost law, a laggardly reaction is the last thing disabled people can afford. I’ve made some progress with getting 38 Degrees to admit there is an issue, as seen in blogs here and my guest blog on their own site,  and their campaign on Legal Aid is a start, but Legal Aid is a tiny skirmish on the fringes of the main battle, the Welfare Reform Bill which threatens to leave hundreds of thousands of disabled people without any government support whatsoever, even while the government admits that they are not fit to work, while gutting just about every other disability benefit in the name of party ideology.

Meanwhile a handful of disabled campaigners, with next to no resources, either physical or financial, have stood their ground and inflicted a major defeat on the government through nothing more than smart, net-savvy campaigning, supposedly the very strengths on which 38 Degrees prides itself. In christening their paper the Spartacus Report the team behind it tapped into the media image of Spartacus, the slave who refused to be cowed by the might of Rome and led a revolt that is still legendary two millennia later. On Monday, #SpartacusReport became the number one trending hashtag on Twitter. On Wednesday, Spartacus was triumphant in the Lords,  but the battle isn’t over and the Coalition is threatening to reverse our victories in the Commons.

This would have been the perfect moment for the mainstream groups to throw their weight behind us, to combine their media access and mass membership with our analysis and use the impetus of victory to save literally millions of disabled and other vulnerable people from the vicious, bullying attacks of the Welfare Reform Bill. 38 Degrees showed its ability to rapidly seize and exploit political opportunities with the ‘I am not a Zombie’ campaign, turning a ministerial attack on 38 Degrees members into a media-worthy demonstration of Coalition arrogance in the space of just a couple of days; but it’s Friday now, the Spartacus Report has been out there for five days, and we’re still waiting for 38 Degrees to declare ‘I’m Spartacus’ and urge their members to do the same.

The Spartacus Revolt is the obvious analogy for the Spartacus Report, but in considering the role of 38 Degrees in this I’m reminded more of the WWII Battle of Leyte Gulf. In the middle of the battle, with US forces fighting their way ashore in the Philippines, the US battlefleet, Task Force 34, was lured away, leaving the invasion beaches open to the Japanese battlefleet, including the mighty Yamato, the largest battleship ever built. A handful of US light ships, Taffy 3, with no hope of winning, threw themselves into the teeth of the Japanese guns, and earned themselves a place in history by driving the Japanese off. As they fought for their lives signals were sent pleading for the US battlefleet to turn around and involve itself in the only battle that mattered. One of those signals has become emblematic of plunging headlong in the opposite direction to the real fight: “Where is Task Force 34? The World Wonders.”

Legal Aid is important, vital even, but Legal Aid can only help disabled people to access those rights they are granted in law. The Welfare Reform Bill will destroy many of those rights for ever.  

Where is 38 Degrees? The World Wonders


  1. It is actually kinda surprising they didn't swoop in at the 11th hour and then try and claim the success was all theirs...

  2. Only fair to add that 38 Degrees asked me how quick this is coming to a head late on Friday night, but given that the answer is that the vote to axe DLA in favour of PIP is on Tuesday, and Freud is already lining up his amendments to try and reverse the votes he lost at the same time, people having cried foul when he tried to do that on Wednesday night after everyone but the Tories had left the chamber*, the need for action is urgent.

    * one of his amendments may have gotten through, the proceedings were so irregular people still aren't sure days later, that's a really class act, Lord Freud....

  3. UKUncut and Occupy are both in the fight now, but still no sign of action from 38 Degrees. Last chance for DLA. Last chance for 38 Degrees to show it means something.

  4. Not quite last chance. There may be some crucial amendment motions at 3rd Reading (not as unusual in the Lords as the Commons, AIUI).