Two news stories have struck me this week.
One is the extraordinary ineptness of the contractor employed to carry out tests for PIPs (Personal Independence Payments) for disabled people in the North East, who has hired rooms in a luxury spa owned by multi-millionaire, Duncan Bannatyne, for the purpose. I can imagine few things worse than being pushed in my wheelchair through a place thronging with healthy and wealthy spa-goers padding around in fluffy slippers and snow-white bath robes on their way to a massage, a manicure, and a meal of coleslaw and prosciutto, or working off their excess weight on cross-trainers, or showing off their finely toned bodies between the swimming pool and the sauna. It is hard to imagine a more inappropriate venue for what is already a humiliating enough experience - an assessment designed to save the government £1.3bn by 2020, by cutting the number of people who receive DLA (Disability Living Allowance, being replaced by PIPs) and in particular the mobility element which gave disabled people freedom to get out and about.
It is true that supporting the disabled costs us all a lot of money. It's also true that the introduction of PIPs has already caused a lot of personal harm and hardship. "PIP assessments have so far led to Motability cars being taken away from 50,000 disabled people.
When the new assessments were announced to replace the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in 2016, it was estimated that entitlements would be cut by up to £150 a week for more than half a million people." See Huffington Post article. See Huffington Post article. The irony is that the sum result of a lot of misery for a section of the population will in the end barely dent our social services bill a jot, if at all.
I do realise that a while ago I made a resolution not to whinge so much. But really! Sometimes it all gets too much. So here's my second one. It's about Theresa May's much touted Florence speech. I'm not entirely clear why her minders chose to stage it there. I gather it might have been because of the trading/banking history of the city, or it might have been some sort of convoluted symbolism to do with the Renaissance. Here she was, in the tradition of Michelangelo and the Medicis, launching a second Renaissance in Europe, Mrs May's Renaissance. From the news reports that seems to have been the gist of her message. Brexit is not an end; it's a beginning. It's not a divorce; it's a new glorious "partnership". There were precious few details of what the partnership would look like, just like nothing we had seen before and we need some more time to think about it. What must puzzle objective observers is, then what Brexit was all about. In the referendum campaign we were constantly told that it was about breaking off with the EU, having done with it, breaking free from its shackles. Which sounded very much like a divorce, a very acrimonious one at that. It sounded like "a plague on all your 27 houses".
"Brexit," Mrs May intoned, like a mantra, "is Brexit." Now it appears, "Brexit is Brentrance." Whether Europe will allow us to have our cake and eat it remains to be seen.