Hang the lime soaked sheets again – this time to keep the smell in

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  By Tommy Sheridan

It was exactly 155 years ago today.  London was in the midst of a heat wave and it’s population was growing in response to rapid economic growth.  The Prime Minister of the day, Disraeli, had parliamentary business suspended to introduce emergency legislation.

The River Thames was overflowing with human excrement as no sewage system existed and the rapid population growth was matched with associated human waste dumped in an untreated Thames.  It was called the Great Stink.

  By Tommy Sheridan

It was exactly 155 years ago today.  London was in the midst of a heat wave and it’s population was growing in response to rapid economic growth.  The Prime Minister of the day, Disraeli, had parliamentary business suspended to introduce emergency legislation.

The River Thames was overflowing with human excrement as no sewage system existed and the rapid population growth was matched with associated human waste dumped in an untreated Thames.  It was called the Great Stink.

Disraeli said of the Thames: “That noble river has really become a stygian pool, reeking with inevitable and intolerable horrors”.  The Thames was effectively an open sewer.  MP’s held scented handkerchiefs to their noses as they entered and exited the House of Commons.  Parliamentary officers were ordered to hang giant lime soaked sheets on the Chamber’s windows to keep the smell out. 

Today, 155 years on, we should order those sheets to be hung against the Chamber windows again.  This time to keep the smell in.  The pungent smell of greed, corruption and stinking hypocrisy which reeks from the pores of those who occupy that Chamber.

Parliamentary business was suspended on July 15th 1858 to allow the introduction of the purification of the Thames bill.  Today we require the purification of parliament bill.  Of the 29 members of the coalition government 23 are personal millionaires.  They are out of touch with ordinary lives and oblivious to the disastrous effects their austerity measures are having on millions of households across Britain. 

Individual MPs on individual salaries of £66,396, already 3 times greater than average wages, also qualify for exorbitant travel and accommodation expenses and a weekly grocery allowance of £160 per week.  A grocery allowance of £160 per week while Job Seekers Allowance stands at £71 a week.  Yet the so-called independent body they established to decide their future wages, all recruited from planet upper middle class kingdom, are recommending a 10% wage increase to £74,000.

These are the people who have imposed wage cuts on millions of public sector workers who staff our hospitals, clean our streets and care for our elderly.  The wage freeze these workers have had to cope with over the last 3 years has meant real reductions in living standards and despair and anxiety as most families are now a months salary from poverty.  The millions relying on the payday loan sharks is testimony to the financial malaise millions are now trying to survive in.

Yet the boss of the disgraceful outfit employed to harass, frighten and intimidate disabled citizens, ATOS, through immoral Fit For Work Assessments has just been awarded a wage increase of £279,992.  A wage INCREASE of £279,992.  That level of remuneration alone would be scandalous but that is only his annual increase to pay and bonus package of £2,329,250.  It is downright obscene. 

Yet those political space cadets in Parliament agree such deals and award that company £1.6 Billion of public contracts.  They preach austerity to the millions but introduce tax cuts for the millionaires.  Their five pence tax cut has cost the public purse £1.3 Billion in lost revenue but the vile bedroom tax was foisted upon the poor and disabled to try and save a third of that amount.

Millionaires and billionaires are allowed to pay no tax or small amounts by arrangement while multi-billion corporations like Starbucks, Google, Amazon and scores of others simply laugh all the way to the bank at the thought they should contribute to public services in the UK through taxes on their massive profits.  All allowed and facilitated by a corrupt and greedy group of MP’s who like to be tough on the poor but soft on their millionaire pals. 

155 years on from the last Great Stink the stench of hypocrisy from the House of Commons is truly noxious and horrific.  The lime soaked sheets would keep that stench in but what is really required is an urgent purification of Parliament that would see politicians elected to represent ordinary citizens not the rich and paid an average skilled workers wage not a salary that takes them out of touch with ordinary lives. 

Faced with that stench of hypocrisy from the MPs it is no surprise that hundreds of thousands are resisting the vile bedroom tax and millions are preparing to fight cuts in wages, pensions and living standards through industrial action.  Disraeli interrupted Parliamentary business 155 years ago.  Generalised strike action is required to interrupt Parliament today.