"That sums it up pretty well", said Blunkett, who went on to describe how the evil, ghoulish Tories, are planning to reduce the size of the state by selling off central and local government functions to private companies in an effort to save money, because they, unlike Labour, care about money more than about people.
Mr Blunkett omitted to mention the small matter of the Welfare Reform Bill 2008, with its stated aim of saving cash by getting a million people off sickness benefits and back into work whether they are up to it or not. This week, the BBC has exposed the inhumanities of the new ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) system, which requires all claimants of incapacity and other benefits to attend a 'compulsory work-focused interview' in order to assess their capability for work. In almost all cases, the BBC found, after a series of humiliating interviews in which patients with terminal cancer have been asked to demonstrate how far they can walk, applicants were told that they were ineligible for state support and ordered to seek full-time paid work immediately.
After nearly a year of ESA, the government still cannot say how many people this brutal and dazzlingly expensive system has helped back into work, but it can say for sure that 44,000 people are currently waiting for the results of their appeals, costing the taxpayer additional millions.
Dr Chris Johnstone, whose work helped shape the ESA policy, criticised the system, saying,"I have no problem with a rigorous medical assessment done in a supportive fashion, but I think if you have a slipshod one done, as it appears to be anecdotally, that's unfair for the people going through the system. It feels like some of it is done inappropriately and it's almost being done to save money rather than to look after people."
When I raised this inconsistency more-or-less politely with Mr Blunkett, he stammered for a moment before claiming that people attending compulsory medical assessments "should be entitled to a choice of providers" of this "service". This is an outright fabrication. Even where more than one private company does offer ESA assessments in an area, welfare claimants are not informed of their right to a second 'medical' opinion. But that's not the clever bit. The clever bit of ESA, the really nasty, vindictive thing about this scheme, is that accessing the money one is entitled to now involves a fight, a fight that, according to Atos doctors, one is designed to fail:
"When doctors go in for the day's assessments, they pretty much know the clients are going to be turned down...It's really tough to qualify for ESA." Sam, 32, a former research scientist, described his experience of applying for ESA, which was far from 'empowering':
''Jumping through the hoops to access my benefits took me six months, during which I was peniless and despairing. It's not about 'what you can do' - what the DWP want to find out is just how incompetent and incapable you are. If you're to stand any chance of getting the support you need, you have to fail hard enough to satisfy them. And if there's ever anything calculated to institutionalise failure, that's it."
After Blunkett had finished pontificating about 'choice' and 'empowerment' and how much Labour 'cares about people', I waited for the red-eye to subside, made tea, and turned on my computer. Where I found that another friend of mine, Laura, 23, who suffers from severe mental and physical health problems, had received a letter from the DWP telling her that she no longer fulfils their criteria for being unwell:
"... and therefore, I am no longer entitled to my Employment and Support Allowance. And as such I have no income whatsoever.
"Now, when I read the letter I cried for half an hour. Cried so much my throat hurt. But now, now I'm just angry. I've spent months in psychiatric institutions, and I struggle every fucking day with feeling like a failure, and what this letter essentially says is, 'you've failed a test you didn't even know you were taking, and no, we didn't consult your doctors, but as far as we're concerned there's nothing wrong with you, get back to work and stop sponging.''
"Tomorrow I'm going to have to phone some faceless telephone person who I'm either going to shout it, which they don't deserve, or cry at, which doesn't help. This seems like a system that discriminates against those who are most vulnerable."
You can read the whole of Laura's post here. It's important to remember that Laura, Sam and people like them are not just recieving rejection letters, shrugging their shoulders and getting on with it. This is a policy that destroys lives, sometimes literally, sometimes inexorably, and always with the tepid tang of faceless beauracracy. If Labour's only election strategy is to accuse the Tories of not caring about ordinary people, something is badly amiss. It's not merely a lie: it's an untruth so fundamentally at odds with the last five years of policymaking that one suspects the cabinet of some terrible mass hallucination of integrity.
In its belated return to the rhetoric of privilege and class, Labour forgets that a significant proportion of its voters and former voters no longer fit the worn Labour image of 'working class', because they are not able to work for a living in this stress-inducing, punishing service economy, if indeed they ever were. Labour forgets that people who have the cheek to need state support have votes too, and that their votes matter - indeed, they are, all too often, precisely the disenfranchised 'urban block vote' that Blunkett accused the Tories of forgetting.
Labour's callously outsourced welfare solutions demonstrate that the party has betrayed its core values of decency, fairness and support for ordinary people. In doing so, it has sold the ordinary people of this country, working-class and middle-class, skilled and unskilled, the Sams and the Lauras and you and me, into what could be a generation of failure to thrive.