“We simply cannot say to the public you were wrong at the election. We’ve had a serious defeat and we must listen to why” – Harriet Harman, interim Labour leader.
‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here’ should be above the door of Labour offices throughout the country, a clear message to any misplaced idealists and progressives hoping to join a party of real opposition. For the whole point of being in opposition is not to convince the public that your ideology is correct, but instead to deliberately misinterpret the vote of 36% of the public as indicative of the entire British public’s view. Never in British history has a party decided to utterly surrender to the will of the other side and prop up its fiscal terrorism, if one excludes the Liberal Democrats, but this is exactly the course that Labour is driving itself towards, and its MPs are not exactly kicking and screaming in rebellion.
In yesterday’s second reading of the government’s Welfare Reform and Work Bill (a better title would be the Damnation to Child Poverty and Misery Act), the Labour party mechanic demanded that its MPs abstain from the bill. Not oppose, abstain, which is the same as tacit approval, given that a full abstention would almost certainly lead to its passing, which it did. The bill contains clauses which will cut child tax credit, will cap benefits to £20,000 a year, will give the government the authority to cut benefits without Parliamentary approval, and will ditch commitments to tackling child poverty by redefining what poverty means. None of this has any remote relevance to fiscal responsibility or cutting the deficit (which the government failed to do anyway), it is simply another spiteful gesticulation towards the poor and vulnerable.
Before the vote, Labour leadership hopeful Andy Burnham took to Facebook to say that now is not the time for abstaining, and urged Labour MPs to take a strong moral stand against portions of the bill that they disagreed with. He then abstained from the bill, along with 184 of his colleagues. A mere 48 Labour MPs defied their party’s demands and voted against the bill, along with all 56 SNP MP’s and Caroline Lucas. Miraculously, Burnham took to Facebook again after his abstention to say he would “fight this regressive bill word by word, line by line” and lamented the fact that Labour “lost the vote”. What’s that word for when you say one thing and then do the opposite? Oh yeah, it’s called ‘lying’.
Or take Liz Kendall, another leadership contender and wannabe Tory. Kendall abided by her party’s whip and abstained from the Welfare Bill vote too, and unlike Burnham, didn’t even take the time to post a deceptive epic poem on Facebook. Instead, hours before the vote Kendall’s Facebook team published five laughable reasons why she should be Labour leader, the first reason titled “Liz is the candidate the Tories fear”. If the Tories fear a candidate who grants tacit approval to their assault on welfare, they must be positively quaking in their boots at the 48 MPs who voted against it. I think not.
Labour’s moral surrender last night is not an isolated incident. It is indicative of a much broader surrender that arguably began with the Miliband campaign, which flat-out refused to challenge Iain Duncan Smith on his brutality and human rights abuses, among other things. During Miliband’s “H-h-hell y-yes I’m tough enough” campaign, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves had absolutely nothing to say about revelations that people were literally committing suicide because of benefit sanctions, instead reaffirming her commitment to be “even tougher than the Tories” where welfare was concerned. Amazingly, she kept her job.
Even if this total ideological reversal had a modicum of justification, which it doesn’t, it is a venture doomed to fail from the start. Why on Earth would the British public opt for a watered down version of the Conservative party, when they can vote for the Conservative party? What can possibly be gained from Labour being the equivalent of the younger brother who follows his older sibling around copying everything they say and do in an infantile manner? Do Harriet Harman and her ilk seriously believe that Labour can win an election by being a diluted, limp-wristed version of the Conservative party?
Instead of coming across as a party willing to compromise and evolve, this just simply tells the public that you have absolutely no backbone and are not willing to put up a fight. It tells the public that Labour has not only abandoned its core working class and socialist principles, but has now shed the final element of common decency it managed to retain after the Blair era. New Labour’s embracement of fiscal conservatism in the early 2000’s was bad enough, but at least it still had some discernible differences from the Conservative opposition. The gap between Conservative and Labour now appears to be shrinking by the hour.
While many Labour activists and supporters (mostly campaigners for Corbyn) have criticized this move on moral grounds, some who took to social media argued that it was a strategic mistake (and had no qualms about the actual content of the bill), while others flat out denied that this was a problem out of concerns that the party needs an “electable” leader who accepts “economic realities”. This is either down to total cowardice, a lack of intelligence, or an acceptance of Conservative lies. With the leadership contenders, it seems to be a combination of all three. It appears that only those paying members who oppose the conservatization of Labour can save the party from purgatory.
Of course there are still some within Labour who think the project can be salvaged. Anti-war anti-austerity leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn is top of the polls despite having almost nothing in common with his fellow Red Conservative contenders, and within the party, long-time advocates of the working class such as Dennis Skinner and John McDonnell still remain steadfast opponents to the conservatization of Labour. But without a hundred more Abbotts and Skinners, and without Corbyn at the helm, Labour will continue to be doomed to the Harman-esque land of mediocrity and austerity it seems hell bent on occupying. If I were David Cameron, I would be sending Labour leadership contenders an expensive “thank you” fruit basket, paid for with the money snatched from the mouths of the starving children whose misery they helped to create.