How could the night that the Tories drove through a bill with devastating effects on millions of the poorest in Britain become a story about Labour’s political cowardice?
Many headlines feature the 48 Labour MPs who voted against the welfare bill. But the real story is how the vast majority of elected Labour MPs could stomach abstaining on such a vicious piece of legislation.
If Labour won’t vote against cuts in welfare support for the poorest what on earth is it for?
Labour’s position on the bill exposed the battle going on in the party about how to recover from May’s election defeat.
Interim leader Harriet Harman left many Labour supporters aghast when she argued Labour should not oppose the bill as the Tories’ victory expressed voters’ acceptance of the need for cuts.
This led Tory chancellor George Osborne to gloat that the Tories represent the “new centre of British politics” and appealed for “progressive MPs on all sides to support us”.
Labour MPs were instructed to abstain once a Labour amendment spelling out the issues it was for and against fell.
So every time the Tories let rip with attacks on workers’ rights, impose deepening austerity, whip up Islamophobia and a new war drive, where is the Labour “opposition”?
They are arguing about how far they should go in supporting the latest Tory assault.
No wonder Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership bid has been so popular. He argued the welfare bill would drive more children into poverty and said, “We cannot stay neutral on that.”
Corbyn speaks like an ordinary person, not a political robot, and he expresses defiance and disgust at the Tories’ agenda. The Labour establishment don’t get why this wins support.
His views have been dismissed as “fantasy” politics. As if standing up for basic principles against imperialist war, austerity and racism are no longer possible.
The most right wing candidate Liz Kendall moans that the term used to describe her—“Blairite”—has become a “term of abuse”.
The more the mainstream Labour politicians try to undermine Corbyn’s campaign, the more people are rallying to it. Every trade unionist should call on union leaders to back him.
But the wide enthusiasm for Corbyn doesn’t change the fundamental problem facing the Labour Party—its political bankruptcy in its surrender to the needs of the system.
Labour’s reformism weds it to the idea that austerity is necessary, immigration is a problem and the economy has to recover before workers get anything. By economy, they mean profits.
We are not going win by looking to Labour. We need to build resistance in workplaces, colleges and in the streets.
Let’s show the Tories what real opposition looks like.