It’s fair to say, plenty of people have doubts about the current Labour frontbench. Nothing has convinced me more that they are incompetent than the leaking of a speech that Liam ‘There’s no money left’ Byrne will give this week.
In this speech, fully endorsed by Ed Miliband, Byrne will attack “evil” benefit scroungers who are destroying William Beveridge’s vision of the welfare state.
Leaving aside the irony of a man who charges the taxpayer, £400 a month for his food bill accusing others of being “evil” scroungers, is it just yet another crude attempt to outflank the Tories from the right? Just yet another demonstration of the current hopeless Labour plan being all tactics, no strategy?
No, this one is worse than all the rest. Why?
A senior Labour figure, with the backing of the Labour party leader, will attack the poorest and most vulnerable people in society – kicking them while they are quite literally down, in the middle of a recession. This is exactly the kind of attack by elites on ordinary people that the Labour party was founded to oppose.
Can you imagine the meeting where this plan was floated? And bear in mind, there will not have been one meeting, but several meetings. When you have a party where shadow ministerial statements have to be signed off in advance by the Leader and the Shadow Chancellor, this has had too many Oxbridge graduates, who think they are qualified to run the country, look it over and say “yes.”
The policy at the core of the speech is to link eligibility for benefits to taxes paid. It absolutely boggles my mind that this policy could be proposed when the key problem of the moment is youth unemployment – young people have often never *had* the opportunity to pay income taxes. I know Youth unemployment is a big deal because Labour have been (rightly) banging on about it for months. It makes me question whether they even listen to their own statements anymore.
You would think Labour MPs would get this problem with the policy. You might also think, as they broadly represent constituencies in the old industrial heartlands, they might understand things like structural unemployment in welsh mining valleys, or in post-industrial cities like Sheffield or Manchester. Apparently not. They also miss the point that the poorest pay the highest share of deeply regressive taxes like VAT, the TV Licence and Sin taxes. To say the poor aren’t paying taxes is simply facile.
Not one person thought to themselves, “Hang on, won’t this upset our core support? Is demonising people that socialists should care about a good strategy long-term? Shouldn’t we care about these people? What if Nye Bevan rose from the grave? What would he say?”. Apparently no-one said any of these things.
Not one person even thought to check to see where this policy is on the spectrum of UK politics – in fact, this policy is FAR to the right of the Tory position on benefits. To find another party espousing the view that taxes are a vital precondition to benefits, you have to go all the way to the fringes of American politics – indeed to the Michelle Bachmann campaign in the US primaries. That’s right. Labour is now to the right of mainstream American Republicans on the benefits issue, which is astounding.
Of course, none of this is to say that long term joblessness (and worse, multi-generational joblessness) isn’t a serious problem. If there is work, people should do it. But at the same time, mechanisms to create that impetus to work need to actually take into account people’s circumstances – and people who need the safety net of the benefit system need to be protected from stupid, overbearing, ill-thought out, headline-grabbing idiots like Liam Byrne.
Almost worse, even if you see this betrayal, this calculated attempt to win over Daily Mail readers, to leave behind those “evil” scroungers who pay no tax as the ends justifying the means – it’s nothing but Fool’s Gold. Labour is simply not going to win in a political fight on the ground of “who will be tougher on benefit claimants?” To quote Owen Jones – “it will fuel a prejudice that the Tories are most trusted to satisfy”.
I know a huge amount of very smart, very committed socialists who would be brave enough to say all of these things to Ed Miliband’s face. To speak the truth to power. Unfortunately, it seems no-one in the inner circle is willing to do so – or if they are, no-one at the top is willing to listen.
Miliband & Byrne sacrificing the founding principles of their supposed socialist party, attacking their own activists and supporters in order to win a short term poll bounce – which they won’t even get. Remind me, why are they in charge again?