By John McArdle
THIS afternoon, at half past two, the Lords will reassemble in the chamber of the House of Lords to decide what action to take in response to the ConDem’s outright rejection of all seven amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill a fortnight ago.
The lobbying which we carried out around Sue Marsh & Co.s #spartacusreport broke new ground in the field of democratic engagement with peers and was a huge success.
The report’s central allegation was that the DWP and Lord Freud mislead Parliament by misrepresenting the views of those who took part in the DLA/PIP consultation.
There are also now threats of legal action against the government from disability organisations including the UK Disabled People’s Council and Disability Rights UK.
Well, we’ve all certainly been quickly disabused of any illusions of a victory over the WRB!
We’ve all been slapped down, shoved back into our wheelchairs and sent scuttling back to our darkened rooms to consider our futures without our “unsustainable” disability benefits.
Or so they think.
Disabled Labour peer Baroness Rosalie Wilkins described the ConDem’s’ use of financial privilege as “outrageous” after all the months of work peers had put into improving the bill.
Our lives and well-being as disabled people are officially a matter of “Financial Privilege” as far as the smash-and-grab band of brigands who occupy the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street are concerned. It’s not news to us. We’ve been pointing it out for a while.
It’s why we’ve posted pictures such as the one on the right, in case you were wondering.
At least the boys have now been honest enough to come clean on that point. Cheers guys! Awfully decent of you! So refreshing to see at least one glimmer of honesty.
And so back to the Lords.
Well, as you know, we’ve done our constitutional law homework and we’ve written to them to thank them for all their hard work in getting us this far.
At least when folks look back in the Hansard they’ll be able to see that we managed to air all the issues and get the truth of the Welfare Reform Bill into Hansard for posterity!
Alex Stevenson over at politics.co.uk in his article yesterday cautions us campaigners not to raise our hopes up too high, which I think is very thoughtful of him, though I think that, by now, most of us are cynical enough to know better.
According to Alex’s sources, it’s highly unlikely that there will even be a vote this afternoon on the any of the seven amendments.
He writes that most of the business is already done and dusted and that, in their Lordships’ House, they prefer sorting out these matters behind closed doors, thereby avoiding the kind of unseemly high-noon brinkmanship characteristic of clashes among the the riff-raff down the corridor.
Alex predicts that, having pushed the ConDem Cabal to the limit of their patience with their seven pesky amendments, peers will now take a step or two back and that, after some piecemeal, face-saving, assurances are sought and accepted by interlocutors, the peers can then retire to the Lords’ dining rooms for a spot of mutton dressed up as lamb.
Then it’ll be a return to business as usual – the Health and Social Care Bill and then Ken Clarke’s Legal Cuts Bill.
I agree with Alex that it would indeed be miraculous if we were all able to marvel at another show of magnificent resistance by the end of today’s proceedings – we could all break out into song, singing “how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity” -like the commandos did on the plane in The Raid on Entebbe as they headed out to liberate a different group of hostages from that other evil dictator, Idi Amin
Alas, my sources have informed me that the word in the village is that the degree of unity of purpose in the Pro-Amendment Brigade was insufficient to pull off the job and it has left me pondering how and why.
According to our research, the invocation of ‘financial privilege’ by the Commons in this instance is actually a piece of constitutional nonsense and doesn’t actually bind the peers in any way. It is all, therefore, simply down to a question of political will, unity or lack thereof, in the amendment camp.
The reality seems to be that, if the Parliamentary Labour Party was resolved to do the job and the Cross Benchers who supported are agreed that the government has crossed all our accepted norms of common human decency – and they are so far beyond the pale that to suggest otherwise is insulting – then there is nothing stopping peers telling the government to like their amendments or else the bill ‘gets it’ – this very afternoon.
It has been suggested that the PLP – that is the Labour Front Bench – have not got the stomach to fight this one out. People skilled in the ‘dark arts’ of politics have advised that going the whole hog would be risky.
As we all know, the ConDems and their friends Paul Dacre of the ‘Vagina Monologues’ over at the Heil and the other guy at the Sun Don’t Shine (has he been nicked yet?) turned the debate on the Welfare Reform Bill into a media circus that had Joe Bloggs believing that the bill was all about millions of dossers lying in bed every morning, passing go and collecting 26k a year, while poor old Joe had to traipse to work in the sleet and snow in order to receive his pittance from the boss of Top Shop.
The advisers warned team Ed (forget the colour – there are so many now it’s like being on acid) that if they persisted in stand up for these, albeit imaginary, feckless scrounging scum his (already poor) popularity ratings would plummet further still.
Cut to the backroom wheeling and dealing on what will or will not be on the agenda this afternoon and we’re done and dusted.
The PLP will have been seen to support us campaigners and our left-wing sympathisers without suffering any messy damage at the polls by opposing a ‘benefit cap’ that 70% of the public are said to wholeheartedly agree with. “Alarm Clock Britain” can now go back to sleep secure in the knowledge that Labour stands with them too! BINGO!
Why on earth go to the effort challenging Joe Blogg’s’ and his mates’ down the pub’s erroneous beliefs over this benefit cap business by continuing to fight it tooth and nail (even though we know that it’s the “right thing to do”) when there’s an easier, less ‘risky’ solution?
A “cunning plan” or a darstardly suggestion?
This sort of behaviour has been at the heart of our beef with the Labour leadership for quite some time now. The feeling that they’ll support us only so far as it is politically expedient to do so.
Our movement has made great strides in the past year and a lot of people are talking about us on the left and in the party. We have made it far more difficult to be seen to be giving disabled people a kicking and we’ve managed to influence enough people around the Labour Party to provoke rumblings in discontent. We’ve gained support.
We’ve not been shy in exposing Ed for his failure to speak out and Condemn Work Capability Assessments introduced by Nu-Labour.
We still haven’t forgiven him for indulging in the scapegoat narrative of “I met this man on incapacity benefit and I knew he was capable of some work” and his “Squeezed Middle” hard-working neighbours next door whose fuming resentment he understood and sympathised with – you know the spiel – “they’re” just as bad as those bankers at the top, aren’t “they”?
We have had to sit and watch, sick with silent rage, while Douglas Alexander and Liam Byrne gave interviews on programmes such as the Andrew Marr Show or the Today Programme in which they made declarations that they would “work with the government on welfare reform” when they should have been apologising for bringing the Atos work capability assessment into existence and for being complicit in the suicides of people like our friend Paul Reekie.
They should have been denouncing the scapegoat tactics of IDS, Grayling and Co. from the dispatch box at PMQ’s. Instead they remained complicit by their silence, and even tried to outflank our enemies on the right. And they still refuse to accept fault or responsibility anything to do with the WCA. Grayling has even been able to exploit the situation by blaming the ‘shortcomings’ of the assessment process of the set-up that they ‘inherited’ from Labour.
Their behaviour in opposing the WRB would seem, by contrast, to indicate some sort of Damascene conversion.
I emailed a copy of our #reekiebrief to my local MP Ian Murray (Lab, Edinburgh South) last night. Here is our exchange:
Ian – copying you in to our briefing for the Lords ahead of tomorrow’s
debate on the fate of the amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill which
were rejected in their entirety by the ConDems.
Why has Ed Miliband and the Labour front bench failed to attack the
Government’s actions? How can he call on peers to kill the Health and
Social Care Bill when it could just be disposed of by the coalition in
the same manner?
Why is Labour always on the backfoot in standing up for social justice
and what is right. It always seems to be a case of “too little” and
definitely “too late”.
One just despairs.
Best wishes to you personally, as ever,
I always appreciate your information but Labour has opposed both these bills tooth and nail in both Houses of Parliament.
Theres no need to despair with Labours position as it is the same as yours.
I like and respect Ian. He’s an excellent MP and he conscientiously responds to all his constituents concerns. He’s a good guy and we’re lucky to have him.
However, please forgive me if I am not quite ready to allow myself to be completely reassured that Ed Miliband, Douglas Alexander and Liam Byrne are entirely on our side.
We have seen Labour put in a good performance over the Lords debates and amendments, but what, in the final analysis, will have achieved if they capitulate now?
And what’s the cost/benefit analysis?
I know it might seem deeply ungrateful, misanthropic and even paranoid in entertaining the possibility that there has been a convenient stitch-up.
Nevertheless, this awkward, uncomfortable question has to be asked as my duty to disabled people and the truth comes first.
All I can say is that, if our proud Lordly warriors traipse into that Chamber this afternoon and do not hold votes on the seven amendments but instead indulge in a bit of banter on stuff that does not deal with the substantive issues content of the original amendments, we’ll be asking even more awkward questions.
I mean, what’s on the agenda?
Are we going to stand up for the human rights of disabled people and 67 years of the post-war welfare state or aren’t we?
And while we’re at it, are we going to stand up for our National Health Service and stand up for Justice, or not? What is all this crap about horse-trading behind closed doors? Cave in on this and it sets a precedent to cave in on all the other bills.
We’ll require answers as to why the groundwork was not laid, in the intervening period between that afternoon of infamy in the Commons and this one in order to ensure that this wicked and insane bill fails without the amendments.
Who spoke/didn’t speak to whom?
Who among the Cross Benchers suddenly had a change of heart, and why?
What was their overriding interest of some of the supporters in seeing that this obscene bill goes through, even if without the necessary amendments? Who’s pulling the strings and what’s their game?
These are all points for us to ponder, as we wait.
Just remember as you enter that lobby – disabled people’s lives are hanging in the balance and we will hold you to account.
Here’s hoping that I’m just raving – and for that miracle …….