‘What’s killing Labour? A thousand failures to oppose the cuts’ by Owen Jones

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They think they are buying back credibility, rather than shoring up policies that should be seen as sunk, ruinous, shredded. By failing to offer a coherent message, they risk a sense of “at least you know where you are with the Tories” bedding in. But the cost is not only to Labour’s electoral prospects: it will be to the working, disabled and unemployed people whose pockets will continue to be emptied.’


Owen-Jones-007OWEN JONES Sunday 30 June 2013

The Labour party has not so much missed open goals as fled in the opposite direction


George Osborne’s political career should be lying face down, lifeless, bobbing in the Thames. His statement last week should have been rebranded “The Comprehensive Review of the Failure of Austerity”. The Tories’ central pledge at the last election, after all, was that the deficit would be erased, wiped out, vanished over the course of this Parliament: there should have been no alleged need for further cuts after 2015.

But everything those who were smeared as “deficit deniers” predicted would happen back when David Cameron and Nick Clegg began cavorting in the Rose Garden has come to pass. Austerity has acted like a growth-seeking missile, leaving Britain embroiled in a longer economic crisis than the Great Depression itself. The underlying deficit is bigger this year than it was the last; Osbornomics has left the Tories borrowing £245bn more than they projected. Here are the calamitous results of a lethal combination of a shrinking economy, suppressed demand and stagnant tax revenues. Companies are sitting on monumental cash piles worth hundreds of billions which they are not investing. Meanwhile, the average worker faces a pay packet shrinking at the fastest rate in modern British history. No wonder that Osborne’s approval rating languishes somewhere around minus 40.

And yet, and yet. The Chancellor’s default facial expression may be set to smug, but – given the circumstances – his performance in the Commons last week was assured, confident, even cocky. No wonder. Even as austerity has failed on its own terms, the Official Opposition has not so much missed open goals as fled in the opposite direction. The Tories’ message can be summed up in one easily digestible sentence: “We will cut the deficit by reining in public spending, stopping hard-working taxpayers subsidising the indolent and the workshy by cutting welfare, and we will live within our means.” Labour’s current muddled message would take several confusing paragraphs, filled with caveats and clarifications, covered in scribbles and crossings-out. Osborne has cut too far and too fast, they say, but we will stick to his plans. The Tory approach to cutting social security is wrong, though many of their underlying principles are right. Many of their cuts are as cruel as they are unnecessary, but we will not reverse them.

Perversely, this farcically disastrous Chancellor has been allowed to make the political weather, constantly leaving Labour in a defensive posture. His declaration that people thrown out of their work must wait for seven days before getting benefits is a classic example. Working people pay into national insurance and deserve to be supported when their boss sacks them, Labour should have said. The average wait is already more than three weeks as it is. This will only benefit legal loan sharks – who a million families now turn to – and lengthen the queues to food banks, who now cater for half a million people in the seventh-richest country on earth. But Labour did not make these arguments. Ed Balls instead accepted the underlying logic of a longer wait – with caveats, of course.

The Tory strategy is to crucify Labour over social-security spending, aided and abetted by right-wing propagandists posing as journalists who hunt down extreme, unrepresentative examples and pass them off as the tip of a feckless iceberg – say, a woman with 45 kids and a giraffe on benefits, as my colleague Mark Steel puts it.

But as a poll published in this newspaper at the start of 2013 showed, thanks to our media, the public are chronically misinformed about social security: about who gets benefits, how much they are worth, and the real level of fraud (around 0.7 per cent). The more they know the reality, the less likely they are to support life-destroying cuts.

Rather than accepting the Tory terms of debate on social security, then, Labour should be launching the mother of all campaigns to educate and inform. Most social-security spending goes quite rightly on elderly people, who have paid in their whole lives. Most working-age benefits go to people in work, like tax credits, which are a subsidy for low pay. Housing benefit – which has jumped by £2bn under this Government – lines the pockets of landlords who can get away with charging rip-off rents, knowing that you and I, the taxpayer, will step in.

To bring down social-security spending in a sustained way, Labour should say, we will address the root causes: taking on low pay with a living wage; controlling rents as well as allowing councils to build; and an industrial strategy to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, not least in renewable energy as Germany has done. Such a message would undercut the prejudices that the Tory offensive depends on.

But instead, Labour’s leaders – pessimistic as they are about the prospects of shifting public attitudes – fail to challenge myths, and even occasionally feed them. It is utterly self-destructive. The more “skivers” or “shirkers” are inflated in people’s minds, the bigger the potential pool of Tory support. After all, if you really want to give “scroungers” a kicking, you will always trust the Conservatives best to do it.

And here is the fatal flaw in the Labour leadership’s strategy. They think they are buying back credibility, rather than shoring up policies that should be seen as sunk, ruinous, shredded. By failing to offer a coherent message, they risk a sense of “at least you know where you are with the Tories” bedding in. But the cost is not only to Labour’s electoral prospects: it will be to the working, disabled and unemployed people whose pockets will continue to be emptied.

A generation of plummeting living standards beckons – unless the Labour leadership’s failure to challenge a hijacking of the financial crisis to roll back the state is countered. Last week, more than 4,000 people attended the People’s Assembly coalition against austerity, and decided on a rolling programme of action. Learning from the success of UK Uncut in forcing tax avoidance on to the political agenda, a day of peaceful civil disobedience will be held on 5 November.

The gentleman’s agreement of British politics has to be sabotaged: our futures and those of our children are at risk.

That’s not hyperbole.

It’s the appalling truth. 

The Independent

  • Anne Selby July 2, 2013 at 10:05 am

    But they’ll only be kicked out for the Scots…. and while I can absolutely see why the Scots want to be free of Westminster there are a whole load of other people on this island who are suffering as well.

  • Trevor July 2, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Owen Jones is a signed up member of the utterly discredited Labour Party so what’s he moaning about? He expects us all to trundle down to our nearest polling booth come election day and put a cross beside the name of some self-serving little toerag, who would have us believe he/she has the concerns of his/her impoverished supporters at heart, and will do all in his/her power to rectify the situation – if he/she can extract his/her snout from the Westminster money trough long enough, that is.

    Jones, along with other deluded Labour-supporting liberal types (Polly Toynbee, etc) should shut the f**k up: I for one have had more than enough of their whingeing!

    Vote Labour for more of the same; that’s their message.

    • Sam Brackenbury July 19, 2013 at 7:44 pm

      Everyone in the Black Triangle Campaign does a really brilliant job, but south of the border the campaign seems severely lacking of real political support other than a few “Unions” Such as THE P.C.S. ….. Members of D.P.A.C. do a really hard job… But in Scotland you really have an alternative to Labour….. Down here what choice have we got?????? Owen Jones can Moan about Milliband, But until hr leaves The Labour Party, I agree he is nowt but a bag of Wind, and as I get older I feel that “So called Parliamentary democracy” is a joke….. Milliband proves that!…..So what are the alternative……… Solfed????

  • Prola Tariat July 2, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    “Whats killing Labour” thats a easy one,suicide is killing labour, there is absolutely no difference between any of the three main parties, Owen Jones, speaks the truth, but who is listening,certainly no one from the new labour party,the death nell started to sound when clause 4 was killed off.

    • Landless Peasant July 3, 2013 at 1:13 pm

      Labour reckon they’re going to create millions of jobs overnight with their so-called ‘Job Guarantee’ policy, though they have failed to reply to my query as to how they aim to achieve this miracle unless they re-instate Clause 4 Part 4, as I asked. I contacted that gobshite Liam Byrne about it but he ignored me, so fuck him and fuck Labour.

  • David Warriet Edwards July 2, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    Saddened that the party that ensured that I ate, learnt, worked and was housed for most of my life is dying or rather being subsumed by the narrow self-interest that makes it indistinguishable from the rest. The surviving members of my parents’ generation are already wondering why they bothered RIP civilisation 🙁

  • Sam July 2, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    When are we going to see a NOTA option on our ballot papers? (NOTA = None Of The Above) It’s a fundamental feature of meaningful democracy in a limited choice system – no choice at all if all candidates sing from much the same hymnsheet.

  • Landless Peasant July 3, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    I certainly won’t be voting for Labour. They have betrayed us. They failed to prevent Lord Fraud & IDS’s bodged Workfare regulations from being introduced and retrospectively applied. They favour Workfare type back-to-work scams, they favour Benefit sanctions, and above all, they forced me to waste many months of my life sat in a stinking classroom endlessly re-writing my CV whilst on their poxy New Deal, not once but FIVE bloody times. I will NEVER vote Labour again. Liam Byrne is a clone of IDS, he even uses the same language about “skivers” & “strivers” etc. Disgusting Class traitor. Lord Fraud is an unelected bureaucrat who will switch sides at the drop of an hat and has no quarms about undermining Democracy, whilst Lord Glasman promotes ‘Blue Labour’. The Left/Right paradigm is nothing less than the Hegelian Dialectic being enforced. Democracy is a sham. You’ve all been had.

  • Thomas July 3, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    We have three parties that are the same, UKIP that is fascist, and the other parties that can’t win any seats.

    • Landless Peasant July 4, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      Yep, that’s the way they have it stitched up. The system works for them and not for us. But I will vote for the Green Party as their manifesto is more Socialist than Labour, and at least my vote will help them to not lose their deposit if nowt else.

      • Thomas July 7, 2013 at 6:44 am

        I’ll vote TUSC if I get the chance. Even though that means my vote is wasted.

      • Karen M July 21, 2013 at 12:59 pm

        If there is Green Party candidate I’ll vote. If there is an Independent maybe I’ll vote. Otherwise for the first time I’ll spoil my ballot paper with NOTA. Voting is a tribute to the suffrage movement. A spoilt ballot paper is better than not voting.

  • Annos July 4, 2013 at 2:19 am

    “We have to grasp, as Marx and Adam Smith did, that corporations are not concerned with the common good. They exploit, pollute, impoverish, repress, kill, and lie to make money. They throw poor people out of homes, let the uninsured die, wage useless wars for profit, poison and pollute the ecosystem, slash social assistance programs, gut public education, trash the global economy, plunder the U.S. Treasury and crush all popular movements that seek justice for working men and women. They worship money and power.”

    ― Chris Hedges, The Death of the Liberal Class

    “The corporations that profit from permanent war need us to be afraid. Fear stops us from objecting to government spending on a bloated military. Fear means we will not ask unpleasant questions of those in power. Fear permits the government to operate in secret. Fear means we are willing to give up our rights and liberties for promises of security. The imposition of fear ensures that the corporations that wrecked the country cannot be challenged. Fear keeps us penned in like livestock.”

    ― Chris Hedges, The Death of the Liberal Class


  • Nigel July 4, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Yesterday revealed two rattled Parties who have been exposed as bedfellows in a long standing ‘you scratch my back ‘ arrangement .Cameron & Murdoch both Relished in underhand Exsposure of others for their own purposes but in typical Media Fashion both parties played the Injured Innocent.
    Forget the old hat labelling of Left or Right ,Cameron displayed his total fear at PMQ’s yesterday of Unions becoming a force to redress the Balance between his Totalitarian Policies and Fairness .
    Blair & Mandleson stole the Labour Parties traditional role of representing the Working Class and gave Tory Policy an open Playing Field .Milliband to keep his Tory agenda has had Labour central Office Vet any future candidates .Murdoch similar to Milli & Cam is blaming anyone for his Failings .
    Democracy is a Balance and all the above three are totally against that .Evil will not prevail .

  • FrankieP July 4, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Perversely, this farcically disastrous Chancellor has been allowed to make the political weather, constantly leaving Labour in a defensive posture. His declaration that people thrown out of their work must wait for seven days before getting benefits is a classic example. Working people pay into national insurance and deserve to be supported when their boss sacks them, Labour should have said. […] Ed Balls instead accepted the underlying logic of a longer wait – with caveats, of course.

    This week the narrative that there’s any reason at all for this wait has annoyed me. Owen Jones himself is accepting it as an argument here.

    It’s such a ridiculous assertion it’s like saying using the cash machine at a supermarket is a discouragement to going food shopping. If there’s any truth in the argument that a person can’t do the immediate things required for jobhunting while they’re in the same building, in the same room, often while talking to the same person who will deal with their benefit claim, there’s something fundamentally wrong with the application process and DWP adminstration. It has nothing whatsoever to do with claiming benefits, paying into national insurance, or even jobhunting. Most of all, it has nothing to do with the unfortunate claimant.


  • Nightingale July 6, 2013 at 1:22 am

    There is a lot of comment here that tend to conflate things. One post has already pointed out that the left & Labour are not synonymous. I would add that the Labour Party isn’t the same as it’s front bench. If they do not change their stance on the ConDems vicious war on the welfare state, and scapegoating the disabled in a breach of human rights and the UN charter, they can be challenged from within the party and replaced. The party can consist of you & me & the unions. There are good Labour MPs still such as Michael Meacher, and Dennis Skinner and the 40 that voted against the retrospective legislation, while Ed&ed sat on their hands. The Unions will fund the party (or the man) that is representative of working people. Pure & simple.

  • Rosemary Trustam July 7, 2013 at 10:54 am

    so let’s get them to represent the facts at their Opposition debate next Wed 10th July – email yopur MPs and give them facts to raise – the debate is put on by Laim Byrne due to Pat Onions petition – calls for the government to do a cumulative impact assessment on the impact of (ALL) the cuts on disabled people – long over-due. We might also point out that there may be other groups they should be doing this on too!! Despite the fact other people can use their own figures todo this they maintain they can’t do it so maybe we should be suggesting they invovle these others to train them to be able to do this!! Don’t delay make your parliamentary reps responsible for raising your views

  • Sam July 10, 2013 at 2:04 am

    Mentally ill myself, I can often recognise it in others…

    Labour under Browne and Blair – Schizophrenia

    Libdem under Cable and Clegg – Bipolar disorder, of course

    Ukip – Dementia

    Greens – Depression

    Communists – Functional catatonia

    and the Tories under IDS, Grayling, etc. – Advanced clinical sociopathy

    (With apologies to those who, like me, actually suffer from some of these issues in ourselves.)

    But, fortunately, Atos declares them fit to govern.

  • Humanity2012 July 11, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    The Pushing for a MPS Pay Rise in the Light of so much Poverty outside the Palace of Westminster makes My Blood Boil .

    It is Completely Arrogant and Out of Touch.

    It Pisses Me Off

  • Humanity2012 July 11, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    What also Pisses Me Off is the Alleged ” Official Opposition ”
    acting like a Bunch of Gormless Dummies when they should of
    been Standing Up for the Poor and Vulnerable

    Bloody Sort It Out ” Official Opposition “

  • Annos July 12, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    About sums up what New Labour is ALL about…


  • Humanity2012 July 16, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    A Caring Socialist Agenda Not A Cold Hearted Suffering Agenda is what is Needed with Regards to Welfare Provision.

    It makes my Blood Boil with Absolute Rage to hear that the ” Official Opposition ” seems to think that the Benefits Regime is Not Tough enough.

    They Need to Get Out of their Feckless Ivory Tower and try Existing on the Amount that too many are Reduced with Nazi Style Media Hounding Bureacracy and Paperwork.

    Caring for the Poor and Vulnerable must be an Integral Part of a Revolutionary Caring Socialist
    State .

  • Nightingale July 16, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Recent soundings by the RMT and other unions are showing that the Labour Party is now set on a course to break the ties between the two organisations, and the unions are favouring a new party. I think that will be a difficult and fraught journey, and unlikely to help in this & the next parliament, but maybe the only longer term policy. Perhaps a high-profile debate will get the Labour party to sort itself out, and the policies it needs for us, the people, on the required path of actually opposing the Tories, their lies and their class-war policies. If not, then they can’t say that there were not warned

    I would be very interested in hearing more about any new party started by the unions.

  • Humanity2012 July 19, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    Stuff the Bloody Wait Wait Wait

    We Need Things Sorted Out Now

    Decent Public Services Price Controls on Maximum Cost

    Better than UK being a Cloud Cuckooland

  • David Warriet Edwards July 19, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Still waiting for a pro bono lawyer to challenge the salary paid to the Leader of the Opposition when there is no leading of any opposition ;(

  • Annos July 20, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    “This week, Labour attacked Conservative plans from the right, arguing that they were too soft on welfare. Labour’s Liam Byrne denounced the cap for not being hard enough because it would not affect those with very large families and would do nothing to prevent those “living a life on welfare.””


  • Annos July 21, 2013 at 3:32 am

    “The symbolism runs deep into the veins of the NHS. The government on Thursday sold off the NHS-owned company supplying safe blood plasma on which thousands depend. It was sold to a US private equity firm with a reputation for aggressive asset-stripping. Bain Capital owns Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Dunkin’ Donuts and much else. Its predatory history dogged Bain’s founder, Mitt Romney, throughout the US election. – See more at:”


  • Humanity2012 July 27, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    It Astonishes Myself those who Round on the Poor but Say Nothing about the Obscene Luxury of the Rich

    They get taking in by Nazi Tabloid ” Newspaper ” Demonisation of ” Dole Scroungers ” too Easily when the Real Scroungers are the MPs on the Expenses Pisstake

    I Am All Right Jack Mentality is Destructive of Community Spirit and Care

  • Annos July 27, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    “A previous article discussed Thatcherism. It’s Chicago School fundamentalism writ large. It’s financial terrorism. It’s hugely exploitative.”

    “It’s forced-fed austerity. It’s corporate welfare. It’s mass privatizations. It benefits business and society’s wealthy. It’s government of, by, and for privileged elites alone.”


  • Annos July 28, 2013 at 3:06 am

    “200,000 victims of Equitable Life collapse may miss out on compensation after Atos slips up again”


  • Annos August 8, 2013 at 1:00 am
  • Sam Brackenbury October 19, 2013 at 2:48 am

    Solidarity Federation is only hope!

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