If ever you needed a reason not to vote Labour today, it was on the front page of the Guardian yesterday. The article, by Shiv Malik and Patrick Butler, was on benefit cuts, and revealed that these cuts had arisen because of a vote taken in Parliament last spring to place a cap on welfare spending, with 520 votes in favour and only 22 against. Malik and Butler state that “Labour’s front bench supported the legislation to defend itself from Conservative accusations that they were ‘the party of welfare’”. They also point out that George Osborne challenged Labour to back the bill.
Whaaaaaat? But surely the very nature of party politics is oppositional, because the parties represent fundamentally different and incompatible ideologies; so parties must be challenging one another all the time – why should one party just roll over and let the other walk all over it? Imagine if there were a football match between Arsenal and Spurs, and at the start of the match the Arsenal captain challenged the Spurs captain to support Arsenal. “Certainly sir. We’ll just go off and score a few own goals then …”
Besides, Labour surely is the party of welfare – or at least it was once. It was the party that introduced the welfare state, on the principle that people pay according to their means and receive according to their needs. So the rich pay more than the poor but everybody gets an income they can live on. When, exactly, did Labour give up that philosophy?
Well, one answer to that question can be found by looking at my last blog piece. The Labour front bench doesn’t want the crypto-Tories it now serves – people who crawled out of the woodwork in the early 1990s when the Tory governemnt looked to be on its last legs and Labour poised to take over, so they took over Labour instead – to think it supports anything like that. And they are also scared stiff that they will be portrayed by the gutter press as the party of welfare, where the word “welfare” has been redefined by the same gutter press to mean “scroungers”. So, are we now effectively being ruled by Rupert Murdoch? And if so, what is the point of having parties at all, or indeed, elections?
There are still a few good souls in the Labour Party; I met one this morning, election leaflets under one arm. And Malik and Butler’s article points out that among the 22 opposing that bill were “a small group of Labour rebels” (as well as the SNP). Sadly, those people no longer have any influence on policy. They will shrug and say, “well, even if the Labour leadership wanted to do anything, it can’t. The right-wing press is just too strong”. Errrr …. excuse me, but what exactly was Labour doing during its 13 years in office? Couldn’t it have taken steps to curb the power of Murdoch and co? But then, of course, Blair was in bed with Murdoch. He, and the greedy capitalists who made him, have no interest in the poor, or in socialism, and nor, sadly, do his successors. We have arrived at a situation not unlike the USA, where two big parties which are pretty much carbon copies of each other go through the charade of slugging it out every few years for the prize of being the ones in charge of continuing the status quo. Thankfully, in this country we have a few “minor parties” which seem not to be about to do the decent thing and go away or shut up. (We could, of course, do without one of them, which I will not even dignify with a mention, although really it is just a laughing stock.) But let’s hope the Greens are able to continue reminding Labour supporters, and indeed Labour itself, that there is still an alternative.