There's an episode of The Thick of It where, enraged by that day's disasters, Malcolm informs Nicola and Terri that he will be using an awful lot of "violent sexual imagery" in order to make them fully understand the level of his unhappiness.
Labour at the moment needs a Malcolm. It needs someone to set out in the most uncompromising terms just how suicidal yesterday's decision to abstain on the welfare bill was, and how incredibly, mindblowingly fucking stupid it is being in general. Some at the very top of the party have been so mindfucked by the combination of losing the election, the glee of the right-wing press at that loss and their analysis as to why, and George Osborne's frankly pitiful efforts to "trap" them that they seem to have forgotten the very reason the party came into existence. If Labour does not stand up for the interests of the ordinary working man, it may as well announce its dissolution.
The party leadership has no excuse then for its failure to vote against the welfare bill. The act explicitly redistributes money from the working poor to the wealthy in order to pay for the all but abolition of inheritance tax. It paves the way for the social cleansing of not just London but whole areas of the country, as the new lower cap on benefits makes those places unaffordable for the low paid and temporarily out of work. It breaks Cameron's twin promises not to cut the benefits of the disabled and sick, as it reduces the payments of those in the work related activity group of ESA to the same as JSA, and to not touch child tax credits. It makes clear that the end result of these changes will be a rise in child poverty, as the government is at the same time abandoning the target to reduce it by 2020. It demands sacrifices only from those of working age, rather than asking any from those whom most of the social security budget is spent on, pensioners. It makes clear the Conservatives don't wish only to play divide and rule between the unemployed and those in work, but between the working poor whom have their wages topped up by tax credits, and those in work who are lucky enough not to need to claim anything. It says some families are worth less than others, that having a third child is always an active choice, and so it's perfectly acceptable for that child to be denied the same support their siblings received. It is one of the most regressive, most reprehensible pieces of legislation to go through parliament in a very long time.
You might have thought yesterday's op/ed by George Osborne in the Graun would have concentrated a few minds. Rarely is there a piece by a government minister that is quite so brazen in the number of outright lies, distortions and misleading statistics it contains. Cutting an "unsustainable" welfare system is according to the chancellor a progressive measure, and welfare reform is not just about saving money, but transforming lives and social justice. Let's be clear: this isn't a trap, this is one step up from the very lowest grade of trolling. You don't respond to trolling, you ignore it. If you must respond to it, what you most certainly don't do is accept the troll is making a legitimate argument.
And yet somehow, unconscionably, only 48 Labour MPs went through the no lobby last night. Whatever it was Harriet Harman tried to achieve by saying Labour couldn't afford to ignore what she claimed was the will of the public in both giving the Conservatives a majority and twice rejecting her party, to act in such a cowardly, incoherent way is near to being unforgivable. The Democratic Unionists, yes, some of the most unpleasant and antediluvian of all the MPs in the Commons, voted against it. The SNP voted against it. The Liberal Democrats, fresh from propping up the Tories for five years, voted against it.
Abstaining when you know precisely what a bill will do to those you were supposedly sent to Westminster to represent is a betrayal. That's what it is. Not only is it a betrayal of those who will suffer as a result, it's a betrayal of everyone who argued that a vote for Labour still meant something. That Labour was a vote for a fairer, more equal society, in spite of all the snide remarks, disbelief and cynicism. It's a betrayal of those who faced down the SNP, with all its claims of being the true progressive, radical force, or who criticised the luvvies who say Labour left them, not the other way around, and did so right at the moment the party needed them the most.
If anything was ever going to legitimise the SNP's claims of being the official opposition, prove Mhairi Black right, or drive those who have long flirted with the Greens fully into their arms, this was it. Those currently leading the party, or rather not leading it have convinced themselves that only they have the answers, that only they are the responsible ones, and that to merely oppose for the sake of opposing is to not listen to "the very strong message sent by the electorate". They have convinced themselves that elections are not won or lost during the last year of a parliament, but by how the opposition responds in the immediate aftermath of a defeat. This is to completely misread what happened in the summer of 2010, as the coalition set out to prove the size of the deficit and the state of the economy were entirely the fault of Labour, rather than a global economic crisis. This was achieved not through acts of parliament, but by how the message dominated everything the coalition did. Labour's failure was to not respond ferociously, to fight the accusation, to debunk the lie. Instead they accepted it. The party leadership is repeating the mistake.
Only this time it's far more serious. Labour has never seemed more divided between the "realists", epitomised by Chuka Umunna describing those disagreeing with his and the "modernisers" analysis as the equivalent of petulant children, and those daring to believe that Labour has to be, must be more than just the Conservatives with a kinder face. The view that nothing can be achieved without power is spineless rubbish. Rare is it that a government just falls apart, and even when they do it's not certain the opposition will automatically benefit: nothing more affects a government's authority than a failure to be able to pass legislation. To give up even the pretence of opposing a government's worst excesses this early is an astonishing act of capitulation, a failure of belief that demands those responsible be held accountable. That no one has said Harriet Harman has clearly lost the confidence of her own MPs in a matter of weeks is equally surprising.
It's not as though any of this is difficult. The welfare bill is about making the poorest poorer, the working poor poorer, and the sick and disabled poorer. Indeed, it's about making anyone who claims tax credits poorer. This is not in dispute: Osborne is painting it as being fair and fixing a broken system but not denying the end result, whatever the claims made about the increase in the minimum wage. Labour has somehow managed through sheer incompetence and the beyond moronic idea that being "sensible" at this stage will win dividends later to make the story not about the Tories doing what the Tories do, but about Labour being split over the most basic of issues. As Flying Rodent has it, Labour is more afraid of not being shitty and vindictive enough, so convinced has it become that you only gain respect and win back votes through being "tough", than it is of going too far. The leadership still seems to believe that it can ignore the wishes of its supporters and core voters as they have nowhere else to go. The election results, the same ones that have apparently convinced them of the wisdom of this masochism strategy, prove the opposite is the case.
So yes, Labour needs a Malcolm to get through the otherwise most impenetrable of skulls just where such an approach will lead, and it most certainly isn't to victory. It also though needs someone to soothe it, to reinforce that its heart is in the right place, and that it hasn't lost its values. It needs someone like, oh, Alan Johnson, to play more of a role, to argue against the more out there ideas some on the left do have, like how an EU exit wouldn't be all that bad really. Failing that, it's difficult to see where the party goes from here. Under siege from all sides, some prefer surrender to carrying on the fight.
Labels: austerity, budget-2015, Conservatives, economics, George Osborne, Harriet Harman, Labour, politics, spending cuts, the budget, welfare bill