(I’d advise you listen to this while reading this article.)
That was the week that was.
Harriet Harman called for Labour to abstain on the government’s Welfare Bill, a bill that would almost certainly plunge thousands into poverty. Andy Burnham argued against too little opposition, only for Harman to riposte ‘Andy we lost the argument, you may have noticed we lost the election’ and we must listen to what the electorate are telling us; mainly, they want the scroungers to have a good kicking. He continued to oppose it anyway, eventually leading to something of a coup in the PLP.
The scenes were remarkably similar to when John Woodcock called Andy’s policy on giving councils the power to dispose of slum landlords as ‘continuity Miliband’. As though our loss at the election means we must give up any opposition to exploitation and poverty.
I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that if something causes child poverty, the public are wrong. GASPS from Alan Johnson. But’s it’s quite obviously true. The public isn’t always right. That isn’t the same as saying they were wrong for voting Tory, rather just pointing out that support for policies like a welfare cap is both morally and rationally wrong, and its popularity is based on misinformation mainly put forward by a hostile taboid press. And I’d rather fight the argument that causing 40,000 to plunge into poverty is wrong rather than adopt it for an election 5 years down the bloody line. I have wondered back on forth on this, particularly the welfare cap, but I have landed here; sod the populism that condemns fellow countrymen to poverty. I am not going to call any politician that sees compromise in this area a ‘Red Tory’, for that is wrong; I understand that power is more productive than purity. But when it comes to this, when it comes to ‘kicking the scroungers’ because such a narrative is now popular, I cannot do it. The welfare cap must be opposed, the welfare bill must be opposed, and the welfare state must be defended. Not because I am on the left, not because I don’t want to win back swing voters, not because I want a particular version of Labour, but because not opposing this is wrong, and too many of my peers will face utter devestation.
I write this after a report came out basically putting the Labour Party on the precipice of non-existence. One focus group participant states that ‘They seemed to be on the side of people on the social not people in the middle like us.’. Here’s just a thing, and I say this distancing myself from being a Labour Party member -this guy’s a complete wanker.
Saying as an individual who’s had her fair share of being ‘on the social’ I guess, and not as a Labour member seeking re-election, I am coming out and saying that this guy is a selfish asshat and deserves to be put in a room with foodbank users.
‘But you’re doing that thing where the left claims moral supremacy’, you might be saying. Except I’m not saying this as a person on the Left, I say this as a person from a background that has often involved heartbreak and anxiety. I wasn’t born on the left, I developed those ideals through circumstance. And that isn’t, btw, saying that anyone and everyone who cares about the disadvantaged or is disadvantaged should adopt the left’s ideals. Indeed, there are people on the Right that also recognise that poverty and inequality hurts us all, that Osborne is wielding a far too large axe in all the wrong places. MPs from left and right, whether Tory, Labour, SNP, Lib Dem, Green or UKIP, I’d hope they’d all take a principled stand against policies that cause poverty.
Rather I am arguing that when I abide by my principles, they are mine and mine alone, and I won’t repress them because in 2020 the party to which I belong will have to win back voters crying ‘I’m alright Jack!’ or ‘kick the scroungers!’.
The argument that we give up on being a Wilsonian ‘moral crusade’ because defending the weak is now unpopular is something that was contested by one Mhairi Black in her now infamous maiden speech this same week;
Weathercocks will spin in whatever direction the wind of public opinion may blow them, no matter what principle they have to compromise. Then there are signposts that stand true, and tall, and principled. They point in a direction and they say ‘this is the way to a better society and it is my job to convince you why’
Now, I’m no fan of the nationalists, and I am sure Tony Benn would have quivered at his words being used for the advance to a nationalism that had wiped out his party, but the Benn philosophy being used in such a way in this tumultuous week is why I have came to the conclusion that I refuse to abide by public opinion when it causes poverty, and when it promotes mere greed. I do not want to be in politics for our legacy to be poverty and individualism. I want to be in politics to convince and persuade. Black and Benn were right; signposts are the only people worth remembering.
And sometimes, a signpost can create a new consensus. Nye Bevan once said, ‘[when we realise] we are not beaten, that we represent the future. the we say it and mean it, we can lead the people to where they deserve to be led.’. The Good Politicians are the ones that change the hearts and minds of a people, instead of giving in to any one tide. No matter where your politics lies, this is surely the aim of a good opposition.
And I am sure this current tide needs turning.
We shouldn’t be weathercocks. I’m going to argue against things I disagree with even if it’s unpopular to do so. I hope someone in a more powerful position than my own -no matter their party, but I’d hope by Her Majesty’s Official Opposition- will do the same when they realise something is worth fighting for, or indeed against. Let’s start with not plunging every third child in Britain into poverty.