Let’s be clear: the welfare cuts announced by Osborne last Wednesday in his autumn statement mean that for the first time since 1931, the income of the poorest people in Britain will fall as a result of deliberate government policy. All working-age benefits, including Employment Support Allowance for the disabled, will be capped at a 1% uprating per year until 2015. Inflation is expected to be at least double that.
Miliband’s response seems, at first hearing, to be encouraging. He’s denounced the plans as an attack on the poorest and made it clear that he finds Osborne’s jibe about people lying in bed with the curtains drawn while others go to work, pretty distatesful. But what Miliband and the rest of the Labour front-bench have not said is that they’ll vote against the proposals when they come before parliament next month.
It seems that Miliband’s caution is, in part at least, due to the still-pervasive influence of Blairite forces terrified of the party seeming to side with “scroungers.” So far, the craven Work and Pensions spokesman, Liam Byrne has had little to say, and what he has said has been thoroughly evasive.
Miliband and the party leadership are going to have to make their collective mind up pretty damn soon. This is a “what is Labour for?” moment and if Miliband flunks it the repercussions (not least in the unions) will be disastrous for the party -never mind the poor sods who’ll have to suffer the cuts.
A fudge of the kind envisioned (disapprovingly) by John Harris in yesterday’s Guardian (opposing the cap on working tax credits and the like, but letting yet more blows rain down on the unemployed) will not be acceptable to the vast majority of Labour supporters and trade unionists. We must demand that all Labour MPs and spokespersons, starting with Miliband, vote and campiagn against these cuts. Nothing less will do.
And if that means taking on and smashing the Blairite scum who still infest Labour, then so be it.
As Harris (not someone I always agree with) asks: “If each and every Labour politician does not oppose this in its entirety, what exactly are they here for?”