Wednesday 20 March 2013

Yesterday's Labour Workfare Masssacre

This morning, like the night after Agincourt, lefties like me scan the bloody, burnt out social media #workfare battlefield in the hope of finding twitching Labour corpses. There are none. Like the French 600 years before, a few generals at the top of the pile made the fateful decision to crush the weak and exhausted. Like the French, they were shown exactly why that's often not a very good idea at all. 

In the three years since Labour have been in opposition, nothing has described their fate better than the welfare debate. With minds stuck in an ideology forged around a gleaming new millennium, welfare was a comforting Blairite hawk to offset the freer doves of education, international aid and health. 

Tough on povety, tough on the causes of poverty. It suited Purnell, and Murphy and Cooper as they forged their credentials as "centrists" and who knows? Future leaders? 

So the argument goes : "It's a no brainer. The public think everyone on welfare is scrounging. (Except them) The tougher we are on welfare, the more people in the "Middle" and the "Shires" and the "City" breathe easy at night. (As long as it's not pensioners and it doesn't affect them.) Combining a little social justice elsewhere, with a good dose of judgement and steel in welfare = the chance of a majority. 75% of the public support workfare. Therefore, supporting the government on this is a chance to show we are still tough on poverty, tough on the causes of poverty. The Daily Mail fall gasping at our feet, they raise a glass in the gentleman's clubs, and no-one will listen to the screams of the anguished or weak, well, because they're anguished and weak."

Some around the shadow cabinet now look uncomfortable, shift in their seats. This is at least progress. Some mention the change in the welfare narrative lately. Opinion polls shifting, disability becoming toxic for the Tories, the increased media interest and above all, that behemoth of opinion formers - social media. But the hawks give the doves a little slap about and logic prevails. 75% of everyone or about 1% of the active, gobby probably-gave-up-on-us-anyway-leftie-activist-Face-Tweeps??? 

As has happened so often before, but had been happening less lately, the hawks won the welfare Agincourt, and they took to the commons. 

We on Twitter and Facebook steeled ourselves. Defeat had been heavily trailed on the blogs and had met with the grim opposition of the archer who knows he may be amongst small and ragged numbers, but he has all the arrows and the mighty have none. 

And so it proved. If the Daily Mail or the BBC even noticed Labour's unprincipled stand yesterday, designed to get them picked for the election team, there is little evidence today on a quick dodge of budget fever. 

But on Social Media? 

Oh Agincourt,

"Those few, those happy few those band of brothers. 
For those yesterday who shed their blood may have been a brother. 
Be he ne'er so vile, election day may have gentled his condition and Englishmen abed may have held their front doors wide as any speaks, that canvassed late, upon election day!!!"

For the return of precisely zero centre ground, floating voting, Mail readers, Labour managed to enrage and alienate 10s of 1000s of active, passionate, left of centre, engaged, knowledgeable, informed, opinion formers who are read by journalists and opposition alike - not to mention their own families and friends. 

Life has changed since 2000. Politics has changed. The economy has changed beyond all recognition. Living standards have fallen. Corruption seems to stalk everywhere now that gossamer veneer of "success" has floated away. 

But most of all, "media" has changed. Numbers of papers sold are plummeting, news figures freefall by their side. 

And every day, social media takes over. Sure, not the majority, but the vanguard. And they are the ones who care and think and devise and solve and organise. Just like any world paradigm change, it is the few who lead you to safety not the many. 

Every time Labour remembers that, they are rewarded with just a little touch of Harry in the night - Murdoch and Leveson, Gas giants and Loan sharks their names in our mouths bitterly remembered. 

We appreciate their company, there in the breach. 

But every time they take what they know is the wrong decision on principle, the response is swift and horrific. 

I won't pain myself more by sifting through the "I'll never vote Labour again" tweets or sifting through the debris of torn up membership cards and broken hearts. 

But Labour squandered so much more yesterday on a battle they could never win, and all the while they go on frittering away principles and viable voters on the wind of a cruel popularity it cannot win, our cause be not just.


  1. Yet another belter, Sue, speaking from your heart!

    Labour sold their souls for votes from Blair onwards. They are currently pandering to the potential voters who bought into the ConDem/Media myth of "benefit scroungers". They should have used the 5 years in opposition to challenge this by the public telling the truth. Yes, I became so mortally disappointed I gave up my Party Membership last year after 20+ years holding the dream. Is Power so important that reality must pay?
    IMHO voters will respond to being treated like the grown-ups they are. In this age of social media etc, it should not be beyond the wit of Labour MPs (& some do already) to hold to & share the dream of equality & fairness for all.

  2. I was a Labour supporter - albeit in Australia where Labour were ascendent during the 80s & 90s and I watched them move further to the right and into the pocket of big business. I moved back to the UK in 1997 and watched with dismay as the new government, swept in with high hopes, moved the same way. Labour lost me within the first couple of years.

    I tried LibDem for a while. But quickly discovered the levels of hipocrisy along with the narrowness of the platform were more than I could support. LibDem as a party is now toxic.

    Labour is making the same mistakes over and over again. Focus groups. FFS. How about seeing if they can dig deep and actually find their own ethics and moral fibre. Do what is right rather than what they think might get them a few votes. They are haemorrhaging support and can't find the right bandages.

    I wouldn't vote Tory on a bet. I value mt self-respect too much.

    Next election leaves me fucked. Again.

    1. Sue, this is terrible. Owen Jones writes with angry fire in the Independent today. He's urging
      the Peoples Assembly movement, and I don't think we should be dismissive or apathetic. If the now
      growing number of disaffected and vulnerable
      could join the coalition of resistance, it would be the start of something. I immediately wanted to email Liam Byrne & call him all the abusive names under the sun. The chances are he wouldn't see it - or ignore it.
      We can't just sit moaning and comforting and
      commiserating into our keyboards - who's listening? We have the social media - think where
      we would be without it? Can you urge people to
      get out of their comfort zones and join, liase, grow and fight?

  3. Ironically I was saying to someone when out canvassing at the weekend that I do not agree with everything that my party does and that politics is all about compromise. I guess this is a perfect example of that. I very much regret that more Labour MPs did not oppose this bad piece of legislation.

    1. There was no room for 'compromise' here. Please
      don't use that excuse. Fighting for decent pay
      and working conditions is supposed to be at Labour's core. What Byrne and the rest did was wrong. It won't be forgotten.

  4. This is an excellent piece? I had what I can only describe as heart-ache yesterday about the welfare vote and felt torn about being able to remain a member of the LP. I slept on it. I definitely have reservations about Liam Byrne. I find much of what he says and does distasteful. Ed Miliband flattened Osborne and his budget today but Labour needs to be careful about compromising its principles. Personally I can't accept that the rights of even one individual should be sacrificed for a promise 2 years hence.

  5. Maybe we have the wrong Henry play, maybe we aren't yet dealing with the Harry of Harfleur and Agincourt, of 'gentlemen in England yet abed will think themselves accursed they were not here', maybe we're still in Henry IV, with young Hal entranced by the Falstaffian-Daily Mail demographic. It's mixing Biblical metaphors with Shakespearian, but maybe it's time for Labour to set aside these childish things.

  6. Exactly right: the vote ystrdy was NOT about stopping the #Workfare vote thru: Labour could not have stopped it. Nor was it about 'righting faulty legislation' & re-establishing the *principle* of sanctions *in extreme circumstances*, as Liam Byrne's blog claimed. The next government could have replaced it with fair legislation that would also have allowed the 240,000 #Workfare victims to appeal their sanctions.

    It was a vote of *principle*, and a fundamental Labour one at that: protecting the vulnerable.

    Yesterday, Ed Miliband had the opportunity of building on 2 years of hard and successful work in rebuilding trust in the Labour party, of both party members/supporters and the electorate in general.

    And he blew it.

    1. Yep. I'm going to be voting green from now on. Hope enough people give up on the major parties for us to get a chance to change the voting system so it represents the people of the UK instead of just keeping the two main parties in power.

  7. Sue, Sue, Sue. This Labour myth has now been shown for what it is. There hasn't been a real Labour Leader since John Smith - and look what happened to him. Yesterday, they actually did us all a favour and showed their true colours - blue.

    The sheep's clothing is off.

    The wolves are clear to see now.

    I know it is going to hurt many many Labour supporters to acknowledge this but maybe now, they can go into their autumn Conference determined to rid us ALL of these Nu-Labour neo cons once and for all and become a REAL voice of opposition that truly represents the people? Take heart hun, from the ashes, there is always a phoenix.

  8. Exactly. We expect callousness and cruelty from the Tories, but even after Labour's deafening silences of the past few years, I was still bitterly disappointed. How naive, but I still expected them to do The Right Thing.

    I hope that Labour realise that when sociologists/historians recall this horrible period in the history of how the disabled and sick are treated in the UK, the facts are documented for all to see, and we won't forget.

  9. At the last election the question for the Tories was "how could you fail to secure a majority against such an unpopular Labour Government?"
    The question now being asked to Labour is "how can you have such a (relatively) low lead against a VERY unpopular Coalition Government?"
    The answer is clear and obvious and right here in this article and comments. Labour is alienating voters who would never vote Tory, Lib-Dem or even UKIP. Surely they must realise this eventually and understand that each day there are fewer Labour voters who are still taken in over the welfare 'scrounger' propaganda. There are very few voters to lose by changing their position and many thousands to gain.

  10. Sue, I watched some of the debate on BBC Parliament and have just been looking at Hansard. There was a lot of opposition to the bill from Labour MPs and the front bench (they said reluctantly) agreed to abstain because they accepted the Tory threat that the money to repay sanctions would come out of the overall benefits budget and someone else would suffer as a result. I'm not sure this blackmail should have been accepted, but the Government were going to win, whatever.

    Also, it looked like a deal had been done so that there will now be an independent enquiry into benefits sanctions - as no-one seems to know what is going on and how people who have their benefits withdrawn manage to survive. Apparently, it has not occurred to anyone to find out!

    There was a lot of criticism of the Government's incompetence and of the Workfare scheme overall. Most of the people speaking in the debate were Labour MPs opposing the bill. I'm disappointed that the Labour front bench did not oppose more vigorously, but not all the Labour Party agree with them. Before we all give up on them, can we try and make sure they adopt some clearly more humane welfare policies for the next election and clearly make the point these are needed.

  11. whot did one expect were ed still asking if he can bring blair back, its still blairs little tory party nothings changed but were are the real labourites how did they not shout out about it nah its the open till syndrome were they hope we cant and wont do anthing about their abuse of us we aint the social scroungers but them with their hands in that till labour you mean the other tory party jeff3

  12. Hi Sue - sorry, I can't figure out how to send you a message!

    The blogger Loony Lefty here. I'm wondering if you could possibly post the following on your blog?

    Many thanks,


    Hello everyone, we're active in the trade union movement or broader Left and have experienced discrimination within the movement on grounds of our mental health or disability. If one in four people has a mental health condition at some point in their lives, then it must follow that a lot of folk in the workplace have MH conditions. Trade unions are supposed to represent their workforces. That should include people like us. But our own experience would seem to indicate that there exists a great deal of ignorance, prejudice and discriminatory stereotypes of mental ill-health within the trade union movement, and within the Left generally - and particularly among elements of the Trotskyist Left (the Socialist Party and SWP seem to have a particularly terrible approach to disability equality, as can be seen in the links in the blogpost).

    We'd be interested to learn whether other people have experienced the kind of discrimination outlined here:

    The trade unions are our unions too. We need to make them a safe place for folk with mental health conditions, and disabled people generally. If you've had similar experiences, or are a disabled person active in the trade union movement or the wider Left, please consider joining this closed Facebook group, intended to be a discussion and support forum to share experiences:

  13. I actually experienced heart-felt pain when I read this news yesterday. I was depressed for hours afterwards, so disappointed, so betrayed, so angry, at a party that I had supported for nearly 30 years, since I could first vote.
    Never again.
    There are no acceptable excuses from the Labour benches. If they stood up at any point to oppose workfare, or any "reform" of benefits, they should have stood up yesterday and voted against the Government.
    They claim that Labour are the party of social justice, the party of strong community and strong values.
    Not anymore.
    No, it wouldn't have changed anything, but it would have showed the Labour Party had principles, it would have showed that sense of social justice, and they would have been representing the people who put them there.
    But no. Instead of clear divisions in the House, we have a messy coalition and a pandering opposition that have condemned millions to the breadline and below.
    I am truly sickened by this, and more so by today's Budget - more benefit cuts to come, with the poorest 2% already taking on 15% of the burden, how much more blood will these millionaires on both sides of the House have on their hands?

  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. I noticed Michael Buerk, on Panorama on monday discussing the subject of welfare benefits for the elderly, correcting a lot of myths and prejudice where shown by interviewees.

    Oh wait, no I didn't.

  16. the labour party's long gone and it's not coming back and only a fool would think otherwise
    the public by and large don't like the sick and disabled and that is plain for everyone to see and we in going forward have to live with these facts as they wont be changing not now not never

    should the conservatives win at the next election then that will be the end of the sick and disabled as far as money goes and only a very few hardy individuals will be left living

    as for ever seeing a sick or disabled person out and about they will just be the ones who have money and their numbers will be limited and for the rest there'll be to poor to venture out and only god will know what happens to them but as i say it will end up the survival of the fittest just like it is where my wife is from in the Sudan with all of her family and relatives now dead from poverty

  17. I have left the labour party this week as a direct result of this!

    I have been thinking about it for a while because of there dismal performance in countering the Tories agenda against the sick and disabled but this has finally pushed me to tear up my membership card.

    I only feel bad about it when when a look at great people like M. Meacher, but I don't want to be tarred with the same brush as the majority of the front bench anymore so I have withdrawn my support. Once again well done Sue you are a atar!

  18. hi Jasmin

    I think you speak for many :(
    There HAS been some remarkable progress on welfare/disability within the Labour party lately, but one mistake like this unravels all the fragile hope that was starting to build.

    I didn't write an article defending the indefensible, but it IS worth remembering this is a TORY policy, introduced by TORIES, badly drafted by TORIES, rushed through House of Commons by TORIES, dodged retrospectively by TORIES.

    Yes, I feel very cross about this, like all of you, I can hardly believe the incompetence, but Labour are in OPPOSITION not government. We don't have the numbers to squash anything the gov do either way.

    Cutting up yr membership card over something the TORIES have done is just exactly what gov want. Divide and conquer, job's a good 'un.

    There is a certain irony that Lab members

    1. That then begs the question, if it would've gone through no matter what Labour did, why abstain?

  19. watched a clip on the youtube featiring useless comedian jimmy carr joking about universal credit claiming it should be paid into the off licence and that claimants instead of job seeking instead watch jeremy kyle shows..


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