An angry rant… about Workfare, Labour, and politics….

I’m angry. I haven’t been this angry for some time. The trigger for this anger was the appalling behaviour of the Labour Party, led by Ed Miliband and Liam Byrne, in allowing the fast tracking of the bill enabling the retrospective rewriting of the Workfare rules, but in truth this anger has been growing for a while. It’s an anger born of frustration and disappointment in the behaviour of our entire political elite – but in particular the Labour Party.

The Tories are substantially behaving like Tories, and the Lib Dems are behaving in the way that Lib Dems have pretty much since they joined the Coalition – supporting their ‘coalition parties’ but occasionally wringing their hands about how hard it all is. Labour, I thought, might be different. I hoped they would be different. What’s becoming all too clear is that I was pretty much entirely wrong in those hopes.

I’ve been a Labour supporter all my adult life – indeed, I was campaigning on the doorstep for Labour as a fourteen-year-old, back in the late 70s – and for much of that time I’ve been a member of the Party. I left during the Blair years – mostly, in truth, because I left the country – but I remained a supporter. That support is now on its very last legs. It’s hanging by a thread.

My anger is on many levels – but the biggest one is about the failure of the Labour Party to challenge any of the ideological agendas that are being put forward. That’s not just a theoretical problem – the results of it are becoming manifest in almost every policy area.

In education there’s almost nothing from the Labour Party to challenge the evidence-free and ideologically-driven policies of Michael Gove – though those working in education, those in academia who study education and the empirical evidence from all around the world are all lined up against what he says and does. What does the Labour Party have? Stephen Twigg meekly accepting and even supporting much of what Gove says – and supporting such absurdities as military schools!

The welfare agenda has been pretty much set by the Tories – where is the challenge to the false, damaging and hideously ugly ‘strivers vs scroungers’ agenda dictated by Iain Duncan-Smith, the Daily Mail and Daily Express? What does Labour do? Apes the Tories by going on about ‘hard-working families’ and not just accepting the whole concept of Workfare but fast-tracking it, and riding roughshod over so many legal principles it’s hard to keep count. Indeed, as many people have pointed out to me, the ‘workfare’ agenda was actually set up by Labour under Blair and Brown – but that doesn’t make it any better. The ‘divide and rule’ tactics of the Coalition should have made it clear to the Labour Party the real damage of this kind of policy – and the break from power should have given them a chance to see that another direction was possible.

One of the other pieces of ugliness of the welfare system is that it will hit the disabled particularly hard – when combined with the rest of the ‘reforms’ which have already begun to bite in horrible ways. Add in the Bedroom Tax (and yes, as a former accountant I know it isn’t a tax, but the effect is very similar) and you get an anti-disabled agenda that hasn’t been seen for decades – and reveals an ugliness of spirit that’s deeply depressing. Egged on by the tabloids, the way that the disabled are portrayed as the worst of the scroungers, as fakers, as liars and cheats is one of the worst things seen in this country in my lifetime. Even Thatcher at her worst didn’t do things like this. And where is Labour in opposing this? Yes, they’ve done a reasonable job over the Bedroom Tax – but up until that point they largely accepted the agenda – and certainly didn’t fight it. It’s not just the measures that are wrong, but the messages behind them. Labour should have been fighting them at EVERY level – saying NO! This is WRONG. Instead they’re largely supine, as spineless as the Lib Dems – and without even the excuse of a Coalition agreement.

On immigration it’s even worse – Ed Miliband himself takes up the agenda set by the bigots and runs with it, though both the empirical evidence and the moral arguments are very much on the pro- rather than anti-immigrant side. Yes, you can argue that ‘people’ are anti-immigration – but why are they? In part at least because there’s been no real opposition to the arguments put forward against immigration. Even in power, though Blair and Brown didn’t pursue anti-immigration policies they didn’t engage with the debate but hid it away. By now it may be too late – the bigots have the upper hand – and it makes me cry sometimes to see what an opportunity was missed, and how much hatred has been generated as a result.

There are more examples – the privatisation of the NHS hasn’t been properly opposed, and indeed was to a great extent started by the Labour Party. The ‘anti-terror’ agenda is one pretty much entirely of Blair’s making, but with him gone there’s a chance to find a position of soul, conscience and effect – but it’s a chance that doesn’t seem to be able to be taken….

…and that’s my biggest cause of anger. Now is a historical opportunity to change the agenda. The failures of the current system are becoming clearer and clearer – and the chance to find a new way should be bigger and clearer than ever. In the past, it might have been possible to argue that there is no alternative – but now? We shouldn’t have to accept the same old stuff. We shouldn’t. And yet we’re offered no alternative at all. None in any substantial form.

It makes me very, very angry. I’d love to have a Labour Party that I could support. I’ve got a huge amount of energy. I even have expertise of a sort – I’m a former Chartered Accountant, I teach Law at a good University, I understand technology and all kinds of other things of importance today. I can even write a bit when the muse descends. All of this could be at the Labour Party’s disposal – and there are many, many more like me. Do they want us? Right now they’re going exactly the wrong way about it.

9 thoughts on “An angry rant… about Workfare, Labour, and politics….

  1. There are many long-suffering people in the Labour Party who believe in a different way of doing things. As my Twitter bio says, I’m fiercely untribal in a party which exemplifies tribalism. Those who use it as a lever for their own personal prejudices, people like Liam Byrne – and of course by extension, it begins to seem, Ed Miliband himself – do so knowing that very many people will never *ever* vote for another party. They know they have us (pardon the expression) by the political balls. And so they squeeze as much as they can to achieve their aims. Aims which are as prejudiced and as limiting as any IDS or Gove out there.

    So what can we do? Begin to engineer other ways of doing politics. Democracy is an innate instinct of human beings, of that I am convinced. If party politics refuses to deliver democratic spaces, let us find them elsewhere – online, or in our communities outside the traditional stuff perhaps. Broadcast TV and newspapers are both having to adapt to savagely empowering online media. Why should broadcast politics get away with any different?

    Keep hopeful Paul. You’re not alone, in the least. Remember, too, you are clever, knowledgeable and insightful. None of which will help protect your positivity when faced by a political profession which, at least currently, refuses to make important decisions on the basis of contrastable evidence. But we can at least agree, for now, we understand who the enemy is. No?

  2. Politicians can’t display their colour any more. UKIP are expert at this. They’ve turned “we’re not political” to into a virtue. Instead, we get “under new management”. Left and Right practice their politics but don’t talk about their politics. At least, not in public. It’s OK at conference because the interested are a tiny number. The press lapped up rhetoric before the election and that lead us to this mess. I fell out with Labour when they tried to convince me IT can solve every problem. The database state. I fell for the LibDems charm and that, well, they’d never had a go. I failed in my duty to understand them but, also, concentrated on warning people about the Nasties.

    We won’t hear, from the horses’ mouth, what Labour might do for a long time…new politics. Meanwhile, we have the papers you mentioned and, possibly, worst of all the Metro given out free everywhere. Add to that the blithe automatic dispersion of blithe copy to the network of local papers. This is why professional observers can use the term ‘most believe’ when talking about ‘cheats’ further legitimising the lies ‘most believe’ and ‘cheats’.

    Labour can’t ask the good to help because that displays their colour which is against the rules. All we have is spectacle and comment. And the spectacle of the comment.

  3. To be honest, the major parties are dead in the water and have been for decades, we would be better off without any of them. We need a new constitutional settlement, one that removes forever the ability of career politicians and elitists with no concept of life beyond Oxford / Cambridge and the square mile from holding power or sitting in parliament. Impossible I know, history shows that turds always float to the top of the barrel, and while the British do not have the stomach to take their power back and are more often than not content to just take it all on the chin, nothing will ever change, and the idea that we actually as voters have a say in anything is illusionary at best.
    As for immigration, its funny that no one ever discusses emigration from the UK, with around about 5 million Brits living and working abroad, isn’t it a bit hypocritical for anyone whether politician, tabloid or otherwise to criticise immigration with such large numbers of our own being free to live it up on the beaches of Spain and such like? Wonder what they would say if they were all expelled back to rainy blighty, then we would see tabloid outcry.

  4. Wind the clock back twenty years to the poll tax, and you have Labour similarly allowing that through, presumably to allow the tories to string themselves up. That was the moment I lost any last vestige of faith in party politics, and my anger has continued unabated since. “Politics is broken” is certainly a tired cliche, but is no less true for all that. I now just consider myself “left”, since Labour have not fitted the bill for a long time.

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