Dear Rachel Reeves….

Dear Rachel Reeves

Having read the interview with you in the Guardian, I find myself compelled to write a response. I don’t usually do things like this – but I had been feeling so much more positive about Labour since the party conference, and in one fell swoop you’ve destroyed that positivity, and left me with a very sour taste in my mouth. I believe – particularly from the reception the article has found on Twitter – that I am far from alone in that reaction. I do wonder whether you understand why.

The message matters

As a politician I know you’re aware that the overall message signalled by speeches and interviews matters – often even more than the specific policies. Here, where dealing with social security, that is particularly important. So what message are you trying to send out here? I realise of course that you’re not responsible for the headlines chosen by the Guardian, so you may not have actually ‘promised‘ that ‘Labour will be tougher than Tories on benefits‘, but the ‘toughness’ is still the main theme of the interview. I’d like to ask why. By suggesting that ‘toughness’ is the key, you’re buying into the whole idea that what’s needed is more of a crackdown – and by implication that people on benefits are only doing so because they’re lazy, they’re spongers, they’re scroungers. That’s not only untrue – remember, for example, that most people on benefits are in work – but it’s deeply and depressingly damaging.

You seem to have bought right into the ‘scrounger vs striver’ rhetoric that may well be the worst thing about this hideous coalition government that you’re supposed to be opposing. It not only does its best to divide communities, to pit people against their neighbour, but it distracts from the real issues. It makes it look as though poor people, vulnerable people – including people with disabilities – are responsible for the mess we find ourselves in. It lets the real culprits off the hook – and at a moment when those real culprits, the bankers and their friends, are making a fresh killing over the sale of the Royal Mail, that kind of distraction is hideously unhelpful.

The departure of Liam Byrne

As I’m sure you will also have noticed, the departure of your predecessor, Liam Byrne MP, from the shadow DWP position, was largely greeted by Labour supporters with pleasure. It was seen as a step forward, something to inspire hope. Very few of those of us who instinctively support the Labour Party believed the rumours suggested in the press that he had to go because Len McCluskey said so – we thought, perhaps foolishly, that his departure meant that the leadership had been listening to the grassroots, had been paying attention to the reactions on the doorstep, and had made the decision on that appropriate basis.

The question I would have thought you would have asked yourself – I would hope that you asked yourself – is why it is that people were happy that Liam Byrne was leaving. Did you imagine it was because people didn’t like Liam personally? That they didn’t like what he looked like, his accent, his style of public speaking, the fact that he was a man? I don’t know many people who support Labour who are quite that shallow – what we disliked about Liam Byrne, why we were happy to see him leaving, was the kind of policies that he was putting forward, and the overall message. Why, then, do you imagine we would be happy to see the same policies, the same overall message, just put by a new face, in a more superficially appealing form?

People with disabilities

For me, the worst thing of all about this government has been its shameful treatment of people with disabilities. From the nightmare of the Bedroom tax to the viciousness of the WCA, to the closure of Remploy, there has been an unparalleled attack on people who we should be supporting, doing everything we can to help. The work of the DWP has been central to that attack – and yet in your first interview you seem to have said nothing about them at all. Indeed, by accepting the ‘scrounger vs striver’ agenda, you seem to be effectively saying that pretty much everything (with the exception of the Bedroom Tax, which I will write more about below) that they have done is OK, and indeed that you’ll be ‘even tougher’. That, to be frank, is entirely shameful. It’s a part of the Coalition agenda that should be challenged at every opportunity.

Myth-busting

You say in your piece that you want to ‘explode’ the ‘myth’ that Labour is soft on benefits. How about exploding some other, far more pernicious myths? The myth that benefit fraud is a significant problem. The myth that there are huge numbers of people who ‘choose’ the benefit ‘lifestyle’ – ‘linger’ on benefits, in your words. The myth that people with disabilities are ‘faking’ it. The myth that our benefit system is more generous than most of those in Europe.  There are huge numbers of similar myths – and you don’t seem to even want to acknowledge them, let alone challenge them!

A rare chance

This is a rare chance for you – I do hope you haven’t already thrown it away. Ed Miliband’s speech at conference was very well received, and seemed to pretty seriously rattle the Tories. They, in response, revealed some of their nastiest aspects at their conference. The Lib Dems are still in chaos. With the departure of Liam Byrne, you had a chance to change the game. It was a chance get onto the front foot, and set the agenda – as Ed Miliband did so well with the energy price freeze policy. Did you notice how well that resonated with people? And how the promise to repeal the Bedroom Tax resonated with people? Did you ask yourself why? One of the key reasons is that it put clear water between Labour and the Tories. It showed that Labour understood peoples’ problems, and actually seemed to care about them. It showed that Labour was no longer going to just be a slightly milder version of the Tories…. or so we thought.

Through your interview, you’ve reversed all that. You may well have lost all the goodwill gained by the Party Conference. I do hope that’s not the case, and I hope you’ll be willing to reconsider your approach. Personally, I live in Cambridge, which is a marginal seat, currently held by the Lib Dems, and I would have thought that you want my vote. Right now, with an approach like this, I don’t think I can give it to you. After Ed Miliband’s speech I was even considering rejoining the Labour Party – after a long gap – and putting a good deal of energy into supporting the campaign. I’d still like to do that, but with an approach like this, I really can’t see a way.

Kind regards

Paul Bernal

87 thoughts on “Dear Rachel Reeves….

  1. Just what do people bar the Duped Deniers and Deceivers not get about a Neoliberal Party, packed with the privileged . careerist, nepotistic elite, who don,t give a monkeys about the vulnerable and spent 13 years proving it, there will be a lot less Duped by the Deceivers now after Reeves and hopefully the Deniers look further than their noses .Campaigners campaign with no other agenda, activists lead you up the garden path with other agenda,s Beware vote liblabcon is voting for your abusers, look elsewhere !

  2. There is no indication that Reeves understands that most people of working age who receive benefits are, in fact, in work and that these benefits are,subsidising inadequate wages or paid to those who want to work full time but cannot get enough hours. The benefits bill and the level of the National Minimum Wage are closely linked. One might have thought that a former Bank of England economist would understand this. .

  3. What is wrong with guaranteeing people who have been out of work for 2 years a guaranteed job BUT saying they have to take it? Surely that is what the vast majority of people out of work want and will grab with both hands? Is that not much better than the Tory plan which is to make people on benefits work for £2 an hour?

    If you choose to with hold your support from Labour at the next election you are cutting off your nose to spite your face. I hope you could live with yourself if we then got another Tory / Lib Dem coalition who would continue the attacks you outline.

    Of course the Labour policy is not perfect but they have to be realistic. The vast majority of people want a tougher line on benefits and believe Labour is too soft. Is that right? No. But does it exist? Yes. Should Labour just ignore it, hope it goes away and lose the election as the Tories relentlessly attack them? Look at the British Social Attitudes survey – the public has moved strongly to the right on welfare issues. Is that good? No. But it has happened. Can the Labour party reverse that shift in the next 19 months? Probably not.

    If Labour lose the next election because people like you can’t bear to live with your conscience supporting it the following things will happen:

    – The Tories will have another 5 years to cut benefits, demonise people, privatise public services.
    – The Labour party will move to the right (just like they did after 83, 87 and 92). Ed Miliband has moved Labour to the left. If he loses people in the party (especially the MPs) will say that is why and seek to move Labour right again.

    I would love all these welfare myths to be broken but the Labour party is not strong enough to do it. People who care about this need to keep fighting on this absolutely as if public opinion moves the Labour party will have more room to move.

    But turning your fire onto Labour is just letting the Tories off the hook and is what they want. Divide and rule.

    • I’m not sure whether you read either what Rachel Reeves said or my response carefully enough: what she’s effectively saying is that Labour will continue to cut benefits and demonize benefit claimants. I’m saying there is – or should be – another way . By continuing on this path, and by accepting this agenda uncritically, they (and you) are not just avoiding the issue but actually supporting that divisive and demonising approach. Do you want that? I don’t.

      • Where did Rachel say that Labour would ‘cut’ benefits – except if people refuse to take a job which is offered to them. This is the key paragraph from the interview.

        “Nobody should be under any illusions that they are going to be able to live a life on benefits under a Labour government,” she said. “If you can work you should be working, and under our compulsory jobs guarantee if you refuse that job you forgo your benefits, and that is really important.”

        What is actually wrong with that in principle? Isn’t that what most people out of work want?

        There is a public perception, pushed by the Tories and the right wing media, that Labour are ‘soft’ on welfare and that they are happy to keep giving money to people lounging about doing nothing and scrounging off hard working taxpayers while sat at home watching their plasma TVs.

        Is this stereotype true? No.

        Is it believed by a significant majority in this country? Yes.

        Labour have to convince people that they will not let people abuse the system. Only if they do that will people trust them and listen to their positive ideas.

        The idea as @garryk99 puts forward that Labour and the Tories are the same is nonsense. Did you not watch the Tories conference? They spent the whole time demonising people on welfare and promoting policies if they win next time including:

        – Making people work 30 hours a week to get their benefits (i.e. £2 an hour)
        – Making people go to the job centre every day
        – Restricting child benefit to the first 2 children
        – Taking away housing benefit from the under 25s

        Labour’s position may not be ideal but it is better than this. And if people on the left do not vote and campaign for Labour then they are condemning vulnerable people to more of these attacks. You are making the perfect the enemy of the good.

        PR might be a better system. But we don’t have it. So you have a choice. Labour or Tory. You might not like it but to say there is no difference is absurd and makes me question how much you really care about vulnerable people.

        Remember all the things Labour did in power for these people – the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, led to falls in poverty. Was it enough? No. But was it better than this Tory government? Yes.

        Finally, the bedroom tax shows the way to go. Persuade the public and Labour will move their position too. But you cannot expect the Labour party to ignore the views of 70% plus of the electorate.and still win the election.

      • There’s a lot of truth in what you say, but I think you’re also not being nearly demanding enough. Rachel Reeves doesn’t need to make ‘toughness’ the focus – but she chooses to. What’s more, she could subtly shift the agenda at every moment, if she wanted to.

        For example, when asked about the benefit cap, she could say ‘yes I agree with the policy BUT it has to be remembered that there are only a tiny, tiny number of families to which it applies, as in reality very few families are in that kind of situation.’ That way she seems competent, not ‘soft’, AND she starts the process of challenging the real myths.

        There are similar things she could say at every point. Why not do it? And the failure to even mention disability is close to unforgivable.

        The thing is, we’re not at the position of choosing ‘lesser evils’ yet. Labour could change. I hope they still will.

      • Hey Kieran – where are all these jobs you are talking about?

        “Of course the Labour policy is not perfect but they have to be realistic” – how about being Truthful? Honest? Analytical?

        Are you tony bliar by any chance???

    • Sorry, but the argument that by not voting Labour you are letting the Tories in is hogwash. I can’t vote for a party that demonises welfare on an principle,

      Labour have abused this in the past, but no more. People on the left voted for Tony Blair under such a pretence. Look where that got – a framework the Tories are more than happy to retain. Academies, private services in the NHS, Tuition fees – all New Labour policies,

      We need a better electoral system that stops the big parties controlling politics in such a way. We need PR.

      I would suggest that anyone who doesn’t like what Labour have on offer look at the Green Party.

      • Of course not voting Labour will let the Tories in, just the same as voting Ukip and Green in marginal seats will, it may not be fair but this is the voting system we are stuck with. I agree with everything kieran has written. If we are to get Labour back into power to end the bedroom tax, freeze energy bills and regulate the market, sack Atos, give 25 hours childcare, cap train fares fairly, change the capitalist system, not let bankers carry on getting their huge bonuses, introduce part of the Robin Hood tax along with Germany and France and all these things, then we have to vote for the one party that is offering to do that and this is the Labour party. I am getting fed up with this accusation that labour are the same as the Tories everytime Labour announce something someone doesn’t like. Labour must be realistic, lets get them in and let them implement their policies and when the public are reassured, only then can Labour think of moving by being accountable and asking for that mandate to move before the the 2020 election.

        “Rome wasn’t built in a day”

      • your quite correct about not voting Labour or the condems for that matter, what vulnerable person has a preference for their abuser ? only the party first trash will attempt to argue ,give you a guilt complex on that, beware of the charlatans !

      • “Rome wasn’t built in a day”

        Grief, so let a few thousand more disabled people go to their deaths and all will be alright!!!!!! This is fascism
        Are labour negotiating with the companies who are going to build the death chambers whilst we speak???????

    • I’m sorry but I totally agree with the Conservatives policies for people that have been unemployed for over 2 years, I agree that child benefit should be capped to just 2 children also. Plus one thing that has really peeved me off is that you say it is bankers that have got us into this mess! That is totally wrong it is the high end (stock market) side of the banking world. To say it is bankers is actually factually incorrect. I work for a bank (not high end at all I am only on £15k per year) and it is comments like that that discredit us normal workers and have people thinking we get paid lots of money (most people seem to think we all get a starting wage of £25-30k and then bonuses on top! I wish! When they find out how much the majority of people get working for a bank they are shocked to high heaven as workers in shops get paid more and don’t have the stress we do either) the ones that end up with minimum of £30-40k in the banking world are a very low minority. Also it is Labours fault this country is in such a mess and to get this country back even slightly on it’s feet wasn’t and couldn’t ever happen overnight, in a few hears or even 5 years. You really need to brush up and read more and look at the bigger picture than to say the conservatives have made matters worse. Oh and before you say anything I am registered disabled I have with epilepsy, scoliosis & osteoporosis. The one thing I do think BTW is the sooner we get out of the EU the better and run our own country and not have those people in the EU telling us what we should and shouldn’t do (when they have no idea and feed their own pockets) and veto anything we say the better. Then this country will get back on it’s feet, we won’t have immigrants coming into this country and sponging of us and telling us what we should be giving them and then slagging of our country the better! *rant over* Lol x

      • Sadly you seem to have accepted a huge amount of propaganda – your last section about immigrants is completely factually wrong. Immigrants are net contributors to this country, and don’t come here to sponge. The benefits stuff you’ve accepted is also based primarily on urban myth. Anecdote and rumour.

        As for the ‘bankers’, I do agree it’s not the employees of the banks – it’s the top dogs and the brokers, the speculators and the deal-makers. The rest of those who work for the banks are not to blame one bit!

      • “registered disabled” ? Where is this register?… I have MS, Depression, PTSD , osteoarthrisitis and mylopathy of the cervical spine..does that qualify me to say say you are wrong? Conservatives have ruined lives, and should you have to give up work and go through Atos you will change your mind.
        Let’s stop justifying and start understanding…
        Let’s stop blaming and start listening.
        Ps I have a plasma tv, it is 6 years old from when I was working 12 hours a day and had a mortgage and life was hopeful.

      • I work/have worked in the banking industry on and off for years too, at the wage you are I am guessing you work in a call centre or in a branch perhaps mid management. the term ‘bankers’ has never been one used to refer to regular staff like your and (my self) but refers too the big bosses who run banks commercial (such as the former Northern Rock) and THEY DID cause this mess (or every at least were poorly prepared for it with planning for a crash and badly regulated lending policies with for – remember when the banks crashed (starting with NR) and public money had too be used to bail them out?).

        ” I agree that child benefit should be capped to just 2 children also” – dare I say easy to say on 15k 3 child in not in excess, I come from a 3 child family, many families may claim this as part of there budget and may have done so before the credit crunch (without meaning to sound rude who are you too judge then just as it a benefit you may not need). yes working in a bank is stressful, I feel this often comes down too the unfair pressures and poor management structures in banking (on stress I do sympathies) but again at the end of the day the buck lies again with decisions made by the CEO’s of banks, I am not saying do not be proud of your job and work hard but now we are more clear to whom the term ‘banker’ refers I think you should start look at the higher staff within the industry for this mess, (banks bailed out = credit crunch) and buy less into the propaganda of a government intent on blaming the benefit bill whist tax dodgers (a far HIGHER burden on the tax payer) get away scott free.

      • Oh and no Labour could have regulated the banks better but it was the poor and greedy decisions made by BANK ceo’s that caused the credit crash – HOW is that labours fault? finally all of this has sod all to do with the EU It is another point for another day but it has little relivence here I feel.

    • No, the British Attitude survey showed ppl had moved significantly to the LEFT/softened on “welfare”

      There’s not much wrong with the actual policy, it’s how you present it. Listen :

      “We will cut tax breaks for 6 figure pensions to ensure that anyone out of work for two years will be offered a job that pays at least minimum wage”

      OR

      “If you’ve been out of work for two years or more, the jobs guarantee will mean we offer you a job – but you must take it, or we’ll remove your benefits”

      Why might someone who hasn’t worked for two years refuse a job? Perhaps it’s too far from home? Perhaps they’ve been found inappropriately unfit for work? Perhaps it will make a health condition worse?

      With 200,000 sickness benefit decisions overturned in law it’s a v real possibility.

      There are ways of saying things. You will NEVER out-Tory the Tories on welfare. Ppl expect it – even want it from Tories, they don’t from Lab. They don’t trust it of believe it.

      • Thanks Sue – that seems spot on to me. The ‘message’ is really important, and there are always ways to say it that can move that message away from the toughness/nastiness direction. The impact of the relentless stream of damaging rhetoric is hard to calculate – but it’s real.

    • We had last week in our local newspaper (Gloucester Citizen) an article where 400 people were chasing 10 jobs for the new Costa coffee cafe. Where are all the jobs these stupid people refer to?

      Who can bring up a family with this kind of employment?

      It’s not just more women we need in parliament, it is politicians with integrity.

      I had hoped like Paul, that Ed Miliband had seen the light, but sadly the recent changes only mean rearranging the furniture, rather than a shift away from the Neo -Liberal nightmare.

      Every time I hear Rachel Reeves speak, I hear a nonentity trying to look good in front of the establishment, all sound bite and no substance. They have got to go.

      At the moment Ed is losing more votes than he can gain, he doesn’t appear to know when he is actually winning or is it just a case he doesn’t really want to win?

      • I keep reading about hundreds of people applying for “a job” – and it seems to be all over the country. I wish someone would come out with the true unemployment figure because the whole thing has been very nicely bundled up to (as usual) make “Everything seem wonderful in the Garden!” I’ve heard it’s roundabout 3.5 million – maybe even more. If only lying about statistics was illegal!

  4. Eloquently put, Paul – though my sixty trips round the sun incline me to think Ms Reeves far more in tune than out of step with her party’s decision makers. Labour ALWAYS does this. 1929, Philip Snowden, Ramsay Macdonald’s chancellor, cut the dole by 10%. In the world’s richest country he said “it would be wrong not to ask the unemployed” – many of them veterans of the WW1 horror show, of course – “to assume their share of the burden”.

  5. Paul, I think you should give Rachel a fair chance after all she has only been in post for a few days! I agree with most of what you say, however, you have to realise that Labour does need a cogent welfare policy, the election is fast approaching and if the Tories start accusing labour must be ready with a response.
    I have read the article and the headline bears no real resemblance to the article itself, I read around the journalistic padding and concentrated on the quotes.
    We in the Labour party cannot afford to keep running off at a tangent everytime a shadow minister says something we disagree with, if we do that we will get the tories in with a majority and if that happens God alone knows what disabled people would do (that includes me and my OH).

    I do think Rachel has to pay more attention to her communication and try to communicate in a way that will prevent journalists from twisting what she has said, which is what I believe has happened in this case. I don’t know if you read the Guardian for most of the summer? But this has been as striking theme of theirs, no matter what Labour said they twisted it, knowing many people just read the strapline they distorted the message. No matter what Ed miliband did or did not do the Guardian damned him for it, their “Ed bashing” became roundly criticised in the end and they stopped for a while and now they appear to be restarting it all over again. Obviously the Guardian is either going to come out again for the hapless Liberal Democrats in the hope they can get them back into coalition with the Tories, do we really need to help them?

    You mention Ed’s battle with the energy companies, the abolition of the vile and hated bedroom tax, but do not mention that Labour will also be getting rid of Atos (if they are still in post).

    You mention the vile labels the Tories love to pin on the unemployed etc so I would have thought you would welcome Labour’s job scheme to get long term unemployed back into work by offering them placements of 6 months proper paid work to do proper jobs, many people would jump at this chance, unless you actually believe what the Tories say about the unemployed being “feckless idlers”? because I don’t, I think that the vast majority of unemployed would really like help getting back into proper paid work and that is preferable to them being forced to turn up at j Jobcentres all day for five days per week (unworkable) or being forced to pick up litter for their JSA?

    I think you can take heart in how Ed seems to be shaping the Labour party and should wait for future policy announcements and I think you raise some excellent points, but we can have the debate without the threats – surely?

    • I am giving Rachel a chance – but I’m also trying to let her know how her interview comes across, and what her priorities look like. The article, however, does emphasise the ‘toughness’, and the quotes I picked out were typical, and depressing. I hope she can find a better way….

    • How much more of this nonsense are you prepared to spout? – you’re a believer, I’m not – and you beligerent chattering above every comment is abusive and nothing more than trolling

      Disabled people are dying Gracie – or does that not matter to you?

  6. Spot on Paul Bernal. Reeves is merely buying into the Daily Mail rhetoric, one that appeals to the very worst aspects of human nature. She’s just Liam Byrne with hair.

    • I thought it was the role of politicians to lead opinion and argue from a principled position, even if it is difficult.

      Or are now stuck with politicians like sheep who don’t have political principles, and just follow what public opinion polls say?

      How depressing.

    • Several questions to ask: why do the public endorse the cuts, how strong that endorsement is, and whether it can be changed. The public, for example, would almost certainly ‘endorse’ the death penalty, but does that mean it’s a good thing? The Labour Party may be too late, having failed to challenge the Tory/Mail agenda for too long. If so, it’s sad for our whole society.

      • The public endorse the cuts because of a steady drip of poison propaganda, coupled with the fact that they are apathetic – hence the big nasty authoritarian government in Office. The media is controlled to a large degree by the Government. Most of the public don’t watch parliamentary debate…solutions?

    • Public opinion shaped by a media owned by billionaires which prints and disseminates lies and gross exaggerations to further their extreme right-wing agenda.

  7. @kittysjones If the general public do endorse the cuts, it would be because they have bought into the constant rhetoric that the Tories have been chanting. This rhetoric should be easy to challenge given the true facts, but no, Labour choose instead to go with the mantra and reproduce it. Let’s face it, many of Labours front bench could quite happily sit on the other side of the opposite benches and not be too out of place. Labour has lost its soul and not only that it has lost its mojo.

  8. Why is Labour only focusing on the general question about whether ‘welfare reform is popular’? After all, research has shown that supporting disabled people is also popular. The failure to ‘fine tune’ their policies mean that they not only let disabled people down, but fail to seize the opportunity to win votes.

    ‘Guaranteed jobs’ is quite simply a tacit confession that the jobs are not there! Why else would they talk about creating jobs rather than moving people into existing jobs?

    Finally, ‘conditionality’ is used not only to blame people, but to create an excuse to deprive people of their human right to social security. Where does it say that the right to a decent standard of living is optional? Everybody is entitled to that, no matter how much blame you can unfairly chuck at them.

    I fear that this debate has become irretrievably contaminated with myths, falsehoods, blame and judgment.

  9. This poll was done by YouGov for the TUC (therefore authentic and fair):

    http://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/w6h1wni29p/YG-Archive-results-TUC-121212-welfare-benefits.pdf

    Here is a summary:

    http://www.tuc.org.uk/social-issues/child-poverty/welfare-and-benefits/tax-credits/support-benefit-cuts-dependent

    Essentially the propaganda has worked. The public are seriously clueless on the reality of welfare.

    Given this, a principled opposition to the welfare system as the Conservatives and their poodles in the media portray is needed. This must begun by saying the impression given broadly is totally wrong and then explain why.

    The approach that Rachel Reeves has taken gives succour to this ignorance, and doesn’t challenge it.

    One of two things must be true:

    1. Labour’s approach welfare policy will be no different than the Coalition’s. Result – how can a progressive left of centre voter support that?

    or

    2. Labour’s approach will be different, but they are deliberately sending signals to the tempt voters who wouldn’t like being about Labour’s approach. Result – Labour are being seriously disingenuous.

    Both are pig ugly..

  10. Yet another Labour MP from a very privileged background coming out with comments of which she knows nothing ,I would bet now that she has never needed benefits nor even knows anyone who does .
    Why are Leeds west selecting a candidate from this sort of background i.e. grammar school ,Oxford university ,bank of England economist ,I know it was an all woman short list ,and she was probably parachuted in by friends in high places ,but surely there were candidates who could represent Leeds west better than this .
    Once again we have so called Labour shadow ministers adopting the same terminology as the tories and helping them convince the electorate that people on benefits are scroungers .
    If I was still a member of that party which masquerades as the Labour party ,I would hang my head in shame.

  11. As a disabled person I live every day in profound fear of losing the only benefit I claim,the DLA. A benefit I claimed only after years of ear- bashing by one’s husband, and then reluctantly. When mail arrives with the dreaded DWP logo on it my stomach drops and I begin to shake. You see many, many years ago a temporary disability benefit was, without warning, taken from me with no right of appeal. I tried to commit suicide. I’m wiling to bet that I’m not the only one either who saw no other way. If Ms. Reeves ever should be in Government and not a Shadow one, I pray she would remember the large number of people on benefits for whom every day islived in terrified apprehension. But I don’t hold my breath. And I find that sad to admit.

  12. We need a labour government to protect the people and the NHS. I was impressed with Ed Millibands speech – it was the first time I had seen him speak. I decided to rejoin the Labour Party as I was a member in the 90’s but left after I kept being hassaled for money. The payments are £3.74 a month by direct debit which is affordable. I also donated £10. I want everyone who votes Labour to join the party and donate £10 – Labour would raise millions – theres about 66 millions people in UK so half could be Labour so 33 million pay £10 would raise £330 million – more than enough to fight the Tory propaganda and get a majority Labour Government to Protect the people.

  13. Rachel Reeves should remember this. “Being left-wing is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and fighting for rights which you yourself might not need to exercise.”
    Thanks to Amanda @pandy92 for this tweet.
    Fighting FOR rights, benefits etc. Rachel, not fighting against those people who need and deserve them right now.

  14. Paul,
    I am genuinely amused when core Labourites threaten to not vote for their party whenever one of their MPs isn’t sufficiently lefty enough. Who on earth are you going to vote for if not Labour? They know they’ve got your vote – they’re going after the middle ground – and you’ll vote for them as you always have, regardless. So grow up and accept that. Also accept that a good many of the policies which have seriously hurt this country in the last few years are New Labour policies that continue to haunt us. If you think the squeezed middle ground have forgotten that, you’re seriously deluded.

    Also, give her a chance. She’s only just arrived FFS.

    Other than that, interesting read. Thank you.

    • They haven’t got my vote, no matter what they may assume. In my constituency, I happen to have a sitting MP (Julian Huppert) who despite being a Lib Dem is an excellent constituency MP and very good on the key civil liberties and digital issues that I work with. I’m sorely tempted right now to vote for him, because he’d be good on local issues and a Labour government doesn’t appeal to me much right now.

      In the last local elections, in the shadow of Liam Byrne’s farcical support for the retrospective Workfare legislation, I voted Green. At a parliamentary level here, of course, that would be useless. A Lib Dem vote, however, wouldn’t, and Julian Huppert would have a much more reasonable chance of keeping his seat.

      Of course I’d rather Labour didn’t lurch so far to the right – I don’t want a ‘lefty’ party, particularly, I just don’t want a third centre-right party to join the other too. I’m writing and complaining now, because I still hope Labour can change.

  15. They haven’t got mine either Paul, I stopped being tribal 30 years ago. Blair or Brown didn’t do much for me either, with the mendacious Unum based WCA, Freud, and opening the floodgates for what IDS is doing now. I’d like to go back to Labour, I really would but they have to offer some appeal, something I can latch on to which I can say with certainty will hopefully make a difference to my life. This lot ain’t it. Reeves has just confirmed it.

  16. Paul

    How do you know Rachel didn’t mention disability in her interview but the Observer chose to run with something which was newsier.

    The sad fact is that the public know that Labour care more about the disabled. They know that Labour has a heart and a social conscience. That isn’t what they worry about.

    They worry that Labour will think with its heart, not its head, be profligate and give too much money to the underserving poor (even if that distinction in reality is meaningless).

    I think you are being incredibly naive about political strategy if you do not understand this. If Rachel complained about the heartless Tory cuts to the disabled do you think:

    a) it would get any media attention?
    b) attract swing voters who are currently intending to vote Tory to the party?

    No voters already know that Labour care more about these issues and effects than the Tories.

    It’s obviously your choice to vote Lib Dem but you cannot do that and pretend that you still care about the vulnerable in our society.

    Did Julian Huppert (however good on local issues) vote for:

    – the increase in VAT which hit the poorest hardest?
    – the benefits cap which meant a real terms cut in benefits?
    – the bedroom tax?
    – the changes to DLA?
    – the cuts to council tax benefit?
    – the abolition of EMA?
    – the cut in income tax for those earning more than £150,000?
    – the cuts to working tax credits?
    – the horrendous NHS reorganisation?

    He (and his Lib Dem colleagues) have supported and enabled all this and more.

    I find it astonishing that you criticise Rachel Reeves and say you might not vote Labour because they offer people out of work for two years a job but require them to take it but you consider supporting the Lib Dems who have ACTUALLY DONE things much, much worse.

    It comes back to a simple choice under our electoral system:

    Labour or Tory?

    And the Lib Dems have shown voting for them is akin to voting Tory.

    And voting for any other party or not voting at all again helps the Tories.

    So if you don’t vote Labour and we get another Tory government I hope you can live with yourself when they continue hacking away at the welfare state.

    By the way – and this might seem incongruous with what I’ve said I don’t actually have any problem whatsoever with criticising Labour policy and suggesting where it is wrong and could be improved.

    What frustrates me is the idea that because Labour is not perfect they are as bad as the Tories when that is patently not the case.

    There are two ways to push Labour to the left on these issues:

    1. Campaign and change public opinion
    2. Join the party and argue and debate from the inside about future direction

    But that means being mature enough to understand that the party line is not going to align with your view on every issue.

    I consider myself well to the left of the Labour party. I think benefit levels are far too low (10% of average earnings vs. 20% in the late 1970s). I’m interested in a citizens income which guarantees every citizen a basic standard of living. But I know that these are not politically feasible and having a glass half full is better than having one which is empty.

    • I campaigned from 1983 till about 1992, I couldn’t now even if I cared to due to an ongoing severe disability. Btw, if Labour still cared (I don’t think they do) then why did they allow ATOS to rake in millions by giving them the contract to slash benefits based on what has since been described in court as an outlaw insurance company’s disability denial methods? This isn’t the compassionate Labour I once knew.

  17. Tony

    Obviously people can only help campaign for Labour as much as their health and other circumstances allow.

    I would argue the last Labour government did a lot of very good things some of which I have already listed and some of which might not have benefited you directly: Of course they did things people on the left would not agree with. They were so scarred by 1992 that they were afraid to step out of the right-wing consensus but they still did a lot of good.

    – Massive new investment in health and education. When Labour left office waiting lists had been slashed and satisfaction with the NHS was at an all time high.

    – Miniumum wage and tax credits helped cut poverty – both child and pensioner poverty.

    – Winter fuel payments, free tv licenses which helped pensioners.

    – Huge investment in the decency programme to improve the quality of social housing.

    – The New Deal programme which had a massive impact on reducing long-term youth unemployment.

    – Significant increase in international aid helping save millions of lives and lift millions out of poverty around the world.

    – Free admissions to museums and galleries.

    But even if you think that isn’t enough to outweigh the negatives Ed Miliband has announced a number of policies which go further than ‘New’ Labour:

    – An increase in the top rate of tax

    – Reversal of the bedroom tax

    – A freeze in gas and electricity prices

    – A mansions tax for properties worth more than £2m

    – Forcing developers to build houses or forfeit their land.

    – Sack ATOS

    – Reintroduce a tax on bankers bonuses

    And Miliband has shown that he is not afraid to challenge the prevailing neo-liberal consensus on an incremental basis and would likely go further in government.

    Finally – politics is about a choice not perfection.

    If you don’t support Labour you are making things easier for the Tories.

    And any rational analysis would say that the Tories will cut more support from disabled people and other vulnerable people.

    If the left is divided then the Tories will win it is as simple as that.

    • On that last point I agree – but how do you get unity on the left? By forcing people to accept an agenda which isn’t actually ‘left’ at all? Or by helping to move the Labour Party more towards a position from which unity is possible. That’s what I’m trying to do, and what it looked as though Ed was trying to do in his speech – but that interviews like yesterday’s from Rachel Reeves have undone spectacularly. Unity can only come around a platform which can unify. This isn’t that.

      On your earlier point, how do I know that Rachel didn’t talk about disability, well of course I don’t, but two factors need to be taken into account. Firstly, this is the Guardian/Observer we’re talking about, not the Mail. That’s not a guarantee that there won’t be a distortion of the message, but it makes it significantly less likely. Secondly, and more importantly, because of the existence of the social media. If the Guardian/Observer HAD distorted the message, Rachel would have had plenty of opportunity to correct it. She hasn’t. I follow her on Twitter, I read the key Labour blogs, and none have suggested anything at all that make that likely. If it is true, I look forward to hearing from Rachel to correct the impression. She can easily find this blog (it’s now had a lot of hits, and been linked to her on Twitter), and I’ve separately emailed her. We’ll see whether she replies or not.

      I’m afraid you’re looking in two much of a black-and-white world. It isn’t just ‘Labour vs Tory’ these days. Each party could change – and has number of different directions to go. Coalitions are also possible. Personally I’d like a majority for a Labour Party that has made the key policy shifts in social security, civil liberties and education. They could still make those shifts – or at least acknowledge that they’re possible. Right now it looks as though they (and you) believe that there’s only one way. That way, I suspect, leads to defeat.

      • How long do you think the interview was with the Guardian? Because what they quoted is one minutes worth of an interview which probably lasted at least 30 minutes.

        Of course she said the things she has quoted as saying so she has no reason to refute the article. But you were criticising her, not just for what she said but what she didn’t say. My point was that she will have said a lot of other things in the interview that were not reported because they weren’t of interest.

        And the fact it was the Guardian is irrelevant. They are interested in news which will attract attention. They are not going to report things that have been said in the past.

        Rachel and the Labour Party have repeatedly criticised the governments welfare policies, repeatedly stated those who are most vulnerable are being attacked the most and in the case of the bedroom tax pledged to reverse the policy.

        I also think you misunderstand my point about unity. I didn’t mean Labour need a policy that all its supporters can agree on. That would lead to a party of the size that could fit in a room. I meant that people on the left need to accept that for a party to win 40%+ in a general election it needs policies which appeal to a wide range of people with divergent views on many issues. That will mean accepting the party does things you disagree with while still understanding that there is more that you agree with and is better than the alternative.

        I would love to have a Labour government which introduced progressive taxation more strongly on the rich and big business, with a mansion tax, a financial transactions tax, higher taxes on those earning £80k plus, a land value tax. This would pay for an expanded welfare state with free university education, free childcare for all, free social care for all and a citizens income for all. I would love a Labour government that reduced our punitive prison sentences and used the savings to invest in rehabilitation. I would love a Labour government which would sweep away the vestiges of the class system that holds the country back – which abolishes private schools and the royal family (the ultimate scroungers). I would love a Labour government which would get rid of Trident and instead build hundreds of thousands of social housing. I would love a Labour government which invested heavily in decarbonising our economy. But I also know that this Labour party would only get the support of about 5% of the population. I suspect, although cannot be sure, that this makes me significantly more left wing than you. But I am pragmatic and know that Labour, however limited is better than the Tories.

        And I’m afraid that when it comes to who will be prime minister after the next election and which party will control the vast majority of the policy agenda there are two choices.

        David Cameron and the Conservatives.

        Ed Miliband and the Labour Party.

        That is an inescapable fact proven by how little influence the Lib Dems have had on the Tories in this so-called coalition. It might not be desirable but we have to deal with the world as we find it.

        You are right that parties change but there can be no question which party is better for the vulnerable in society. I even missed a crucial piece of legislation – the Disability Discrimination Act – which Labour passed in government.

        Look at the Tory conference – repeated attacks on scroungers and people out of work. Did what Rachel say seek to demonise people? No, it was saying the vast majority of people out of work are in that position because there aren’t enough jobs and Labour will provide these in government. She then said if people refuse the job opportunity they will lose their benefits. This seems a fair and equitable position to me and one which I think 80%+ people would support. You don’t seem to have outlined much criticism of this actual policy only the language used. And in any event this language is much more considered than that used by Tories.

        Finally, I repeat the point I made earlier. There is absolutely nothing wrong with criticising the Labour position and seeking to argue that it should change it. I would agree in many areas Labour could be bolder and challenge the government agenda more. And if through civil society campaigns public opinion can be changed, putting pressure on Labour to move left then all the better. But the fact that they are not doing everything you want shouldn’t be a reason to acknowledge that they are still much better than the Tories (and by extension the Lib Dems) on this issue.

        What confuses me is that you seem to be holding Labour to a higher standard than the other parties. If you want a government which will be more considerate of the vulnerable in society including those with disabilities I find it difficult to understand how you could look at the respective Labour and Tory records and rhetoric and not prefer Labour.

        But it seems to me that you are likely to end up voting Green because you prefer not to acknowledge the difficult compromises and pressures which it takes to sustain decision making in a party which commands 40% support in the nation.

        I think that is a tragedy for the millions of vulnerable and disabled people who will continue to struggle and be attacked if the Tories win again next time. But as long as you are happy that you can live with your conscience I suppose that is alright, isn’t it?

      • Again, I fear you’re missing a number of points. Firstly, the point about the Guardian piece – as I said, she’s had ample opportunity to correct any mistaken impression, and not only has she not done that but she actually tweeted the link to the story, effectively endorsing it.

        Secondly, you’re very naive if you think I expect any party I vote for to be perfect. Of course I don’t! There are many, many areas where I disagree fundamentally with Labour’s approach (from education to digital policy, to large parts of their transport policy) but very few that would be sticking points . Social security policy, and how vulnerable people are dealt with, however, really is crucial. What’s more, it’s an area that Labour, specifically, should be better at. It should be Labour’s strength, almost their defining area. Right now, it’s the opposite.

        Thirdly, you’re quite wrong – and indeed rather insulting – in your suggestion that I will vote Green effectively as an abdication of responsibility. I won’t. I’m in a marginal seat where my vote really counts, and that is something quite rare, and I take it seriously. I will vote in the way that I think helps the country the most. If that means voting Labour, I’ll vote Labour. If I get the chance to vote for a better Labour Party, a braver Labour Party, a Labour Party that dares to be different, so much the better.

  18. An absolutely brilliant letter-clear, to the point and so true. I hope the many others like you out there who feel the same are prepared and able to voice a strong opinion too. Caroleann Block.

  19. Everyone seems to be missing one crucial point. Yet again at the Labour Party Conference the US Insurance company UNUM paid significant sums of money so that they could run a session on benefits policy.

    Since 1993 UNUM have been at the core of all government policy making on benefits. They pay for the “research”. They provide the “experts”. They run briefing sessions for MPs. They also stand to make billions in profits if they can persuade the majority of working people that they will not be able to survive on state benefits in a crisis. That is the corruption at the heart of the system.

    So long as the Labour Party remains willing to have their policy driven by a company that can profit by harming the sick, disabled, unemployed, and low paid, and by stealing from working people a second payment for something their taxes and NI already paid for… so long as that is the case it doesn’t matter who is the party spokesperson. The policy will only change when the party stops whoring itself in a futile attempt to get enough money to campaign in the same way as the Tories. They can’t get that money without selling out the vast majority of the British people.

  20. Wow, all I can say before I go for good is that Kieran and Gracie are two fine examples of apologists for a fascist labour party, A party that is happy to kill disabled people and want rid of the poor and unemployed. They have made a saint out of Iain Duncan Smith – well done labour!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. Just to add Paul – I find it astonishing that you say you agree with ephemerid’s passionate and honest post about the terrible policies of this government – and yet say you would consider voting for the Lib Dems who are enabling this to happen!

    And I find it a little strange that the emphasis is on attacking Labour for not attacking the government enough rather than just attacking the government which is surely the responsible party?

    • I fully acknowledge – and wholeheartedly reject – the behaviour of the Lib Dems in coalition. I’ve written so many, many times, both publicly and privately to my MPs. I don’t and won’t forgive the Lib Dems for that, ever. That, however, doesn’t alter the electoral dynamics that, in a practical sense, may mean that a Lib Dem MP in my constituency might improve the government we get IF there’s a continued ‘toughening’ of Labour’s stance on these issues.

      • As I’ve said I think we’re in general agreement on substance and the major disagreement is with regard to tactics and messaging. Although I’m still not sure you have even explained whether there is any problem with the substance of the policy. Is there?

        Because that is the irony – there is no change in policy here – only slightly different rhetoric which will appeal to voters with different views on welfare to your own.

        It is I think a sensible, consensus position which responds to public concern about people abusing the system while also being fair and offering opportunity to those out of work.

        I don’t think people who want Labour to be bolder on welfare are misguided – but if they do not acknowledge the countervailing electoral pressures facing Labour they are being naive. As I’ve said I think campaigning should be focused on changing public opinion rather than berating Labour for bending to it (which any party which wants to be elected needs to do).

        Finally on the Lib Dems I’m afraid you’ve lost me completely. You will never forgive them but would consider voting for them again??? Therefore enabling them to carry on doing what they have done for 3 years for another 7 years.

        Yes they may go into coalition with Labour but what guarantee is there of that. The simple fact is a vote for the Lib Dems makes it more likely the Tories will be in power and more likely these harsh policies on welfare will continue.

      • I do have some problems with the policies – but not nearly as much as with the rhetoric. I had hoped that the departure of Liam Byrne would mean a change in both. For example, on the WCA, it’s not just that ATOS should be sacked, but that the whole nature of the WCA regime that needs rethinking, from scratch.

        As for the Lib Dems, well it may seem counterintuitive, but if they were in coalition with Labour I can’t see how they would make policy on social security more punitive or nasty – they don’t care that much either way about it, part of their general spinelessness – but they could make a difference on civil liberties. Ultimately, that, from a purely pragmatic perspective could make it possible for me to vote for Julian Huppert. Not for any other Lib Dem, just him. In the end, politics is a pragmatic art.

        I also think you’re still being dismissive of the resistance to this policy. It’s not that we don’t understand ‘public views’ – but that we believe that they can and should be challenged. They can and are shifting all the time. It’s ultimately self-defeating to surrender to the likes of the Daily Mail in this way. It doesn’t make Labour any more electable, and does a lot of real harm to real individuals on the way.

        I’d recommend a read of @Suey2y’s blog on this subject….

  22. Most of you are missingbthempoint here.its the general tone of what she has said that reveals how she is thinking and what her position is. Now would have have thought a well educated media savvy newly promoted shadow would at least do a bit of research and try and and get a feel,for the views of the very people she is supposed to be concerned about .BUT no she goes right in to the take a tougher stance on it approach NOw no matter how you deconstruct the speech ,and analyse ,and reconstruct it to suit how you see it the point is the tone and nothing but the tone.
    People do NOT forget that it was labour who let UNUM atos and god knows who else in to run riot among us and i for one cannot see and she has given us any credible reason here to think anything will change.
    That is the damaging thing and is perhaps why labour will lose votes if the position doesn’t change.
    Of course then law of in intended consequence may very well mean we get another tory junta but who,s bloodynfaultmwill that really be? With speeches like this the fault will be hers and the Labour party itself not the sick of it all ….sick, disabled and unemployed, who lets face it those who are not soon could be in anyone of those categories , who now see no end in sight to the media assault and endless bogus firms pushing endless workfare scams whilst getting paid huge amounts on lucrative govt contracts that will all fail .NO the tone is wrong ,the message is wrong, SHE was wrong and the Labour Party itself is wrong if think millions of sick,disabled ,unemployed or in work but receiving benefits,yes recieving not scrounging ,will vote for more of the same from a party who wants to think it is red but underneath it is blue…..Think again Rachel…..think again Milliband. If you lose the buck stops with you and the country is lost .

  23. “The vast majority of people want a tougher line on benefits”

    That is such crap, when first asked perhaps, but when it is explained further it seems they are against benefit cuts, the more so when it comes to the benefits they themselves receive. The whole purpose of a progressive politician is to set a progressive agenda, not pander to an agenda set by a reactionary media and neo cons. A shameful and harmful statement by this young woman. Soundbite politics of the worst kind.

  24. Rachel Reeves is my MP, and since being illegally forced out of work, (along with 200 other staff) from a major Government suppliers of military kit, I’ve found, our politicians wil ‘not’ answer questions. Many are members of the secretive Friends of Israel lobby group, which funds many of our political elite, to such a degree, that these wealthiest control, what our puppet poliicians are alowed to do/say.

    Most of our welfare mess can be traced back to the destruction of our (American manufacturing went the same way) manufacturing base, with both Thatcher an reagan also puppets of shadowy business leaders.

    We now see 80% of Conservatives, members of theCFI which pulls their strings. The poorest are just being used as scapegoats for the greed of the few.

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