Forest of Dean & Wye Valley


In A.Graham, Editorial on September 2, 2015 at 4:24 pm

Last month a cartoon message started doing the rounds on the social media. It featured some graffiti spelling out the words, “WORKERS OF THE WORLD ABSTAIN!”

A slogan, of course, as ridiculous as the action of the Labour Party leadership in the Commons on June 20th.  Which is how it makes its point. After all, the task of a Parliamentary opposition (according to tradition) is to oppose – as effectively and eloquently as possible – in order to instil some impact into any parliamentary debate. This is particularly true if we’re looking at the introduction of any far reaching legislation.

So what, then, do we make of the mass abstention by members of the Labour leadership in the vote on Tory plans for “welfare reform” in the opening debate on the Bill?
The Bill received its first reading in the Commons on July 20 – which emerged as a black day for the interim Labour leadership. Harriet Harman, who is currently standing in as Labour leader until a new one is chosen, seemed to see abstention as a “responsible” response which would allow the party to “listen to the views of the voters”.  Does that mean that the current Labour leadership has no views of its own on welfare provision? Something that lies at the very heart of the party since the days of Clement Attlee?

The best that can be said is that it’s a cop-out that avoided making a principled stand which ended up  making the Cameron/Osborne duo look even smugger than usual.  But could it be that this tactic also took into account that those hardest hit by Tory cuts on welfare spending are the poor and the vulnerable – who are least likely to vote , or (in the case of the homeless) are least able to?

These are the people who have been demonised in the media. They are described as “skivers”, “disability cheats”, not to mention being feckless and lazy – those who can’t be bothered to get up and do a decent week’s work. This is the image instilled through the steady drip of poison from such papers as the Sun and the Mail.

As for the fate of those families who’ll be hit by changes to the child allowance, this, too, is based on media stereotyping.   According to this particular claim, some women have more and more children even if they can’t afford to bring them up – and they shouldn’t be subsidised by the state to allow them to do so.

Can it be that Harman is willing to listen to the views of those voters who’ve fallen for such stereotypes?  It’s saddening that, according to a TUC poll undertaken in 2013, hostile attitudes to welfare have become widespread. There’s now a common believe that too much welfare has created a culture of both dependency and dishonesty. People believe what they read in the papers rather than what’s happening around them. Maybe, by way of a reality check, some might try relying on Ian Duncan Smith’s department to try to make ends meet!
Abstention in the face of reality is wrong. And a principled Labour opposition should stand up and declare that further benefit cuts is totally wrong.  It should work to counter the stereotypical lies and distortions spewed out by a right-wing media. But once a tactical withdrawal from the moral high ground has been made, it’s difficult to say the least, to recover the principles that have been so wantonly abandoned.

Having said that, many Labour MPs did ignore the edits issued by the leadership. A total of 48 Labour members voted against the Bill, including Jeremy Corbyn, and Diane Abbot who declared that she didn’t become an MP in order to abstain.

Their stand is to be applauded. Meanwhile, it’s ironical that the new leader of the Liberal Democrat rump in the Commons now appears to be more left wing than the Labour leadership. Tim Farron has described the Tory welfare cuts as “unfair, unwise and inhuman”, and has called on Labour to join with the LibDems in voting against future readings of the Welfare Bill.



From our Editor-in-Chief, Alistair Graham

Since Jeremy Corbyn threw his hat into the ring, the contest for Labour’s leadership has become much more interesting. With other contenders for the position staking out their positions to the right of centre (even Andy Burnham, sadly, it would seem), we now have a genuine left-wing candidate.

For most of us on the Clarion, Corbyn seems to tick the right boxes. For the record, he’s been MP for Islington North since 1983, winning two thirds of the total vote in the last election. He’s a member of the Socialist Campaign Group and is an active supporter of CND.  He also supports animal rights, and was a tireless anti-apartheid campaigner. He’s been an active trade unionist – and in his favour, too, is the fact that he’s submitted the lowest expenses claim of any MP.

So, what’s not to support? Well, there was that hoary old chestnut, the argument that he couldn’t win the leadership, so why waste our support? Current trends though now seem to suggest otherwise.  He’s certainly built up a momentum that left other candidates trailing. Another claim was that if he did win it would make Labour “unelectable”.  The Socialist message, we’re told, does not attract the electorate, and so we have to compromise and “play it safe”.  As Neil Kinnock did, of course, against Major. There are also those on the left, but not in the Labour Party, who might argue that it’s all irrelevant anyway. They declare the need for a broad-based, anti-austerity, anti-Tory coalition to build the opposition to oppose the atrocities committed by the Cameron-Osborne Government.

Of course we need such a campaign, and no doubt the Clarion would be part of it. But it would surely have greater impact if it was also backed by the Labour Party and its leader. After all, at the end of the day if we’re to defeat the Tories it will be at the ballot box. And the only alternative government under our present voting system would be a Labour one.  Surely we need a government that can phase out “austerity”, rebuild the fractured NHS, give us the kind of education that our children (and their parents) deserve – as well as boosting welfare to levels where it can serve society adequately. If so, we need a Labour government that can act with conviction.

A final thought. Those who see themselves on the left wing of the Labour Party should back their convictions. A sizeable vote for Corbyn would send a message through the Party that the membership wants change. And if Labour is to restore its sense of identity and have a future in serving the people, such change may well not just be necessary but vital.



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