Sunday 12 July 2015

Harriet Harman's Tax Credit Debacle

The Labour Party is a mass organisation. Under its banner you find all kinds of people harbouring all kinds of views. It could hardly be otherwise, given the roots it has in the labour movement representing the sectional interests of otherwise quite disparate occupational groupings. It is also a party that has to reach beyond its natural support at election time in order to win. Hence there is a fundamental political contradiction that's sat at the heart of the party since its inception. Should one follow principles or try and chase votes? Can Labour try and set the political weather, or is it forever doomed to be buffeted hither and tither by it? In truth skillful leadership has to navigate between the two, knowing what is possible at any one moment and being equally aware when doing nothing is the worst possible option.

Unfortunately, acting leader Harriet Harman has flunked the basics of leadership spectacularly. It is well known that George Osborne's budget set political traps so utterly obvious that an oil tanker would have time to change course. Unfortunately, Harriet has spotted them and is determined to steam right in. Osborne must be chuckling to himself as this morning she announced the party would go along with further reductions to social security caps and perhaps back scrapping child tax credits for the third child onwards. It's all about "fairness": people see large families getting additional support from the system, and feel resentful - they're being helped, but why should they when I haven't got two ha'pennies to rub together? On these pragmatic grounds, on wanting to be seen on the side of the flattered and patronised "hard working families", she would send Labour MPs through the aye lobby.

With her comments, she has decided for perceived expediency's sake to line up with the government to risk putting millions of children into poverty. What a disgrace. Apart from the abomination of the Labour Party queuing up to impoverish, this is quite possibly the most stupid unforced error the acting leader will commit in her brief period in office. On the one hand, she herself is caught up in classic doublethink. On Wednesday she rose in the Commons to denounce the axe falling on the low paid. Come Sunday she's wielding it herself. When Harriet has to deal with a sobbing mum at a constituency surgery whose life has become harder because she has three kids, will that woman be comforted by bland assertions that "we could not offer blanket opposition" or that "we didn't win the election"? Absolutely appalling.

And then there's the wider political ramifications. Next time Harriet's in the Commons, she might care to look at the sizeable block of new MPs sitting where the LibDems used to perch in days gone by. Sat there are the SNP who have everything to lose by being outbid on Labour on social justice issues. Does she really want to gift them an excavator for dumping tonnes more dirt on our Scottish grave? Also this morning, Harriet noted that for Labour to win it has to pick a candidate who's basically anyone but Jeremy Corbyn. How then does she think her capitulation on the benefits cap and tax credits will go down with Jez-minded members and supporters? Are her "tough choices" going to dissuade those people, or help them identify further with a left campaign against shoddy compromises and wishy-washy opposition that's nothing of the sort. It would also be helpful if the acting leader thought about the legacy she immediately bequeaths her successor, whoever that might be. How can the Labour Party campaign on child poverty when Harriet is happy to see it increase? In Commons debate after Commons debate, Tories will find great delight reminding the new leader and their front bench team that they too voted for these measures. How can new constituency MPs be taken seriously if child poverty becomes a key local campaigning issue for them? And worst of all, Harriet has forgotten - if she ever understood it in the first place - that the party is an integral part of a movement of working people, its allies, and its support. By kicking the people who are our natural base, she drives a wedge between them and us. That makes it harder for us to renew: we're effectively undermining ourselves. Look at it this way, were the shoe on the other foot and we had won the general election, would the Tories be saying "the people have spoken" as they accompany Labour through the lobby for the mansion tax, increased top rates, and forced land acquisitions? Of course not.

Instead of trying to play clever-clever Parliamentary games that no one will care about come 2020, why not do the daring thing and try and break the narrative instead? The Tories want to make kids in low paid families poorer so the better off can enjoy tax cuts. Say that, bang on and on and on about it, and never shut up. That's opposition, and that's the starting point for winning people over to our point of view.


Robert said...

If I lived in Scotland I would certainly vote SNP

Phil said...

HH has just missed the perfect opportunity to put Alex's strategy into action:

Appoint somebody party leader. I’m not sure I really care who. Then pick a highly emotive issue (it doesn’t much matter which) and start the biggest possible row.

This may not be a policy, but then, who cares? Ed Miliband had one of those and look what they did to him. In the end, perhaps my point is that we all spent too much time being an alternative government rather than yelling NO.

Ken said...

I've never before heard a leader of the Labour Party say outright that because we lost to the Tories, the Tories are the voice of the people, and we have to listen to the voice of the people, therefore ...

It's committing political suicide on live television.

Phil said...

The Corbyn campaign has responded:

We oppose Tory policies that will send more children into poverty and back the call for Labour to fight it tooth and nail.

I support this, of course, but why couldn't it come from the Labour leadership? It's not exactly nationalising the 20 leading monopolies, is it?

Phil said...

Prompted by Ken's comment, I've just listened to the clip. Dear Lord. Does she honestly think that everyone got up in the morning on the 7th of May and thought "given my in-depth knowledge of the main parties' programmes, which one do I sincerely believe to deserve my support?" Does she think that's how politics works in this country?

That election result, and the apparent mandate for this policy in particular, are a classic example of people being mobilised to vote against their own interests for bad reasons. And with all the effort the Tories put into it, and all the money their allies put into it, they only scraped a majority thanks to bribery of pensioners and the total collapse of the Lib Dem vote. If ever a defeat was still to play for, this one was.

I expected Corbyn to be the only leading LP figure with positions anywhere near my own. I didn't expect him to be the only one to be talking sense.

jim mclean said...

And the reality is the vast majority of the electorate oppose the Tories and their policies, the opposition were crucified by FTP. Labour did not lose to the Tories, they lost to the alternate opposition and the inability to see Lynton Crosby playing the SNP card to the limit.

Phil said...

To be fair to all the leadership candidates, Andy and Yvette are against. Last night Liz Kendall was too, but had changed her mind by the time of Victoria Derbyshire's live hustings this lunch time. Another reason why she's going to lose and lose big.

Gary Elsby said...

Is Harriet being devilish or does she actually mean it?
I saw the interview and burst out laughing.
I then tried to give good reason why she said what she said.
She is certainly of good quality and would be the last person to commit to Conservative agreement on social ideas, but she actually offered no opposition from the ....opposition.

No, this is too daft to be taken seriously.
Didn't our lacklustre Leadership candidates get rattled all at once though?
A red rag to a bull.
Enough to get the backs up of every sleepy member everywhere.
In short, I'm not entirely convinced of Harriet's commitment to passive opposition and therefore not entirely convinced of a case being made for the argument that says, 'well you voted for it'.

Is she playing a very clever and cute game?
It would be a gift if she were and a calamity if this is the direction.

Now about Tristram's car crash interview..............

Anonymous said...

Let us hope Labour go the way of PASOK!

Phil said...

That would be like putting a gun to the labour movement's collective head and pulling the trigger. So no, let's not. That would be a massive defeat for any kind of progressive politics in this country.

Anonymous said...

"That would be a massive defeat for any kind of progressive politics in this country."

Not so. When the centre collapses invariably it is the social democratic left that reap the benefit, at least in this historical period. If we get to the point where New labour are broken that would be a huge signal that progressive politics had sprung back into life.