Even on the Bedroom Tax, the Labour leadership is scared of its own shadow

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All over the country, people will take to the streets today to protest against the Bedroom Tax. Battling against a government policy which targets a vulnerable minority, facing down apathy (not so much towards the cause, but the idea that we can do anything about it) a genuine, grassroots alliance has emerged. The campaign has been co-ordinated by those directly affected by the tax, local community campaigners and disability rights groups. It has brought different political strands together, with ordinary Labour Party activists joining with community activists in a variety of parties or none at all.

In a parallel universe, Labour Party members have been treated to Ed Miliband’s passion for a better politics (#betterpolitics), based on a bottom up, mass movement. This week’s instalment:

“I want to build a stronger Labour Party – a mass movement that can take on the Tories in 2015 and win – and I want you to be a part of this…I’ve always said change in our country must come from the bottom up, that politics is too important to be left only to politicians. That goes for our party too.”

It sounds like Ed Miliband and the Labour Party would want to be involved in the Bedroom Tax campaign, then. Not so much. One Nation Labour – and I mean by that, the leadership, our Parliamentary and local representatives – will be all but absent from this particular national, “mass movement”. Of course, there will be a few honourable exceptions. Today, Labour councillor David Stockdale will address the rally in Newcastle and in the North East more generally, people like Grahame Morris and the two Ians, Lavery and Mearns have been openly supportive of the demonstrations – but in a sense, that just goes to prove the rule. As was the case with Bedroom Tax protests earlier in the year, local party members will join these protests in the thousands, but without any official sanction from the party hierarchy.

I was involved in organising those earlier, fantastically well attended protests in March of this year. In Durham we had 300 people who came along to our protest in the Market Place. That might not sound like that many, but believe me, in Durham that is a very significant protest. It is no coincidence that since, we have had a number of other successful protests, stalls and events which have really lifted the political mood in previously sleepy Durham, including a 230-strong People’s Assembly just a couple of weeks ago. There was an awkward moment in the run up to the Durham protest when the organisers had to “un-invite” Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman to speak at the protest when it emerged that she had given an interview apparently supporting the Bedroom Tax in principle, while not in practice. After debating the matter for a while, we looked at the title of the protest (Durham Says No to the Bedroom Tax) and our banners and sent her a very politely worded “thanks, but no thanks”. This was perplexing, because Helen had been one of the best MPs in condemning the tax, even recording a video diary on it, but this was confusion at a national level being played out at a local level.  As it turned out, that was just the beginning.

Watching the Bedroom Tax campaign from their Westminster bubble, the vast majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party has skulked in the background. Like an uninvited kid at a party, it has hidden in the corners in the hope that it will still be able to get a party bag at the end. Because, ladies and gentlemen  – unbelievably – the Shadow Front Bench still haven’t committed to scrapping the Bedroom Tax. I’ll say that again, because there does seem to be some confusion. The Labour Party leadership has said that the Bedroom Tax is cruel, inhumane, devastating to communities, unworkable. All manner of ink has been spilled to condemn it…but the Party itself has not found itself able to commit to scrapping the Bedroom Tax in Government. Both Eds – Miliband and Balls – even came to the Labour Party National Executive Committee meeting to say as much.

Why? The most unpopular piece of Government legislation since the Poll Tax; a tax that turns communities and people’s lives upside down; a tax that specifically targets those least able to deal with that upheaval and a tax that aims to divide communities; a tax that has seen thousands of the party’s own supporters out on the streets to demand an end to it  – but the Labour Party in Parliament refuses to commit itself to ridding us of this evil.

How is this possible? Well, many reasons are proffered, but the overriding one is of “economically credibility”. Ed Balls has contended that the party cannot commit to scrapping the tax which we all agree is both vicious and unworkable because it will be an economic “hostage to fortune”. The Tories will get their calculators out and add that to the “Labour spending bombshell”.  At the same time, they are briefing their own side (a message sent down through the Labour Party grapevine, the “loyalist” networks) that it’s ok, trust us…the Bedroom Tax will go – once we’re in Government. The message to Labour activists is – protest on your own, but come along to our #labourdoorstep sessions and you’ll be welcomed with open arms.

Of course, this is drivel. One thing has not changed since the Blair heyday – and that is the way that the party spins, even to its own members. The real reason why Balls and co will not commit to scrapping the Bedroom Tax is that they are (a) running scared of the tabloid press, who they fear will brand them “the scroungers friend” and (b) that they are unwilling to pose any alternative to the Coalition’s spending plans, wedded as they are to the death grip of austerity. If there is any further illustration needed of the political bankruptcy of this policy, it is Labour’s attitude to the Bedroom Tax. It is like having an open goal, shinning the ball and hitting the corner flag. Ed talks the talk on building a mass party, but it is literally an impossibility to do that while you are wedded to neo-liberal economic dogma. As Jim Royle would say, #betterpoliticsmyarse

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6 thoughts on “Even on the Bedroom Tax, the Labour leadership is scared of its own shadow

  1. Well said! The Parliamentary Labour Party seems to have shut up shop until the election now. There’s a lot to be said for not showing your hand until you need to, but here that’s irrelevant. A mass protest with local activists and non-activists protesting against something you have publicly stated to be wrong. What’s wrong with supporting that?! What’s more – it’s not exactly the first time the Labour opposition has had to defend spending plans, why are they fudging it now…

  2. I am always baffled why people even bother to mention the “labour” party, there is no such thing, its a neoliberal party saturated with privileged, careerist, self – serving , scoundrels that is no different from the Condems, as for the bedroom tax, why the surprise? Wasn’t it “Labour” who introduced the Bedroom Tax MK1 ( private sector 2008 ) and supporting MK2 is merely a natural extension for them. Perhaps before anyone raoises the monster of privileged hijacked Labour in opposition they would do well to look at their 13 years of outdoing the Tories, put it to the Rizzla Test, you will find there is not a fag paper of difference in any of them,

    • Teddy, if I start talking to you about the history of the party, no doubt you’ll call me a sentimentalist. For me, the history and origins of the Labour Party does matter, but fair enough, lets deal with the state of the party as it stands.

      You say it is “saturated with privileged, careerist, self-serving, scoundrels”. That sounds great, but how true is it? Saturated? That would mean a majority of the estimated 193,000 members of the Labour Party would fit that description right? Well let’s see.

      Firstly, start with the PLP – 257. Lets take away the 43 or so who voted against workfare to be fair. That’s 214 scoundrels. Next councillors. 6,837. Lets take away Labour Councillors Against the Curs – 25 had signed last I heard, so that leaves 6,812 scoundrels. Maybe a few of those might have other ideas about how to fight the cuts – many will be trade union members, but lets not push our luck. Then we get to the bureaucracy, local and national. A bit harder to quantify, but lets say 1000 Spads, national officials and general enforcers at a national level and another 3 or 4 per constituency. I’m rounding up that to 3,000. So another 4,000 scoundrels. Finally, we need to add the wannabe MPs, bureaucrats and Labour Students whose only purpose is to get a career. I’m guessing another 5,000 of these. In total, 17,026 who fit your criteria. That leaves 175,974 non-scoundrels.

      I’m funning with you, if course, but you get my point? It’s not that the LP is “saturated” by Blairites and careerists of the kind you talk of, it’s that they’ve got a firm grip on the levers of power. Those of us in the party stay because we feel that we can mobilise the majority against the minority and wrest that power away, gradually – and with the help of our affiliated trade union comrades. I’m not making an great claims for that. We’re in a weak position, things are getting gradually better with mobilising the good people in the party (Red Labour being a positive), but the attacks on the trade union link are a big blow, so it’s a long hard road ahead.

      It mirrors our larger battle as socialists in society, though. If we were to turn around and say, look – all the rich scumbags in society have their hands on the levers of power, sod that for a game of soldiers, where would that leave us? You don’t have to agree with our strategy & I suspect you never will, but please recognise that it is thought out and based on experience, not some child like adherence to a random neo-liberal party.

  3. How many labour mp,s are of a working class background, they have the power, the sheepie follow? Your fantasy of “reclaiming” labour is an old chesnut, that has been in the fire since 1997, its ashes yonks ago. To use the word socialism /ists in terms of labour is laughable if not for the brutality they wage [ and continue to do so ] . on societys poor vulnerable, elderly disabled etc, lets see, wicks /Unum, Freud. Atos Serco G4S, capita etc, remploy closures wales 2008,sheltered housing butchered 2003, an unpoliced poverty wage with a foodbank voucher thrown in 2005, 1391 care home closures 2004-2010 [ how any premature deaths due to the trauma of moving ] academies, nhs privatisation, a whopping 75 “increase” for pensioners , illegal war,an endless lst, but no doubt you will be an apologist for it, 5m+ natural labour voters have abandoned the nasty party snce 1997 and counting, VOTE LABOUR GET A TORY , and probably a thieving expenses one ! A Thought out, Strategy ffs ps the majority of trade unonists Don’t Vote for your Tories in Red Coats, yet the fatcat leaders paid for them to brutalise us ,

  4. Vanya says:

    Interesting article. Where I live in we had a Labour councillor addressing our public meeting against the bedroom tax a few months ago. Not a dicky bird since then. 6 Labour councillors in the 2 local wards, and only 2 have responded to our letters asking what they intend to do about it, and the one who spoke isn’t one of them. Moreover one of the responses was only after that councillor was embarrased because he failed to show up for a surgery and asked me what I had been going to ask about when I rang to find out where he was.

    The councillor who spoke gave a passionate party political speech on behalf a Labour Party that exists in a parallel universe where the 1983 manifesto is still policy. Very helpful. Not.

    And of course, who could disagree with the loathsome Ian Duncan Smith when he told Lyam Byrne in the course of a row in Parliament aboutnthe effects of the bedroom tax to either commit to repealing it or ‘stop moaning’.

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