This is our truth, tell us yours
Labour ordered its MPs to abstain last night in a vote on welfare cuts.
The Bill passed by 184 votes. 184 Labour MPs abstained.
— Alan Mackie (@Oldmanmackie) July 21, 2015
Think about that for a minute. Think about the message it sends, epitomized in the tweet above.
Labour could have tried to engineer a different result. It wouldn’t have got that different result, because the government would have made sure all its members were present (only 616 members were present at the time of the vote – so the government had headroom if it had chosen to fight hard).
That last sentence is important. The government could have won, if it had been made to fight hard, but Labour chose not to fight hard because of choices Harriet Harman and her team chose to make about political positioning, and because, having fought a half hearted election in which she didn’t believe in Labour’s leader, Harman has wholeheartedly accepted the Conservative explanation of why Labour lost.
Labour under Harman accepts the rhetoric that it lost because it was perceived as weak on welfare, migration and the economy. Much of that argument dates back, according to who you ask, to the 2010 election, or the 2008 crash.
I remember talking to my MP at the time of Alistair Darling’s infamous Guardian article and speech about the economic risks of bank failure in 2008. Darling was absolutely right about the risks; in terms of the politics and the future of Britain he was spectacularly wrong. Like Gordon Brown, he ignored the need for narrative coherence and optimism, and instead epitomized the dour, this is for your own good, style of Stafford Cripps, a man who like Brown and Darling, found his competence inversely related to his popularity.
Labour sought to put its own case last night through an amendment that was incomprehensible even to its own members, but Harriet Harman neglected to think about what the news story would be. Given that a rebellion was inevitable, Harman’s decision to advocate abstention is so bone headed as to invite derision even from her friends. Establishment Harriet, scion of the non-conformist elite simply couldn’t comprehend that at heart Labour voters at least expect it to look as if their party is putting up a fight. Instead of the story being about the LibDems refusing to back up Labour, Harriet is allowing the opposition tail to wag the dog -Tim Farron could hardly have an easier start as LibDem leader, despite being a homophobic monstrosity of a man whose liberalism appears remarkably narrow in focus,
Electoral calculation is at the heart of this disastrous set of choices by Harman, just as electoral miscalculation was at the heart of everything that was wrong with the 2015 election campaign. Labour is already calculating how to win the next election, and, as usual, the party’s attention is grimly focused on the swing voters it needs to win key marginals in southern and central England. The risk, that in the process Labour will lose the North of England as surely as it lost Scotland, doesn’t even enter Harman’s head apparently.
Labour faces two competing risks, right now. The first is that Southern Labour will split off, and form a Kendallite party that will spend all its time trying to find a reason why it’s not the LibDems. Any student of the SDP era will remember how that ended, but no-one’s ever praised Liz Kendall’s knowledge of history. The second risk is that Labour’s heartlands will collapse which, allied to the collapse of trade union funding as opt-in takes hold under the trade union bill, will see Labour diminish and collapse altogether.
Harriet Harman’s obsession with positioning Labour for the next election ignores the fact that, without its current supporters, Labour may not be around to fight the next election. For those 184 reasons, and for all the families who will lose as a result of this Welfare Bill, Harriet Harman needs to apologize.
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