Rachel Reeves’s “toughness” will strengthen apathy

Picture of Rachel Reeves, a white woman with shoulder-length brown hair wearing a purple jacketLabour will be tougher than Tories on benefits, promises new welfare chief (from the Guardian)

Rachel Reeves, “Labour” MP for Leeds West, former economist at the Bank of England and now Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, has promised that a future Labour government would be “tougher than the Tories” in cutting the “benefits bill”, claiming that the long-term unemployed (one year in the case of under-25s, two in the case of older people) would be offered a job and would lose their benefits if they refused. The ‘job guarantee’ part of the scheme would supposedly be paid for by a re-introduced tax on bankers’ bonuses; she also hinted that a Labour government would use procurement to drive wages up (and thus benefit costs down) by preferring companies that pay a living wage for government contracts. Paul Bernal wrote a letter to Reeves, and the Conservative Home website responded to the announcement by claiming that it meant Labour recognised that they could not fight the next election as “the party of the status quo ante; the party of the slob on the sofa”.

Reeves’s announcement is bound to remind many people of why they left Labour in the first place, and why many people are still wavering about rejoining or voting for them in the next election despite the extremism of this government. I left in 1994, after seeing the machinations of the Blairites in the NUS as they tried to neutralise that organisation so that Labour could commit to introducing tuition fees in their 1997 manifesto. Labour at that time were preoccupied with making sure that nobody still associated them with the pre-Thatcher past. That was understandable in the mid-1990s; as far as the economy goes, the memories people have of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are of prosperity, and the idea that people’s memories are dominated by “slobs on sofas” is preposterous. There were in fact anti-benefit fraud campaigns (which dubbed it “benefit theft”) under the last Labour government, and “theft” hotlines operated and were publicised under the slogan “rat on a rat”. The chief complaint about Blair and Brown’s Labour government was that it got the UK embroiled in pointless wars, curtailed civil liberties, and allowed the banking sector free rein, making many parts of London playgrounds for the global rich that were unaffordable to most British people. All but, arguably the first, of these things, the present government has done, or is planning to do, to a far greater extent than the last government.

This looks like yet another cycle of the Tories setting the agenda and Labour following; the Tories making radical change, always in a way that attacks state services at the expense of poor and vulnerable people and in favour of contractors and the rich, and Labour may come in and basically mind the shop for the Tories, doing much the same as they used to, if with a slightly softer edge and a bit more cleverly. What the right wing of Labour never display an ounce of is courage: not to American power when in government and not to the Tory press in either government or opposition; they behave like docile puppies or killer pit-bulls depending on their masters’ wishes. They are simply overawed by power and see no point in challenging it.

Reeves’s announcement will contribute to apathy; there is appetite for change in the country but many people will not vote at all, or vote for an outside candidate who has no chance of winning, if the two main parties offer essentially the same things, and it’s something they don’t like, and the third will simply agree to whatever the bigger of two parties demands, and that’s only in the historically unlikely event of a hung Parliament. Labour needs to challenge the narrative dictated by the Tories and their Press and defend their record in office — there is no scope for the Tories to pay the “1979 horror story” card this time round — if they are not to lose the next election to apathy.

Image source: Wikipedia.

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