Labour is fishing for votes in the murky waters of the coalition

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
24 March 2014

At the time of writing, the teacup of parliamentary politics is still full of minor storms caused by Osborne's latest budget.

Not that there was anything really unexpected in this so-called beer-and-bingo budget: more austerity measures against workers to fund more handouts for the wealthy and a few cherries on the cake to please the coalition's better-off electorate, in preparation for the coming elections.

Nevertheless, some of these measures still require legislation to be passed, resulting, we are told, in a lot of "soul-searching" among MPs.

Of course, if there was a party prepared to represent the interests of the working class against those of the capitalists, in the Commons, it would reject this anti-working class budget out of hand.

But this won't happen. As so often since it became the "Opposition", Labour will vote for some of Osborne's most blatantly anti-working class measures and wholeheartedly support his handouts to business!

All against the working poor...

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has, for instance, boldly announced that his party will vote for Osborne's "welfare cap" policy - which sets a limit to the budget devoted to in-work benefits (tax credits and housing benefit) and plans to reduce the real value of this limit over the coming two years.

And this, at a time when rents are going through the roof, while wages, especially those of the low-paid, are increasingly lagging behind inflation!

Of course, this "cap", which can hardly be enforced, is just political posturing, designed to demonstrate the government's "toughness". But this posturing will have consequences, because it amounts to blaming the poorest for the government's deficit, when its real causes are the hangover caused by the banks' bailout and the huge cost of the government's handouts to big business.

In the real world, outside the cosy comfort of the Commons, this blame game will be a justification for the DWP to make benefit entitlement more difficult and step up its harassment of claimants - meaning more abuses against the poor. Indeed, the government plans to discourage claimants from appealing against unfair benefit decisions, by forcing them to pay for lodging an appeal!

But never mind!? None of this has prevented Labour from enthusiastically signing up to Osborne's anti-working class demagogy! What do Miliband and Balls care if even more working poor are pushed into destitution as a result of this abject demagogy, so long as they can demonstrate that they are as "tough" as Osborne against workers?

... and against pensioners

By contrast, there was much less unanimity in Labour's ranks over Osborne's pension reform. Initially, in fact, Labour frontbenchers made contradictory statements about it. Some voiced suspicion, while others promised their party's wholehearted support. So, what were the reasons for this discord?

On the one hand, this reform is a blatant giveaway to well-off taxpayers who already have a decent pension lined up - because it will allow them to pay into another personal pension scheme and use it as a means to earn a state subsidised, tax-free return on their investment. So, this is good news for the coalition's well-off voters!

On the other hand, however, there is nothing in this reform to address the most glaring problem with the present pension system - namely the derisory incomes received by millions of pensioners, who are forced to live in poverty despite having paid pension contributions all their lives.

But there's even worse than that, in the small print of this reform, for workers who are unlucky enough to become incapacitated in their old age. Indeed, those who will be lured into taking out their entire pension pot as a lump sum, could lose the entitlement to state help with their care costs that they would otherwise have had, as this sum would then be counted as part of their means-tested "assets"! This perverse effect of Osborne's reform could be catastrophic for huge numbers of workers, especially those who, having worked long, irregular shifts all their lives, have had their health destroyed, even before retiring!

What attitude did Labour take, then? After Miliband cracked his whip, everyone fell into line - supporting "the principle" of Osborne's reform and promising to vote for it. Once again, it was far more important for Labour to woo the ConDems' well-off supporters than even to go through the motions of defending working class pensioners!

Of course, none of this is really new. It's been many decades since the working class last had a party representing its political interests, whether in the Commons, in the streets, or on the shopfloor. And that is what it needs, urgently!