Tony Greenstein | 23 April 2013 | Post Views:

Catt Reilly outside the Royal Courts of Justice

On 12th February 2013, a student Cat Reilly and a lorry driver Jamieson Wilson successfully took the government to court.  They argued that the benefit sanctions as being implemented were unlawful.  The Court of Appeal agreed.  Highly unusually, the Government immediately passed legislation of a retrospective nature, i.e. makes what wasn’t unlawful lawful.  Because this is like changing time and creates uncertainty as to what the law is, if an offence can suddently not become an offence, or something which is not an offence suddenty becomes a crime.  

Retrospective legislation is therefore very rare and it was only with the co-operation of the spineless Labour leadership under Ed Milliband that it was passed.

This raises another, wider problem.  Between all 3 major political parties there is barely a hair difference.  All three support neo-liberalism and the erosion of the NHS and Welfare State.  Indeed it can genuinely said that there is nothing New Labour did that the Tories/Lib. Dems haven’t continued.

Tony Greenstein

Ian Duncan-Smith, who ducked the challenge to try and live on £53 a week
the first Attlee government

Britain needs a new political party that rejects neoliberal policies and improves the lives of ordinary people

Posted: 29 Mar 2013

Clement Attlee, British Prime Minister 1945-51

As the age of austerity bites harder and deeper than many anticipated, it is little wonder that Ken Loach’s new film The Spirit of ’45,  charting the great post-war social advances, strikes a powerful chord. Yet the promise of opportunity, dignity, health and work, fulfilled by Labour’s welfare state after 1945, is not to be one that we can look to today’s Labour party for. Yet contemporary Britain – and beyond – is precisely where such policies are needed.

Ken Loach

Austerity is wreaking economic catastrophe on Europe, most recently on the people of Cyprus, but George Osborne is still following the same disastrous policies. Last week’s budget came as no surprise: Osborne announced yet more spending cuts and extended the public sector’s pay rise cap, amounting to a real terms pay cut. He’s digging us even further into an economic hole, as the Office for Budget Responsibility’s revised output forecast shows – from a predicted 1.2% growth down to 0.6%. That sounds like further decline, not the promised growth, and ordinary people are paying the price. The virulence of the government’s economic attacks knows no bounds: Atos, workfare, council tax, the bedroom tax – punitive policies against the most vulnerable in society.

Catt Reilly outside slave labour employers Poundland

Judged by its own stated goals, government policy isn’t working – borrowing will be around £61.5bn higher than planned. Of course the reality is that austerity policies are actually designed to dismantle the welfare state, bring down wages and fully marketise the economy, destroying all the social and economic gains of ordinary people since the second world war. So from the government point of view the policies are working.

Across society, there is an increasing understanding of the government’s real agenda and as a result, opposition is mounting and economic alternatives are being discussed. Only last week, the Guardian published a letter from over 60 economists, warning that the worst was yet to come with 80% of the cuts still ahead of us.

Yet while economic alternatives are articulated, where can we turn politically to see these expressed as party policy? Who is on our side, to fight for an alternative? In the past many expected the Labour party to stand for us, and with us, but no longer. Workfare? Last week Labour abstained on the vote  and now the government can work over quarter of a million jobseekers. Bedroom tax? Would a Labour government repeal it?

We need policies that reject Tory cuts, regenerate the economy and improve the lives of ordinary people. We are not getting this from Labour. There is no doubt that some of Labour’s past achievements have been remarkable – the welfare state, the NHS; a redistributive economy making unprecedented levels of health and education possible. But such achievements are in the past. Now Labour embraces cuts and privatisation and is dismantling its own great work. Labour has failed us. Nothing shows the contrast more clearly than The Spirit of ’45.

Poundland – one of the shops benefiting from free labour

Labour is not alone in its shift rightwards and its embrace of neoliberal economic policies. Its sister parties across Europe have taken the same path over the past two decades. Yet elsewhere in Europe, new parties and coalitions – such as Syriza in Greece or Die Linke in Germany – have begun to fill the left space, offering an alternative political, social and economic vision. The anomaly which leaves Britain without a left political alternative – one defending the welfare state, investing for jobs, homes and education, transforming our economy – has to end. For this reason we are calling on people to join the discussion on forming a new party of the left – you can find out more about our appeal here. The working class cannot remain without political representation, without defence, when all its victories and advances are being destroyed.

Ken Loach, Kate Hudson and Gilbert Achcar

Labour ‘pressed MPs to abstain on welfare vote’

MPs put under ‘significant pressure’ by party leaders to abstain on crucial vote, says outgoing parliamentary private secretary

Shiv Malik and Hugh Mui,, Sunday 24 March 2013

The bill, which seeks to overturn a court appeal ruling on the Poundland case, is expected to be passed into law this week.

Labour’s frontbench team put “significant pressure” on MPs to abstain during a crucial vote on emergency retrospective welfare legislation, a recently resigned parliamentary private secretary has told the Guardian.

Ian Mearns MP said he voted against the government’s jobseekers (back-to-work schemes) bill on Tuesday because he thought the unemployed were already suffering enough from “Kafkaesque” benefit sanction decisions made by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The fast-tracked bill, which seeks to overturn the outcome of a court appeal ruling on the Poundland case, is expected to be passed into law early this week.

It will ensure that the DWP no longer has to pay £130m in benefit sanction rebates to 250,000 jobseekers by retrospectively making lawful regulations deemed unlawful by three senior judges since February.

Mearns said that after passing through the Commons’ no lobby he sent a text to his former boss, the shadow secretary for international development, Ivan Lewis, and the party’s chief whip, Rosie Winterton, saying he had resigned.

I was under no illusions that I would be sacked if I voted against the party wishes. So immediately on having gone through the no lobby and having voted against the government bill, I then texted both the chief whip and the shadow secretary of state for international development … to say, with a heavy heart, I resign.”

Among 43 or 44 Labour MPs who voted [against the bill], I was the one who had the PPS position. But I know a significant amount of pressure was brought to bear on other colleagues in similar positions.

“There were an awful lot of people who were clearly unhappy … well over half of the parliamentary Labour party were clearly uncomfortable with the position that was taken by the leadership,” Mearns said.

The Gateshead MP said that during last Monday’s weekly meeting of the parliamentary Labour party “there wasn’t a single person in the room who spoke in agreement with the position being put forward by the leadership team”.

His description of the meeting was confirmed by other MPs who did not want to be named.

Mearns said the rebellion by over 40 Labour MPs included a former chief whip, Nick Brown, former housing minister John Healey and a former junior minister, Derek Twigg.

These people aren’t the usual suspects. I think the frontbench had their reasons [for wanting everyone to abstain from voting] but I must admit, I still don’t completely understand why we were put into that position in the first instance.”

One Labour source said the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, had not wanted to lose fiscal credibility on the eve of the budget by being seen to be favouring a £130m payout to benefit claimants.

Mearns criticised his own shadow frontbench for misunderstanding the nature of the benefit sanctions regime.

“It just seems to me that our frontbench stance is that everybody who’s been guilty of some sort of [benefit] infringement and had a sanction against them since 2011 is someone swinging the lead or taking a political stance,” he said.

“Gosh, I really do wish there were that many thousands of people who were willing to take a political stance and lose benefits for the sake of putting a marker down against workfare … I just don’t think that’s the case at all.”

Mearns spoke as disgruntled Labour MPs prepared to vent more rage at Monday’s planned meeting of the parliamentary Labour party. Many who obeyed the order to abstain anticipate an angry reaction from union backers and activists in their constituencies. “There is a lot of anger still because we were forced to do something that we knew was wrong,” he said.

Ed Miliband is not expected to attend the meeting but a source said Liam Byrne, the shadow work and pensions secretary and target of much ire, is likely to be, adding: “The feeling is that left to his own devices we would consistently be voting with the Tories. We urgently need to develop a distinctively Labour approach on welfare and not just keep following the Tories.”

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Tony Greenstein

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