Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Milliband joins the right-wing consensus

Labour leader reflects Blair and Thatcher's legacy with his latest welfare proposals, says Tom Fox

June 19, 2011
5 min read

Following the tedious return to a Labour leadership battle last weekend, Ed Miliband sought to underline his uneventful leadership by giving a speech that captured the initiative from the Tories and finally put forward a proposal from the opposition that was coherent and memorable. Last monday morning Frank Field stated that it would be “difficult to overestimate how significant today’s speech is”, and he was right. The speech’s significance was the extent to which it represented not only the continuation of the Blairite legacy but the continuation of a political establishment in which each party blends into the other without a blemish.

The speech began with a blunt attack on welfare recipients. Miliband recounted how he had met a man “with a real injury” who had been on incapacity benefit for a decade. Staggeringly, he went on to conflate this man with the executives of Southern Cross; the exploitation and physical and mental abuse of the elderly is apparently an equal crime to drawing out incapacity benefit. In making this speech, Miliband chose the government’s side in its war with the disabled. Atos healthcare has been given a £300 million contract to quite brazenly strip recipients of incapacity benefit from the welfare budget. With assessors overworked and incompetent, sometimes with no knowledge of problems such as mental illness, and the computer system they use described as a “complete mess” by the designer, the plans are bleakly absurd. A third of “fit to work” decisions are challenged through appeals, with 40% of them successful. The government’s response? Remove the right to appeal, obviously.

By comparing the disabled to the same people who prey on them Miliband’s message – given with no context as to the man’s medical condition – was clear: if he had been on benefits for a decade, he must be a cheat, an assumption that both rests on and reinforces the sort of prejudices that have led to increased attacks on the disabled. More astoundingly, in a period in which unemployment has hit a seventeen year high, Miliband said that “it’s just not right for the country to be supporting him not to work”. His use of the euphemistic and deliberately dishonest term “worklessness” is a syllable from fecklessness. Like Blair, he has adopted the automatic, unthinking tropes of the Daily Mail.

Compared to the gigantic and sustained redistribution of public wealth into the hands of the rich, benefits cheats are nothing. Beyond the £850 billion cost of the bank bailout, there is the persistent refusal of successive governments to deal with the income crisis the rich have forced upon them. Compare the tax gap of £120 billion with the £3.1 billion lost through both fraud and error in the benefits system. The various means of moving wealth from the poor to the rich is not a matter of irresponsibility amongst “wealth creators”, but is instead the brute inclination of the richest in society. Miliband is the leader of the Labour party during the greatest expansion of the divide between rich and poor since the Great Depression, yet his solution is to attack the working class.

This is nothing new. The government who began the incapacity benefit reforms and first gave the contract to Atos was a Labour one. The new assessment system was trialled by Labour and threw up the same faulty assessments. It was Labour’s Baroness Morgan who is both on the Board of Directors for Southern Cross and the chair of Ofsted. It was this shadow cabinet that decided they were “too slow” to commit itself to cuts after the recession set in, and who have since set out to prove they are not “deficit deniers”. Nationally and locally, they have resisted any opportunity to put forward real change.

More sinister is Miliband’s newfound support for voluntarism. The big reveal of his speech – the proposal to base the provision of social housing on whether or not a prospective tenant deserves a place, rather than whether or not they need one – means that people will be rewarded for being “good neighbours”. The position is ludicrous. There is a shameful shortage of social housing in a country where the rates of homelessness are shooting up: the solution is to build more affordable houses, not ration the few that exist to families based on their moral character.

That people “who volunteer, or who work” will be granted housing is further codification of the stigma towards those who are unemployed or on benefits. Who is the moral arbiter in these decisions – those parties who have demonstrated beyond doubt their complete incapacity to govern in the interests of the people, or companies like Atos or Southern Cross who see us merely as commodities?

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun


169