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  

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes