by Nick Wright
We face a big task in making opposition to austerity the central narrative in British politics.
It is not that people are indifferent to the issue. For millions dealing with the practical consequences of not having enough money to cover life’s basic expenses — or even worse not having any guaranteed income – is a daily drama. Poverty pay, precarious work and zero hours contracts add up to austerity in normal times. And government cuts to benefits, vanishing tax credits, fast eroding health and social services and most particularly – spiralling housing costs combined with housing scarcity – pile new agonies upon existing uncertainty.
There is a world of difference between the lives of those whose income streams are guaranteed, jobs secure and housing affordable and the lives of millions on the edge. But even people in seemingly safe situations are just a month’s salary or a weeks’s wages away from the edge.
An understanding of this world of worry is almost entirely absent from the mass media and from the daily lives of the political elite which is why the political debate about the so-called fiscal lock was conducted at a level of abstraction.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell thought twice and sensibly stepped over this transparent trap by challenging Osbourne’s idiotic idea that the nation’s finances can be managed like the weekly spending of a parsimonious Presbyterian housewife.
This presents a great opportunity for anti poverty campaigners, most especially People’s Assembly activists, to carry the impact of our street level campaigning, community organising and mass demonstrations into parliament.
Even though we are greatly cheered by the new Labour lineup in parliament we are not cheer leaders for Labour or any other parliamentary group. But we are intensely interested in how our elected representatives vote.
The government benches predictably turned out to vote for Chancellor’s Osbourne’s tawdry trick. The mystery is why twenty Labour MPs failed to support their party’s clear opposition.
Neo Blairite Liz Kendall was one but interestingly not all those MPs who supported her in the leadership election took her lead – suggesting that Labour MPs are beginning to listen to their constituents and the broader labour movement.
This episode raises the question of what practically can those of us without the privilege of a Commons vote do to add strength to the parliamentary opposition to austerity?
Here is a modest proposal. Firstly, in every locality where the MP either voted with Osbourne or failed to vote against should be visited by a delegation of their constituents to press upon them the arguments for an alternative economic strategy.
There are 71 Tory MPs who are regarded as being vulnerable to the anger generated by the reduction in tax credits. Naturally they should be targeted.
However, political reality suggests that the parliamentary opposition to austerity needs as a bare minimum a disciplined and united line up of opposition MPs. So the misguided minority of twenty Labour MPs should be given the heat treatment first. They all want to be re-selected for the next election so a year or two living on the edge of uncertainty will allow them to become more attuned to our problems.
Here are the guilty ones
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)
Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Ian Austin (Dudley North)
Ben Bradshaw (Exeter),
Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West)
Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham Ladywood)
Ann Coffey (Stockport)
Angela Smith (Penistone & Stocksbridge)
Simon Danczuk (Rochdale)
Jamie Reed (Copeland)
Chris Evans (Islwyn)
Graham Stringer (Blackley & Broughton)
Frank Field (Birkenhead)
Gisela Stuart (Birmingham Edgbaston)
Mike Gapes (Ilford South)
Margaret Hodge (Barking)
Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central)
Graham Jones (Hyndburn)
Helen Jones (Warrington North)
Liz Kendall (Leicester West)
Chris Leslie (Nottingham East)