We cannot let the Tories get away with their wholesale attacks on the poorest in society, argues Reuben Bard-Rosenberg
There was a time when Tory politicians took pride in being blooded ex-army officers, and hard-nosed business leaders, and generally in being tough.
Today, however, the party seems to have discovered the joy of cry-bullying; of wielding destructive power over other people's lives, whilst flitting behind a veil of vulnerability.
This is particularly evident as the Tories prepare to cut unemployment benefit for millions by twenty-pounds-per-week. On Monday, Labour put forward a non-binding motion in the House of Commons calling on the government to stop the cuts. In response Boris Johnson sent out a message to Tory MPs telling them to abstain; which will allow the cuts to go through automatically, whilst protecting the party’s politicians from taking any personal responsibility for the measure. In justifying this response Johnson accused Starmer’s barely upright opposition of “inciting the worst kind of hatred and bullying (of a kind seen sadly across the Atlantic)” by pursuing the vote.
Leaving aside the illiteracy of Johnson’s transatlantic comparison, this is a really contemptible pretence at victimhood. We are talking about some of the most powerful people in Britain; people who literally exercise the power to take food out of children’s mouth. These MPs are apparently so vulnerable to angry and hungry citizens voicing their opinion over social media that they cannot be expected to say where they stand.
The core element of a Member of Parliament’s job is to take a position on government policy, and to be held accountable for that position by the general public. If Britain is in such a state that reprisal-fearing Parliamentarians cannot fulfill their basic function, then it raises the question of whether Britain is in some kind of constitutional crisis.
Nurses who’ve been asked to work without PPE, and teachers who’ve been asked to go in maskless to Covid-ridden schools will be less than impressed by the sight of MPs who apparently cannot fulfill their role as Parliamentarians in case they get compared to scrooge in a sweary fashion over twitter.
But enough about these cowards. These cuts will be absolutely devastating. Not for Boris Johnson, or his kids, or his friends, but for millions of people up and down this country. You simply cannot rip £20-a-week from the budgets of people already surviving on the bare minimum without producing debt, hunger and family breakdown.
This would be true even in normal times. It is especially true today, when necessary social distancing has broken apart many informal networks of emotional and material support. And let us not forget, the reason why people haven’t seen their friends or family recently is that in our millions people have done the right thing. A society that asks people to make big sacrifices for the greater good, whilst reducing millions of those who do so to a state of penury, is a society that is worthy of contempt.
This is a battle that ought to pitch every decent person in the country against the crooks and sociopaths who are running the government. And it is I believe a battle that we can win. The Tories are beginning to make ambivalent noises about what they will actually do when April comes. If they can be pushed over on this, it won’t because of Keir Starmer pulling his unimpressed-headmaster look. It is going to have to come from us.
We can start by signing this petition against the cuts. But beyond that, let us spread the word and really rally people. As the weeks draw in I want us quite literally to be outside our window banging our pots in protest.
For ourselves, our families, our neighbours and our friends, it is the very least we can do.
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Reuben Bard-Rosenberg is a socialist activist and radical folk music promoter.
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