You’ve probably heard all about Labour’s list, leaked to the Times, which ranks party MPs on a spectrum of supportive to hostile. On the face of it, it’s easy to understand why, even when you’ve won a resounding mandate from party members but a group of MPs seem hell-bent on undermining the party because they didn’t win the leadership election, you might want to “map” the situation.
What’s harder to understand is how this came to be a dominant political story following the budget shambles, public scepticism over welfare reform and a legal ruling that puts a halt to the Home Office’s deportations of students who haven’t had their day in court. In part, Cameron’s jokes about the list at Prime Minister’s Questions helped to shift the focus onto Labour; but as usual, Labour’s warring factions, ever in pursuit of “the unicorn of electability” seemed happy enough to burn their own house down – starting with leaking the document in the first place and then briefing the hell out of it.
But forget Labour’s list – the tally of government incompetence continues to build. For example:
The Budget Shambles
Some people* have wondered what could ever wipe the smug smile off George Osborne’s face. If the response to the Budget doesn’t do it, nothing will. Just to recap, according to Yougov polling, in the eyes of the public, last week’s Budget is seen as more unfair than fair – and the least fair Budget since 2012.
This matters because one of the key principles undergirding austerity is the assertion that it’s necessary and that “we’re all in this together”. A breakdown in public consensus on this means increased resistance to the cuts and more questions being asked about that alleged sunlit upland of “endless austerity” Osborne has been promising.
It also means that more people will notice that the Chancellor has failed on his own terms – capping welfare, reducing national debt and securing a budget surplus by 2019-2020. The first two fiscal rules he set for himself have been broken and the surplus target is drawing serious side eye from economists and think tanks.
It wasn’t all bad news for Osborne; measures like the increase in the personal tax allowance and efforts to cut down on tax avoidance were popular, but the row over the cuts to disability benefit (rightly) loomed large.
Downing Street has since hinted that the issue could be “kicked into the long grass”. The pause could lead to the measure being shelved; that would be a victory for common sense, decency and disability campaigners who brought the fight right to the House of Commons in a protest before PMQs.
*Me. I am this person.
Defending the Indefensible
Iain Duncan Smith’s dramatic resignation on Friday may have focused further attention on the cuts to disability benefit as he said they were “indefensible” in a budget “that benefits higher earning taxpayers” – but it’s important to remember that according to the Guardian, he saw them as perfectly defensible in the narrow terms of deficit reduction.
And that’s the thing to remember about Iain Duncan Smith’s time at the Department of Work and Pensions – despite the mistakes, the hardship caused to so many vulnerable people and the spiralling cost of rolling out Universal Credit he persisted in pushing through various measures that seemed predicated on a Victorian interpretation of poverty as more of a personal failing than a result of a complex set of factors.
He did this with religious zeal which many fellow Catholics repeatedly decried, such as the think tank Ekklesia, which engaged him repeatedly about the impact of his reforms. From a blistering assessment of Duncan Smith’s legacy by commentator Bernadette Meaden on the Ekklesia blog:
“Politically unable to imagine a redistribution of wealth and opportunity that would help people abandoned when industries like shipbuilding declined, he could only prescribe policies that would demand they pull themselves up by their bootstraps. He did not seem to seek economic justice, he seemed to seek to change people to comply with an unjust system. His reforms have always seemed to be more about behavioural change for the poor than social justice. Perhaps the Budget simply made the lack of social justice too blatantly obvious.”– Bernadette Meaden, Ekklesia.
Speaking of unjust systems, this week saw a court ruling halting summary student deportations; a victory for due process and a blow to Theresa May and the Home Office. The deportations – without court hearings or appeal – were based on findings of fraud at one school administering the English language test required by the Home Office immigration rules. This was used to invalidate the stay of students who had taken the test in good faith.
For now, the deportations have been halted. The disability benefit cuts are reportedly being reconsidered. Both are measures which affect the lives of innocent people, who appear to be acceptable collateral damage in the service of ideological, often unrealistic targets (recall, Theresa May has repeatedly failed to get immigration down to the arbitrary target of “tens of thousands”). If there is a list we should be concerned about, these and other unjust and incompetent government policies should be on it.
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White Men Dancing is a weekly column. Kiri Kankhwende and Maurice Mcleod keep an eye on Westminster. Politics is too important to leave to politicians.
Kiri Kankhwende is a Malawian journalist and blogger specialising in immigration and politics. She has a background in French and Chinese language studies and holds an Msc in International Political Communications, Politics and Human Rights Advocacy. An accomplished public speaker, she has also written for the Guardian and the Independent, and has been a contributor to BBC TV and radio, Al-Jazeera and Fox News. Find her on Twitter @madomasi
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Other articles in this series:
White Men Dancing: The EU Referendum Hokey Cokey
White Men Dancing: We’re all cleaners
White Men Dancing: Disability and Other ‘Lifestyle’ Choices
White Men Dancing: Robbing disabled Peter to pay privileged Paul