ACTING Labour Party leader Harriet Harman yesterday betrayed working people when she led over 100 Labour MPs in abstaining over the Welfare Bill which aims to slash welfare spending by £12bn.
48 Labour MPs voted against, along with the Scottish nationalists, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, resulting in the House of Commons backing the Welfare Reform and Work Bill by 308 to 124 votes. Three of the four Labour leadership candidates, Burnham, Cooper and Liz Kendall also abstained leaving the fourth contender Jeremy Corbyn, and London mayoral candidates Sadiq Khan and David Lammy, voting against.
Of the 53 Labour MPs first elected to Parliament on May 7, 18 opposed the bill. During a five-hour debate, Labour MP John McDonnell put the position of the ‘NOs’ very effectively when he said: ‘I would swim through vomit to vote against this bill and listening to some of the nauseating speeches tonight I think we might have to.
‘Poverty in my constituency is not a lifestyle choice, it is imposed upon people. We hear lots about how high the welfare bill is, let’s understand why that’s the case. The housing benefit bill is so high because for generations we”ve failed to build council houses, we”ve failed to control rents, we’ve done nothing about the 300,000 properties that stand empty in this country.’
Corbyn’s three Labour leadership rivals – Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall – followed Harman’s lead and abstained. Slippery Burnham said yesterday, shocked by the 48 ‘NO’ votes and the huge backing for it amongst the Labour party rank and file, that he would be voting ‘NO’ at the next reading.
However the Harman-led abstention has revealed that however hostile the millions of workers are to the Welfare Bill, and the Tory austerity attacks, Labour will be keeping the Tories in office and not seeking to remove them.
On home policy the Labour right wing agrees with the Tories that the poor should be caned in order to keep capitalism going, while on foreign policy the Labour right wing agrees with Cameron that Britain should be bombing Syria and Libya as well as Iraq.
Once again, this is despite the fact that the mass of the workers is very hostile to both positions. This hostility of the masses was reflected in the fact that 18 of the new intake of Labour MPs, who are much closer to the feelings of ordinary people, voted ‘NO’, despite experiencing the hostility of the whips and their threats, for the first time.
In fact Labour is splitting along the lines of those who are prepared to support and prop up the Cameron government – in the national interest, that is the bankers’ interest – and those who wish to oppose the government.
The right wing is already making it clear that the support that Corbyn is getting from the trade unions, and the support that he is getting at Labour Party hustings, has greatly concentrated their thinking.
In 1981 the Gang of Four – Jenkins, Rogers, Owen and Williams – broke with Labour, split it, and formed the SDP, bringing aid and comfort to Thatcher against the Michael Foot left leadership of the Labour party and the power of the trade unions in the party. The gang, supported by 28 Labour MPs, joined with the Liberal Party to form the Lib Dems and split the vote in the 1983 general election, taking millions of Labour votes and handing an electoral victory to Thatcher, who remained in office until she was removed by a Tory coup on 22 November 1990. The Tories were not removed from office until 1997!
The new Labour ‘gang’ are plotting that if Corbyn wins the support of the trade unions and then the ballot for leader, they will split the Labour Party in order to be able to continue supporting Tory austerity policies, which they say are ‘aspirational’!
This split in Labour, and the emergence of the austerity ‘lovers’ to prop up the Tory government regardless, means that the decisive area of the class struggle is more than ever definitively outside parliament.
The trade unions must not allow the Labour right wing to prop up the Tory regime. They must call a general strike to bring down the Tories to smash their austerity programme and their anti-union laws, and bring in a workers government and socialism.