WEDNESDAY’S debate and vote in parliament on the issue of the roll-out of Universal Credit has been hailed as a ‘symbolic defeat’ for the Tories.
The Labour motion up for debate calling for Tory ministers to ‘pause and fix’ Universal Credit was carried by a vote of 299 in favour and not a single Tory voting against – every single Tory MP along with their paid supporters in the DUP abstained with only one exception.
In an unprecedented move, Tory whips imposed a threeline whip on their MPs to abstain.
This prompted one Tory MP to tell the press: ‘We are so pathetic now, so incapacitated, so inadequate that we can’t even vote against an Opposition Day Motion on a central plank of government policy like continuing the roll-out of Universal Credit.’
The reason for this act of mass abstention on the roll-out of Universal Credit is not hard to explain – the Tories faced the humiliation of seeing their flagship welfare ‘reform’ being defeated and not even their tame DUP MPs could have prevented it.
Throughout the entire debate, the criminal hardship imposed by this savage attack on benefits was laid bare in speeches by MPs who have been inundated with evidence of families left without any money for food, being forced into rent arrears and facing eviction as a result of their benefits being withheld for months.
The Trussell Trust which runs food banks throughout the country revealed it was dramatically increasing the amount of food it stocks in expectations of a massive increase in claimants facing Christmas with nothing on the table as a result of their benefits being withheld, while the Child Poverty Action Group stated this was ‘not teething troubles but deep-seated problems that require a proportionate response’.
The only proportionate response is to end Universal Credit completely. The Tories abstained safe in the knowledge that this was a so-called ‘non-binding’ vote that they could simply ignore just as last month they abstained and lost two votes in one day, on increasing pay for NHS workers and halting the increase of tuition fees for students.
All of these defeats have resulted in absolutely nothing with the PM Theresa May making it clear earlier in the day that there would be no pause in the roll-out which would be steamrollered through despite all the poverty and misery it caused, a sentiment echoed by Tory pensions secretary David Gauke during the debate.
Such was the contempt shown by the Tories to the facade of bourgeois democracy that even the Speaker of the House, John Bercow, was moved to complain that: ‘If you choose not to take part and vote you can’t say, “well, we didn’t lose”. A minister from the government should come to the House and show respect to the institution and say what it intends to do. This institution is bigger than any one party and is bigger than any government.’
Bercow is wrong. The demands of a bankrupt British capitalist system to dump the effects of its economic crisis on the working class through increasing austerity cuts to benefits and wages means that the ruling class is dispensing with such ‘democratic’ niceties as votes in parliament as they turn to a dictatorial form of rule where this minority Tory government can do what it likes.
Corbyn and the Labour leadership are claiming another moral victory over the Tories but for the workers facing starvation, moral victories count for nothing. Indeed the Labour motion which called for just a ‘halt’ to the roll-out was itself an avoidance of the real issue – to end Universal Credit completely.
But this could only be achieved by bringing down the weak, and in the words of their own MP, pathetic minority Tory government, something Corbyn refuses to call for. Workers are seeing that the parliamentary road leads nowhere and the only way to stop Tory austerity attacks is to demand the TUC call a general strike to remove them and bring in a workers government that will dispense with the facade of bourgeois democracy and institute a workers state that will expropriate the capitalist class.