Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The beatings will continue until morale improves

As a result of last night's vote on the Welfare Bill. Labour appear to have finally committed electoral suicide.  184 of their MPs abstained from voting on the Bill, at the instruction of the party whips, apparently on the basis that they liked some of the things in it, and that they could get the things they didn't like thrown out at the committee stage.

Now, it may well be true that things will be changed at the committee stage, although given that the Tories dominate the committees by dint of their parliamentary majority, one has to assume that Labour will not get its own way very much of the time.  Thus, you would think, better to vote the Bill down now and send the Tories away to think again.  Then again, I'm not a politician, so what would I know? 

It was possible for the Bill to be voted down.  There are 645 MPs who could have voted (650 minus the Sinn Fein MPs, who don't take their seats), and of those 308 voted for the Bill, leaving 337 who could have voted against it.  And 184 of them chose not to vote at all, which inevitably leads to the question of what Labour is for if it doesn't oppose bad legislation such as this.  No wonder Pete Wishart asked the Speaker as a point of order whether the SNP could be made into the official opposition.  He may not have been entirely serious, but it does give pause for thought.

Meanwhile Harriet Harman shows that she is not much of a strategist.  By abstaining her party has shown that at best they don't know what to do and at worst that they don't care about the poor.  That is not going to play well with their constituents in either case.  The exceptions are, of course, the 48 members of Labour who refused to follow the whips' instructions and voted against the Bill.  At least their constituents have something to be proud of.

There have been some attempts to rationalise away the mass abstentions, most notably by John McTernan in today's Times, giving us the excuses about not voting against the bits they did like and how the Tories might reverse some of the changes once the deficit has been paid off. Because the Tories don't have an ideological motive for getting rid of the welfare state and are quite cuddly really.  Yeah, right.

Presumably Ms Harman thought that this ill-conceived action would play well with soft Tory voters in the home counties, the electors that she and her ilk appear to be chasing now.  I think Labour might be in for a shock in that case. The soft Tory voters will continue to vote Tory, or maybe LibDem if that party can pick themselves up by their bootstraps, while the traditional Labour voters will continue to move away to other parties.  In Scotland the main beneficiaries will be the SNP, not so clear which party will benefit in England. 

Labour are currently leaderless, which may explain to some extent their current paralysis.  However, given that three of the leadership candidates abstained from voting, this does not bode well for the future of the Labour party.

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