Jay Blackwood (Bristol Green Left)
In his interview with The Mail Online (24th June) PM David Cameron has started to map out phase two of the Tory attack on working class living standards. His proposals include the scrapping of housing benefits for everyone under 25 and abolishing ‘dole’ money for people deemed to be making insufficient effort to find work. Unemployed parents claiming child benefit are also clearly in his sights. Cameron is careful to couch his arguments in terms that will appeal to the more gullible sectors of his audience:
“Decent folk are fed up with the increasing abuse of the welfare system. Responsible people who work damned hard, often on low incomes, to support themselves, are sick and tired of seeing others do nothing and live off the state.”
The appeal to ‘decent folk’ is simply a rehash of the old argument (which goes back to the 19th century and beyond) about the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. It’s an attempt to pose his attack on basic welfare provision in a way that plays to the fears of people already struggling to cope with falling living standards and a crumbling social infrastructure. The sheer chutzpah of a Tory rich-boy like Cameron putting himself forward as a champion of people working ‘damned hard’ on ‘low incomes’ takes the breath away, when it’s his government’s policies which have thrust them even deeper into the mire.
Of course some of this is about preparing an appeal to the Tory heartlands, and differentiating the Conservatives from their spineless LibDem coalition partners. But the threat is very real. If the Tories are re-elected – and perhaps even before the next election is called – the attack on the rights and living standards of most ordinary people will become more ferocious than anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes. This is the nuclear option, and there is no reason to believe that the Tories will shrink from using it.
It remains to be seen how Labour will respond to Cameron’s statement of intent. But nothing that the Miliband leadership has produced so far suggests that they will be either capable of providing, or willing to provide, a serious counter-argument – let alone lead any sort of resistance. Recent appeals to tabloid sentiments on the subject of immigration underline just how far that party is now in hock to big business and right-wing populism. With the odd honourable exception – the usual suspects like John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn, and a handful of principled activists – Labour has positioned itself firmly in a mythical ‘centre ground’ which shifts ever more sharply rightwards as the years roll by.
We in the Green Party are the only ones with both the organisational base and the social policies to present a serious alternative to Cameron’s stewardship of an increasingly divided and brutalised society. Our commitments to adequate housing, healthcare and welfare provision as basic rights mean that we are in a unique position to present a radical alternative to these attacks. But we can only do that effectively if we are prepared to put our social policies to the forefront when we explain the party’s politics on the doorstep, on the streets, and in the media.
Crucially we must also engage with the extra-parliamentary opposition to the current austerity measures. Action on the streets and in the workplaces in Greece, Spain and beyond have shown that we will need to go beyond electoralism to connect with the fightback. We must expand the excellent work already being done by Green Left activists in linking up with the anti-cuts movements, with the trade unions, and with local community groups.
The sheer ferocity and scale of the coming Tory assault may begin to open up possibilities. For wider and wider layers of people, inaction will simply cease to be an option. Anger and resistance will grow as the implications of Cameron’s plans become clear and the reality starts to bite. The Green Party needs to prioritise its social policies and deepen its commitment to the fightback. I believe that Green Left has a key role to play in that process.