On Labour's pledge to axe the bedroom tax

Clegg 2010 = Miliband 2013

Why the pledge from the Labour Party to axe the Bedroom Tax doesn't mean we've won and, if we take it at face value, could mean that we lose.

The Labour Party has this week vowed to scrap the Bedroom Tax. The announcement, which has dominated headlines as well as a lot of talk on Twitter, comes as Labour prepares to hold its annual conference in Brighton.

Ed Miliband wrote:
I am leading a different Labour Party, a One Nation Labour Party, which listens to and will stand up for ordinary families like that of Danielle Heard, who I met this week.

We’ll fight for her like she has fought cancer heroically for 14 years.

She is disabled and battling cancer again. But now her family must pay £80 a month they can’t afford under this government’s hated bedroom tax.

The Bedroom Tax – not what the Tories call the spare room subsidy – the Bedroom Tax, a symbol of an out of touch, uncaring Tory Government that stands up for the privileged few but never for you.

So we will scrap that tax.

This has got a lot of people cheering, calling it a victory for the campaign against the Bedroom Tax. Certainly, it shows the amount of pressure that grassroots organisers and campaigners have brought to bear over this issue since it first arose. Although The Daily Mirror and the Sunday People are quick to claim the campaign - and associated victories - as their own, the real credit goes to working class people fighting tooth and nail for their own survival.

The campaign against the Bedroom Tax erupted on Merseyside, where the bar was set with autonomous community campaigns making their decisions in packed-out mass meetings. Since then the example has been followed elsewhere, and so strong is community control that Trot astroturfing projects - mainly in the form of "federations" parachuted in from the sky - haven't been able to compete.

The energy and anger that this campaign has channelled hasn't always gone in the right direction. Look at the row that erupted over the brief acceptance of fascists in the Merseyside Anti Bedroom Tax Federation, for example, or Stand Up In Bootle going from getting a thousand people on the streets on a Wednesday morning to imploding in a row over committees and control.

However, despite this, the anger remains. The Merseyside federation managed to pick itself back up after the storm and Bedroom Tax groups exist across half the country. There has been mass community action to chase off bailiffs and stories continue to come out about just how shitty and unjust the Bedroom Tax is.

That's the reason why Miliband has made his pledge. It has nothing to do with the potential of Labour to serve the interests of the working class in power because, in power, the realities of government take over. No politicians, and no party, will serve the interests of the working class unless this is the least disruptive approach for the interests of capital. In other words, unless they're afraid that if they don't we'll fuck shit up.

Miliband is making his promise not because he intends to scrap the Bedroom Tax, but because he hopes that we'll believe him. That we'll plough all the potential that exists for a ferocious struggle based around direct action into ensuring that Labour win the next election. That we'll channel our anger in a safe direction.

We don't need to believe the Labour Party, to work within them to push our interests, to vote for them without illusions or to vote for them at all. Because none of these things actually contribute to any gains for the working class and they never have. In fact, its worth noting that the fictional divide between "old" and "new" Labour is not based on the degree to which they served the interests of the working class, but the degree to which they gave the trade union bureaucracy a stake in managing working class expectations in order to serve the interests of capital.

Ed Miliband and the Labour Party are just another faction of the enemy class - the left wing of capital. To believe otherwise, as everyone making pronouncements about what "Labour should" do appears to, is to cling to a delusion. As long as we do that, and look to false watersheds like 2015, the only thing we are doing is diverting ourselves from the struggles we need to win.

Comments

Spikymike
Sep 21 2013 11:19

Sound arguments here by Phil, , but bear in mind that in the electioneering run up period each of the competing capitalist parties will come forward with one or two popular headline policies and may indeed even put them into practice if they are elected with a majority, but then only at the expense of damaging policies in other areas - it's all just more of the familiar 'divide and rule' strategy.

Steven.
Sep 21 2013 15:50
Spikymike wrote:
Sound arguments here by Phil, , but bear in mind that in the electioneering run up period each of the competing capitalist parties will come forward with one or two popular headline policies and may indeed even put them into practice if they are elected with a majority, but then only at the expense of damaging policies in other areas - it's all just more of the familiar 'divide and rule' strategy.

this is exactly right.

Even if they do get rid of this tax, they will cut the costs from working class people some other way. Like further benefit reductions across the board, more public service cuts, job cuts and below-inflationary pay and benefits rises.

It should be borne in mind that many of the worst Tory welfare policies of this government have been building on Labour policies, like workfare, limited housing benefit, assessments for the disabled etc. And these sorts of things will not be reversed by a future labour government, unless we make them.

superfurryandy
Sep 22 2013 00:06

Blair said he hated PFI. and he would get rid of it. Within a few years of power being achieved Brown was justifying PFI by saying public sector management was useless. So...

Peter Pannier
Sep 22 2013 18:16

Agree with this. Only positive is it maybe makes arguments with local (Labour) councils over bedroom tax more difficult for them, and easier for 'us'.

On Labour more broadly, I wrote this recently: Vote Labour in 2015: Going Forward with Tough Decisions on Performance Management, which covers similar ground related to a recent speech by Liam Byrne on social security (and will, eventually, similarly shred the Ed's speeches earlier in the year on Labour's approach to budgets - which is basically, as Steven almost says above: "Even if they do get rid of [x], they will cut the costs from working class people some other way"). I do think it is important to challenge (esp, tacit) supporters/even members of Labour, but to try to do so in a way that coaxes them away, rather than chiding them (well, depends on the person...)

I've been encouraging those enthusing about Labour/Miliband's recent stuff to watch Labour pre-election broadcast/Blair in 1997, by the way. An effective strategy, I think - what do others reckon?

Phil
Sep 23 2013 05:49
Peter Pannier wrote:
Agree with this. Only positive is it maybe makes arguments with local (Labour) councils over bedroom tax more difficult for them, and easier for 'us'.

Not necessarily, since Labour councillors don't effectively engage with "us" on honest terms. Even aside from politics not being a debating society, on all sides politicos rarely do anything other than offer monologues attacking a strawman version of their opponents.

Plus, I think the Owen Jones take on this is what most soft leftists and generally non-political folk will think, which makes arguing for an effective fight against Labour too all the harder.

silkandmatt52
Sep 23 2013 22:51

The Labour Party along with the unions are the first line of defence for the capitalist class which is what they have been for well over a hundred years. The problem is that the bulk of the working class does not beleive that there is any alternative to the LP just look at the rubble of various organisations that have tried and failed. In the case of the defeat , if this happens not certain it would because today Balls has pledged the Labour government to continue the spending cuts of the outgoing ConDems, of the BT this came about through a collection of struggles launched from the grassroots as well as well meaning lobbyists such as CAB. As far as I'm aware the campiagn against the BT never reached the same intensity as the fight against the poll tax did.