Unpopular decisions, unelected leader, undeclared coalition

Like Blair before him, Brown takes pride in making unpopular decisions – something which, as an unelected leader, he cannot be damaged by.

As for Labour MPs, most are too cowardly to rebel as it is: recall that it was Brown who orchestrated moves against Blair’s leadership, and that John McDonnell’s attempt to run against Brown in a leadership contest was defeated. Not even the Blairite loyalists who hate Gordon Brown had the guts to risk a leadership election taking place. The danger was not that McDonnell would defeat Brown, or even come close to doing so, but that the outcome would be a significant minority of Labour members and affiliates rejecting the neoliberal agenda.

There will be no effective opposition to Brown’s unpopular decisions from Her Majesty’s Opposition, though. The Tories aren’t that green..

Who will challenge the lies about “breaking the back of inflation” but imposing wage cuts on the public sector? How does this stop the inflationary pressure of high energy prices in this dangerous year?

And if they won’t challenge the logic, will the Tories and Liberal MPs vote against wage hikes for themselves? (My position is, of course, that MPs should be paid an average worker’s wage… then they’d start to challenge Brown’s lies about public sector pay!)

Here’s the Morning Star editorial on the “undeclared coalition” of Labour and the Tories:

IT has come to something when the Conservative opposition announces that, in the horrific eventuality that it comes to power, a Tory government would immediately launch a vicious onslaught on the sick, disabled and unemployed and all that Labour Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain can say is that the Tories are hijacking Labour Party policies.

However, the announcement itself at least removes any danger from lingering illusions about a new, touchy-feely, socially responsible, Conservative Party under the slimy David Cameron and reveals that the new Tories are just like the old-style Margaret Thatcher variety – red in tooth and claw, if not in politics.

Mr Cameron says that he wants to end the “something for nothing culture.” So let’s see him start with the ludicrous bonuses that award City money manipulators and stock-market sharks millions for little more than facilitating asset-stripping ram-raids on any business that looks vulnerable and, in the process of every bonus-earning adventure, costing tens of thousands of people their livelihoods.

But that’s not even a possibility with Mr Cameron and his cronies. Unfortunately, neither would it appear to be high on the list of priorities for Mr Hain.

Nor would either of them disagree with Tory spokesman Chris Grayling when he says that “we know there are at least 200,000 people in the United Kingdom who should be moved straight away from incapacity benefit and into jobs,” although quite where this certain knowledge comes from is not made clear.

Statements like that are unwelcome, not least because they are totally unfounded in any fact or study, something which Mr Grayling admits when he calls for “in-depth assessments” of all claimants prior to slinging them onto reduced benefits.

It has become a habit for leading politicians of all parties to make wild assertions and then make policy around them, as if the simple act of saying something outrageous makes it so.

People with permanent disabilities which make it impossible to work would continue to receive “unconditional” support, says Mr Grayling. On what basis he believes that support for disabled people is “unconditional” at the moment is, again, not made clear.

If Mr Cameron thinks that living on £81 per week disability benefit is such an attractive proposition that it is seducing millions into claiming it, he should try it some time.

And even if, after messrs Cameron and Grayling’s assessments, some thousands are shown to be swinging the lead, shouldn’t we ask why £81 is acceptable to anybody?

It would appear that Mr Cameron is still following the old Tory habit of trying to cut the grass from the roots upward.

If benefit at that pathetic level is in any way attractive, it surely indicates that there is something wrong with the quality of jobs on offer and that the decline in skilled employment has to be reversed.

And the government policy of continuously cutting public-sector wages isn’t likely to encourage people into work in the sector.

It also points to shortcomings in the minimum wage structure, including the overt discrimination against young people, which is an obvious factor in driving the youth of the country away from employment.

These should be the starting point for any policy but, considering the nature of both parties in Mr Brown’s undeclared but evident reactionary coalition, don’t hold your breath.

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Labour’s assault on national self-determination

[Monday]

Oh dear. As I wrote on Wednesday, Sir Emyr Jones Parry has been appointed as chair of a commission on holding a referendum on primary law-making powers for the Welsh Assembly.

Now Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain has spoken out, saying a referendum before the next election would return a “no” vote. This despite the timing of the referendum being linked to public opinion. In other words, the agreement between Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru was that a vote on primary law-making powers would be taken when there was public support for it. No government ever volunteers a referendum it thinks it will lose – just look at New Labour over the consti-treaty!

Here’s what Lenin Cymru says:

The idea of a referendum on or before May 2011 looked certain, after the Ieuan and Rhodri press conference earlier in the week. I noticed that even the display board in the background had the Plaid-driven terminology “One Wales Cymru’n Un”. Another sign that Plaid’s is providing the government’s direction. Following that conference, what else could regressive London Labour do? Answer: put up their reasonable face, Peter Hain to undermine that certainty.

Peter Hain’s arguments deserve a little dissection. He argues that an “early referendum would be lost” and that “there would not be a consensus in Westminster, most of Welsh Labour would be against an early referendum.” What he is really saying is that Labour MPs in London can’t handle this, the Labour party is too divided. He knows that to retain Labour MPs’ support and maintain the appearance of unity within the party, then he has to talk down the prospects of a referendum. Otherwise, it’ll be a won referendum and a ’99 election result all over again.

This Hain interview is no doubt designed to sure up the fractures growing ever more evident from the comments of the likes of Don Touhig on the unionist wing, the man who says a former UN ambassador is not up to the job of chairing the Welsh constitutional convention. Should Labour party unity, as Hain suggests, be the main criterion deciding when one should hold a referendum? Or should public opinion be the guiding light?

Sexy Plaid socialist Adam Price is pissed off:

Of course, we have been here before – this was the same Peter Hain that famously ruled out a Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition. Now that it exists, he seems determined to undermine it. What particularly was the motivation for yesterday’s remarks? Is he soothing furrowed brows among Westminster colleagues piqued at the appointment of Sir Emyr? Is he jostling for position with Rhodri Morgan as the true power-broker within Wales? Or is he as Secretary of State saying that the One Wales agreement only binds Labour in the Assembly not Labour at Westminster?

After all, what he actually said was: “I did not take the Government of Wales bill through, nor did MPs vote for it to be bounced into an early referendum”

To most people that sounds like a threat that the Westminster Goverment may veto a referendum – either directly or indirectly – which would effectively render the One Wales agreement null and void.

Considering that the Scottish Parliament has seen some good reforms for working class people, would voters really reject the Welsh Assembly having similar powers?

Hain also criticised the Tories, who have come out in favour of an English Grand Committees – or at least, Sir Malcolm Rifkind has done so, one never knows what Tory leader David Cameron thinks.

It’s clear that the Tories will try and do something about the West Lothian question – but not about the English question. There is majority support for an English parliament, according to opinion polls.

As for Labour, the only union it cares about these days is the United Kingdom. Harriet Harman, Labour’s Deputy Leader, was speaking out on The Andrew Marr Show this Sunday:

I think it’s right that we’ve devolved power, and this was a decision by the House of Commons to set up a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, and also to set up a Greater London Assembly.

So I think it’s right that you look at the constitution from time to time and see where you can devolve power.

But I don’t think it’s right to break up the United Kingdom, and I think that that’s where ultimately the suggestion of the Conservatives would go.