The Constitutional Merry-Go-Round
The press reports with a sort of sweet innocence that is disgusting in the circumstances that Boris Johnson has defended the government’s plans to cut universal credit while refusing to say whether he could live on the basic payment it provides of £118 a week. Apparently he was questioned by reporters during his trip to the US this week, but the prime minister declined three times to answer whether he could survive on the Universal Credit payment. Asked if he could live on £118 a week, and whether the cut, coming into force on 6 October, risked becoming a political problem, Johnson said: “I have every sympathy for people who are finding it tough, I really, really do.”
I mean, it was a cute line of questioning but, really? Asking the Bullingdon Club PM who upgraded his personal flat with gold wallpaper at £840 a roll – using the help of interior designer Lulu Lytle to the tune of £200k – if he could get by on £188 a week was more gaslighting than journalism. Anyone who uses the phrase “leveling up” in all seriousness in the context of the British government’s current messaging is engaging in propaganda, no more no less.
Even Gordon Brown, who, given that he wrote the cheques for the Iraq War knows a thing or two about the ‘indefensible’ has called “The £20 benefit cut the most morally indefensible thing I’ve seen in politics.”
The former Prime Minister has called out the cuts, which even now Tory Ministers are trying to side-away from, trying desperately to disassociate themselves from their own colleagues social malice. He noted: “Already almost 50% of families with three or more children are below the poverty line. The £20 cut to universal credit will push 500,000 more people into poverty. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, there will be 300,000 more children pushed into poverty, taking the child poverty rate to one in every three children.”
I’m not sure if this one in three kids can see the glint of Carrie’s gold wallpaper from Brexit’s Sunlit Uplands? It might be of comfort if they did.
What to do about living in such a sick society?
This week we were told in the Daily Record by Labour’s sole representative north of the border that “Scottish voters have to decide. If they wish to change the colour of the government at Westminster they have to participate in UK politics.” Ahead of the Labour conference in Brighton, Ian Murray said Scotland would be stuck in a “constitutional merry-go-round” unless his party makes an electoral break-through.
In comments that sounded like deep-level delusion as Murray added: “Our job, our half of the deal, is to give them a policy platform and a party that they can feel is a credible alternative government. Hopefully, the two sides can come together and they can vote for us.” This was unfortunate timing as Sir Keir Starmer announced he would try and abolish one person one vote within the Labour Party and produced a speech so anodyne, so conciliatory, so meaningless it left many, even of his own supporters stunned into silent disappointment.
The problem for Ian Murray’s argument is that there is no credible alternative government. Even giving Starmer the benefit of the doubt that he has suffered from not having Westminster sitting, and that a reigning government is given support by the public in a national emergency, his 14,000 essay leaked to the press was widely panned.
A New Chapter for a New Britain hovered somewhere between George Lucas and Peter Mandelson and consists almost entirely of political platitudes and clichés. What is entirely clear is that he is abandoning his campaigning pledge to “common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water” and to crackdown on corporate tax avoidance, of which there was not a peep in his lengthy bromide. In Starmer’s essay, that focus has been swept away and replaced by a declaration that, “the role of government is to be a partner to private enterprise, not stifle it.”
He says clearly: “We would do things differently. In order to put contribution and community at the centre of our efforts, we would build an effective partnership of state and private sector to prioritise the things that we have seen really matter: health, living conditions, working conditions and the environment.”
It’s astonishing that, in the face of such monumental corruption and global failure by Johnson’s regime, and in the teeth of the most unprecedented social crisis of our lifetimes, Labour’s answer is a sort of re-heated version of Blairism.
It’s for this that Ian Murray pleads: “The bold message to Scots, and a very similar thing happened in Canada after the Quebec referendum, is that if Scots want rid of the Tories, they have to re-engage with UK politics. Because they could elect 59 SNP MPS and it will not change the political map of the UK, it will just keep us on this grievance agenda.”
There could be no clearer message from Murray and Starmer: Labour presents no real change and no real challenge to Johnson’s government.
It’s a dismal prospect: elect us and we’ll do nothing, or express your will as an overwhelming alternative to the Disaster Zone that is the British State and we’ll ignore you.
British Democracy, either way is pretty broken as are the wastelands of poverty it presides over.
Murray’s attitude is astonishing. It feels like a mixture of Old School False Class Consciousness mingled with a dollop of Muscular Unionism and a solid dose of Compulsory Britishness.
Even with a Merry-Go-Round you get the change to get off now and again. With Murray and Starmer’s approach – both increasingly bland yet also morally irresponsible – the Merry-Go-Round you can’t get off (“they have to participate in UK politics”) feels more like a Helter Skelter of chaos and disorder, more Manson than McCartney.
Paradox and dark irony fall over themselves in reading Scottish Labour’s messages.
Someone should remind Ian Murray that by electing MPs to Westminster the Scottish people ARE engaging with UK politics. It shouldn’t need to be spelled out. It’s called an election in what purports to be a functioning democracy. If you don’t want to accept the outcome of that election you should say so.
In this sense we now know that Labour and Conservative are two sides of the same coin (that’s the polite version). On the one side you are told: “there can be no circumstances where a referendum to decide your constitutional future can take place.” On the other side you are told: “You must take place in UK politics but if you choose a result we are not happy with we will ignore and condemn you.”
In the meantime we are told to watch the shelves empty, the heating bills rise and the order-chain collapse as the Government We Didn’t Elect presides over the “morally indefensible”.
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