John McDonnell MP has sent the following open letter to his Labour colleagues:
Proposed Welfare Benefits Bill
As you know, Osborne announced that the Coalition is to bring forward before Christmas a Bill to sanction the cuts in welfare benefits set out in yesterday’s autumn statement.
We all know that there is no need for primary legislation to implement these cuts and that this is his crude and blatantly cynical attempt to lay what he considers will be a political trap for Labour.
In his crude political terms, his obvious aim is to be able to claim that if Labour votes against or abstains on his Bill then we are on the side of the so called skivers whilst the Tories are the champions of the strivers. If we do vote for the Bill he will then cite our vote as support for his attack on benefits.
Like many right wing politicians over the years, when their policies are demonstrably failing they reach for a scapegoat. It’s often the poor simply because they haven’t the power to defend themselves.
I believe that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be dragged into the gutter of politics by Osborne’s exploitation of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.
Instead of falling for this grubby trap us let’s take them on, on this issue.
If we have the courage and behave astutely, we could turn this cynical ploy by Osborne into an opportunity for us to transform the debate on the issues of welfare, poverty, unemployment and fairness in our society.
This means stop all hesitation on this matter and making it clear now that we are not voting for this cynical attack on the poorest, which includes cutting benefits to many people in work and struggling to survive on low pay and often poverty wages.
It means saying now that we are taking the Tories on, on the issue of fairness. Nobody, especially ordinary working people, likes a skiver but there are mechanisms that can deal with this and if they need improving well let’s have that debate. The fact is that it is becoming increasingly obvious to our people that it is the rich and wealthy, who are ripping us off with tax dodging. It is equally becoming obvious whose side the Tories are on.
Let’s seize upon this opportunity to highlight the real facts about the hardship that so many of our people are facing. Most of our community are under pressure. Many are only a couple of pay packets away from a life on the edge. Many others have tipped over into debt and poverty.
Let’s turn the tables on Osborne and use this opportunity to expose this reality and offer our alternative of a fair tax system and investment for growth led employment.
Let’s get out there and build the coalition of all those people and organisations who are willing to speak out on what is happening to our people. That means nationally and locally bringing together not just all the charities and campaigning organisations that take an interest in poverty and welfare but all the churches, mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras, community organisations and anyone with a conscience on this issue.
Let’s lead in forming a new national coalition against poverty and those who attack the poor.
Let’s enlist the support of people from all walks of life, including artists and performers, in the same way we did in the fight against the prejudice of the Nazis against black people and ethnic minorities.
In many ways it’s the same struggle against prejudice mobilised by cynical politicians.
It should start though by making it clear immediately that we are not playing Osborne’s cynical political games. We are not voting for his cuts to the poor.
John McDonnell MP