The news that the Labour will acquiesce in the Department for Work and Pensions’ efforts to speed a retroactive law through Parliament will come as a disappointment to many Party members. The hastily drafted legislation will effectively reverse the outcome of a Court of Appeal judgement and guarantee that the Government will not have to pay some £130 million in benefit rebates.
That so many Labour MPs have chosen to abstain seems perverse. What is the point of the Labour Party, if not to guarantee that those at the bottom of the economic ladder are protected? By abstaining, they are ensuring the passage of legislation which will withhold benefits from those entitled to them, undermine the legal system and drive a wedge between MPs, trade unionists and ordinary Labour members. Indeed, by failing to provide adequate resistance to the rushed legislation Labour is also failing to provide effective opposition. As General Secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, suggests “This is a cynical move by the Tory-led government to avoid giving rightful compensation to jobseekers who have fallen foul of the incompetence of the Department of Work and Pensions. When will they learn that rushed law is bad law?”
McCluskey seems to sum up the frustrations of ordinary Labour activists. Although Ed Milliband has steadied the ship and begun the fightback against the Coalition admirably, questions remain as to his robustness and he is yet to provide a vision which will win over Party members. The performance of Blairite Liam Byrne also highlights the ideological division at the heart of the PLP and suggests disorganisation in Westminster.
Today’s Workfare vote won’t spell the end of anyone’s political career and will undoubtedly be relegated to a footnote in 2013’s ‘The Year in Politics’. However, the decisions made by the vast majority of Labour MPs today raise questions as to the Party’s course and the disconnection between members, trade unions and MPS.
For Ed Milliband’s sake he needs to remedy this situation sooner, rather than later.