Over the past 21 months I have had many moments when I have felt close to despair about the behaviour of our parliamentarians. Sometimes, like voting in favour of tuition fees, they can rightly point to the Coalition Agreement – endorsed overwhelmingly – as Nick Clegg observed at the time – by a North Korean like Special Conference. Other times, like voting against party policy on Legal Aid and Welfare Reform – there is no such defence. Last night calls into question the fundamental values and principles of our party, not just in terms of flying in the face of our declared aim that “no one should be enslaved by poverty” but also in terms of the so called sovereignty of conference. How often have our parliamentarians and others crowed about the democratic nature of our party? What price that democracy now? Now that a motion overwhelmingly supported at Federal Conference last year can be so blatantly ignored? Our leadership are demonstrating in just how much contempt they hold us.
Credit must go to those few who were prepared to stick to their principles last night, not least Ming Campbell – and earlier in the “other place” many of our peers, such as Meral Ece, Joan Walmsley and Paddy Ashdown. Everyone else should hang their heads in shame. I have no doubt that many were squirming as they walked through the yes lobby, but squirming’s not enough. Hitting the most vulnerable, the seriously ill, disabled children, abandoned mothers. Mealy mouthed excuses about having won concessions won’t wash anymore. This is about honesty and integrity in politics, something we thought important enough to put on the front of our manifesto when seeking power, but clearly not important enough to demonstrate once in power.
On the benefits cap, of course it is crazy the amount of benefits that are going to some large families, mainly living in the South East, but the problem could surely be better addressed through rent controls and building more social housing? This dreadful bill will achieve legally what Dame Shirley Porter (why was she never stripped of her honour?) tried illegally.
And on under occupancy, yes of course, invest in schemes that support and encourage people to downsize, but isn’t it ironic that the same people who argue against a mansion tax because it may mean folk have to downsize to a smaller mansion, are the same people who think it is OK to force poorer people to give up their homes?
I am well used to being accused of bringing the party into disrepute for daring to question the direction of our leadership – well to perfectly frank – I don’t think it’s me, or those like me, who are fighting to maintain everything our party says it stand for, who should be so condemned.
I am afraid I am sick to death of the facile arguments in favour of this bill. It changes the goal posts, this is no longer just about the deserving and undeserving poor, everyone is now being characterised as undeserving. The dehumanising that is going on now of all those who claim benefits is scary, verging on fascist and certainly not liberal.
Federal Policy Committee meets on Wednesday and Gareth Epps and I have asked for this to be on the agenda. It is high time our parliamentary party were taken to task for treating the wider party with such contempt, but even more important that they are taken to task for betraying the values they claim to share. And, as George Potter has eloquently pointed out, this is people’s lives we are talking about, people whose “side” we claim to be on.
* Linda Jack is a member of the party's Diversity Engagement Group