‘It’s welfare.’ She said it with such a sneer, I felt my insides turn over. As I looked over at the Tory MP sat on the Treasury bench, I knew exactly what was happening. That old Tory tune was on repeat: stigmatise getting help, tell a tale that those with success got it on their own, let those with less fall, and then unwind the structures that make life a bit more fair.
We were talking about tax credits in the House of Commons. These ‘credits’ are based on the idea that in time when life costs a lot more – when you’ve got kids for example – you should pay negative tax on the grounds that otherwise work might not pay very well. It is a simple principle. Yet there’s clearly many in the Tory ranks that don’t get it. As far as this particular MP was concerned, condemning millions of ordinary families by labelling them as ‘on welfare’ was fair game. Never mind that you can’t get tax credits without also possessing the dignity of employment. She felt entitled to look down her nose at them, from the height of the Treasury bench. No such thing as solidarity from there.
Opposing this lot is not just going to be frustrating like the last five years, it’s going to be hard work. But, never whinge. That’s my first rule in politics. Never, ever whinge.
The reason why IPSA are so heinously wrong about MPs’ pay (and why I’ll be donating my payrise to charity) is because there are loads of people in a much worse position than us. To whinge about anything is to ignore this nakedly obvious fact. To complain about my lot is to turn inward and ignore the distress of others.
So it goes against my habit and nature to raise any grievance about the allegations made in my direction during the leadership election. If people want to disagree with me, then great. I am in the debating business, after all.
There is, however, a line.
My comrades and I just fought a gruelling election campaign. I watched a young volunteer in Wirral refuse again and again to stop campaigning even when it was clear she was unwell. I had to row with her to get her to go home to bed. Another experienced volunteer would mislead me saying that he was going home (for a rest) then actually stay up half the night to enter data and crunch numbers. He was exhausted, like many in our party, but utterly determined to put his own comfort on the line, day after day after day, for the sake of Labour’s cause and Labour’s values.
Winning for me has always been hard. I have always fought battles it was not certain Labour could win. My friends and comrades in our movement put their own lives and families second in order that I might represent our home town in Wirral in Parliament, and stand up for our principles.
So the notion that I would want a leader of our party who stood for anything other than those principles is abhorrent. That would truly be a betrayal.
I am not a Tory and I won’t be called one.
So, to the deficit. At a recent hustings where I was representing one of the leadership candidates, I was asked why the deficit mattered. Isn’t it just a Tory line? Shouldn’t we just change the narrative, and maybe talk about jobs and growth instead?
My first thought when I heard the question was, ‘interesting, but I can’t see that one is a like for like swap for the other’. After all, I’ve heard Osborne talk about both jobs and growth himself.
And, as I answered, the fact is, if our idea is to tell the public “No, no, the deficit doesn’t matter,” it’s just a free hit for the Tories. They will point across the room and say, “There you go, Labour’s only prescription once again: spend, spend, spend.” Of course the budget deficit matters. Without dealing with it, we are beholden to our creditors. Our strength to deal with risks and challenges is diminished. And far better to invest in changing our country, rather than increasing debt repayments.
And if you think sound public finances matter at all, to look away whilst Osborne yet again breaks his own promises on the deficit is not just fail as a potential government, it’s to fail as an opposition.
At the same hustings, one of the others representing a candidate said that their chosen one represented the ‘moral’ choice.
I winced. Hackles raised, I said we all had our moral reasons for the choice we had made. In my case, because I know from the lives of those I really care about what it means to have a Labour government or not.
From older loved ones making the hardest of choices, friends whose parents lost their home in 1992, and the many people who were forced to leave the city they loved during my youth because there weren’t enough chances there, these were all wounds that had to be healed.
And in large part, they were. Not least in instituting a system of the national minimum wage and tax credits that would ensure that Merseyside (and places like it) didn’t any more fall behind as the rest of the economy grew.
Now our job is to make sure everyone in our country has the chance of a decent, fulfilling life. And because we believe in solidarity, we don’t just want that for ourselves, but for everybody together. That’s our moral stance; it’s what I believe, it’s what Liz believes.