The benefits of an effective opposition

THE HOUSE of Lords on Monday evening voted decisively to delay David Cameron’s and George Osborne’s plans to cut working tax credits for hundreds of thousands of low-paid workers. Such a delay can only be temporary but nevertheless Chancellor George Osborne has been forced to rewrite his budget planned to be announced next month and to reduce the cuts by around £4.4 billion — what he calls “transitional help”. Hundreds of thousands of people will now have a better Christmas and New Year.

There were two defeats for the tax credit cuts in the Lords: peers voted by a majority of 17 to back Labour calls for the Government to provide full financial redress to the millions of tax credit claimants who will be affected when their entitlements are reduced. Peers inflicted a second defeat by backing a motion tabled by cross-bencher Molly Meacher to delay the cuts until an assessment of their financial impact is carried out.

It just goes to show what can be achieved now we have an opposition that actually makes an effort to oppose instead of just passively accepting whatever savage austerity measures the Tories dish out.

It suggests that the 2012 Health Act, which restructured the NHS to make it more accessible to piecemeal privatisation, could and should have been challenged much more vigorously by Ed Miliband. Labour does not have to sit on its hands between elections; even in opposition it can still make an effective defence of working class interests.

It’s a bit like the US Airforce in Iraq and Syria pretending to be combatting ISIS terrorism until the Russian Airforce comes along and does the job properly. It exposes the double-faced hypocrisy of Washington and New Labour. Washington is really behind the extremist terrorists and New Labour was really supporting the swingeing cuts.

Jeremy Corbyn has also earned the wrath of the Saudi ambassador in London for scuppering a British government contract deal with Riyadh to advise on prison reform, by attacking Saudi Arabia’s appalling record on human rights. It shows you can shame the Tories if you really try.

Now George Osborne and David Cameron are whingeing about the democratic anachronism that still gives power to the unelected House of Lords to delay measures passed by elected MPs — as if they had only just noticed. And this is from men who, a few years ago, wanted to give a senior Cabinet post to an unelected billionaire Tory peer, Lord Ashcroft, who will not even live in this country because he does not want to pay his taxes here — and who summoned unelected multi-millionaire Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber from his New York home under a three-line whip to support the Tories’ plans to reduce hundreds of thousands of hard-up workers to impossible debt and destitution.

Cameron and Osborne have been making the case, hypocritically, that tax credits paid to those in work subsidise mean bosses and allow wages to fall below subsistence level. That is true. But the measly 20 pence-an-hour increase in the minimum wage that workers have received this year goes nowhere near making up the difference for workers who were about to lose £1,300-a-year in tax credits.

Wages have fallen far too low for far too long to withdraw tax credits just like that. The best way to get wages rising again is to unshackle the unions and return to proper collective bargaining. But the Tories are planning the opposite; they want even more shackles put on the unions.

They say that in 2020 the minimum wage will have risen to £9-an-hour and that will remove the need for tax credits. But with housing, domestic fuel and travel costs soaring, the chances of that putting wages above subsistence level are remote.

And the Tories are still planning to force the unemployed and the disabled to work for these same greedy bosses for no money at all. They cannot claim to be market purists one minute and the next give their big business friends endless free labour subsidised by taxpayers. Hopefully delaying the cuts will allow a more intensive fight against them, now that people know the struggle is worthwhile — and the sham battles about parliamentary democracy will show up just what a joke it is and will lead to a growing demand for a better system — a workers’ democracy.