I’ve always maintained that the Labour Party is not ‘the party of the unemployed’ and people on working age benefits should not expect an incoming Labour government to ‘give them a break’. It ought to be obvious, but I remember unemployed people after Tony Blair swept to power expressing anger and surprise that draconian Tory legislation was not repealed and in some cases, was turned up a notch, and not forgetting, it was Labour who brought in ATOS to do their dirty work where sickness and disability were concerned.
New Labour – in particular – was anxious to woo the working electorate and the expanding middle class rather than their traditional, but shrinking working class voter base. In the past, a flexible pool of casual labour relied on ‘the dole’ as something to fall back on between jobs. But that kind of casual labour has been legislated almost out of existence. The government applies pressure for people to seek permanent employment. Unemployment was once seen as a period ‘between jobs’; now it is seen as the result of redundancy and viewed by many employers as a failure to adapt.
But there is another problem facing the British Unemployed. The European labour pool is proving quicker to respond to change. Skilled people made redundant in other European countries can often respond to new vacancies in Britain before British workers have had the chance to retrain for the new skills these new jobs require. This would not matter if British workers were prepaired to seek new vacancies as they appeared abroad, but they are not so flexible and for a good reason; the British have been encouraged to buy property. Far more accommodation is rented in continental Europe than over here. British workers who are struggling to keep up payments on the house they bought from the council in the 90s are hardly in a position to drop everything, up sticks and head south for the winter.
In the 1960s and 70s, something called ‘the Tory Ratchet’ used to operate; a Conservative government ‘conserved’ the reforms of the previous Labour administration. But the Conservative Party became anxious to change this, and with Margaret Thatcher and her successors they have striven to do just that. And Labour has fallen in step. Now we have a ‘Labour Ratchet’ where an incoming Labour government conserves the reactionary changes of the previous Conservative government.
The ratchet mechanism is very seductive: it is all to do with the high cost of reversing legislation; that is ‘cost’ in votes as well as money. Now all governments tend to be ‘conservative’ – with a small ‘c’. The present government just cannot raise the finance to change much of the Blairite reforms, so they are concentrating on cuts in service delivery and welfare. But such actions are costly to reverse. The Tory strategy is to give tax cuts and pay for them out of welfare and service cuts. An incoming Labour government could only reverse all of these by introducing a whopping tax hike – and not many working voters would vote for that.
Milliband knows that he just cannot promise to reverse this strategy; Cameron and Co have cleverly flattered and bribed the employed majority. They have used ‘divide and rule’ rhetoric to set the employed working class against the unemployed, even the sick and disabled unemployed, and the employed working class has swallowed it hook, line and sinker.