opposition? what opposition?

Posted: 15 July 2015 in politics
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A while back, I wrote a post entitled wanted: one effective opposition. This was long before I joined the Labour party, long before I had any intention of joining a political party, and certainly long before I knew that Ed Miliband’s Labour party would lose the 2015 general election. Within the post I made several points about the the bedroom tax, tax avoidance and the hypocrisy of politicians. I still stand by everything I wrote, and nothing’s got much better since.

However, the effectiveness of the opposition has undoubtedly got worse in the past couple of months. Possibly, we should have expected it as Labour goes through one of its now semi-regular navel gazing processes while it decides who’s going to be their next leader and deputy leader. As I wrote the other day, I’m still unsure who’ll get my vote for the former, and that vote will play a large part in who I vote for as deputy. If it’s Liz Kendall or Yvette Cooper (and I’m leaning ever so slightly towards Cooper) then I believe they’ll need an attack dog as deputy, and there’s no one in the deputy leadership race who comes close to Tom Watson on that score. If it’s Andy Burnham who gets my vote, then I’m pretty sure I’ll cast the deputy leadership vote for Stella Creasy. But that’s for the future. I’m attending my first leadership hustings on Sunday and I’m hoping that the experience will give me some push to my decision.

In my piece the other day, I wrote:

But you know what, I’ve some sympathy with one very Corbyn view of things: that the purpose of the Labour party isn’t to just roll over and accept the welfare… well, more accurately, not well, and not fair… policies of the Conservative Party. So, the Tory government was elected. Right. OK. That doesn’t mean that the electorate agreed wholeheartedly with the offering made by the Conservatives. It means that the offering from Labour didn’t convince the public, a very different thing indeed. 

The important thing there is in the first couple of lines: the purpose of an opposition party isn’t to accept the government’s presentation of things as facts. Further, the purpose of an opposition party, especially five years out from an election is, guess what, to oppose.

Would someone like to let Harriet Harman, the interim/acting leader of the Labour Party know this essential truth? It’s Harman who explained her committing the Labour Party – at least in the immediate future – to not fight the child tax credit cuts and certain other welfare reforms by saying the party could not “oppose everything” and that “We’ve got the Budget coming forward next week and a number of bills that the government is bringing forward, whilst I’m interim leader I have to decide how we’re going to respond to those.” She said that Labour’s big defeats in the last two elections meant it could not adopt “blanket opposition”.

You know what, Harriet, for someone who’s been in opposition for twenty of your thirty-three years in Parliament, I’d have thought you’d have figured out that the purpose of opposition is to oppose. You’re there to hold the government to account, to make the government exert some bloody effort to get its legislation through; you’re definitely not there to make it easy for the government. If the party agrees with something the government does, then you use the procedures of the House to improve the legislation. What you don’t do as an opposition is whimper quietly, roll over, expect a tickle on your tummy and and then play dead.

I have rarely been as disappointed in a leader of the opposition, temporary or permanent, as I have been by Harriet Harman in the weeks since the election. Look, she may be demob happy, she maybe can’t wait to get out of the position of responsibility. Tough; this is the job she accepted when she stood for deputy leader. If she wants to resign, fine, go ahead, let there be another temporary leader until the election. Hell, there’ll only be one PMQs before the leadership result is known, and you can let Chukka do that one, since he’s not standing for leader this time.

But please, please, please... EITHER start opposing and doing your bloody job, OR step aside and let someone else do it. Because right now, the job of opposing the government isn’t being done properly by the official opposition. And it needs to be. Good government requires strong opposition. And whatever the official party of opposition currently is… it’s presenting itself as weak as a three day old malnourished kitten.

I mentioned that last year, I wrote a post entitled Wanted: one effective opposition. I ended that post with the following:

This should be the time when the official opposition should be challenging the government every bloody day. And they’re not. At all. They should – less than a year out from the next general election – be ripping the Government a new hole daily. 

Do I want a Labour party in power? I don’t know – show me their next manifesto and I’ll tell you.

Until then, I’d be content with them proving they actually bloody want the job.

Right now, Harriet Harman is doing nothing to convince me that’s changed.

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