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Tuesday, September 15, 2015 

The sensible party, or the stupid party?

Never underestimate the Conservative party's innate stupidity.  If there is only one lesson to be drawn from today's vote on cutting tax credits, it's that the Tories haven't properly grasped the whole party of "working people" thing, despite their laughable rhetoric.  Here they are, presented with an opposition leader they couldn't have imagined in their wildest dreams, going to the TUC and praising strikers, attacking them as "poverty deniers", and what do they do?  Err, carry on with a policy which even they accept will take money away from those on low wages, money which will not be made up by either the "national living wage", or by any increases in the income tax threshold.

How many Tories rebelled against this remarkably dense act of hubris, which Labour will now be able to exploit from now until the election, even if voters don't notice immediately and it instead only dawns on them how much the government is fucking them over come next year when the change becomes apparent?  Two.  Yep.  Two Conservative MPs saw this cut for the disaster it is guaranteed to become, of a piece with Gordon Brown's cack-handed removal of the 10p tax band.  David Davis, who despite being a serial rebel and Cameron loather knows an act of idiocy when he sees one, and Stephen McPartland.  There were probably a few more who abstained, but I think we now know what happens to those who abstain.

You can at least somewhat understand George Osborne's line of thinking.  Do something this self-defeating now and it'll be forgotten come 2020, when all anyone will recall is they're getting £9 an hour thanks to him.  The media is currently far more interested in how Jeremy Corbyn refuses to do things their way, like not buttoning his shirt all the way up to the top and declining to sing the national anthem, both crimes against nature and politics that must be eradicated from public life, so there's plenty of distraction from the reality.  He's also gambling the level of antipathy to benefits in general has reached the point where to be claiming anything is a source of shame, and that a small thing like losing £750 a year on average will be reflected on in relation to the apparent desire of voters to reduce the welfare bill overall.

Who knows, perhaps if Corbyn is still Labour leader come 2020 then we'll see a re-run of the last election with knobs on.  Regardless of everything the coalition had done, including their worst instincts being somewhat tempered by the Lib Dems, forced to choose between Miliband and Cameron there turned out to be no choice.  There are therefore two ways the Tories can respond to Corbyn and Labour.  Call them the sensible, and the stupid.  The sensible way would be to let Corbyn get on with taking Labour to the left, not least because this entirely vacates the centre ground.  The Tories won in May not because there was even the slightest real affection for them, but as they were in many people's eyes the least worst option.  Few believed the Tories meant it when they said £12bn in welfare cuts and promised further eye-watering cutbacks, thinking they were bargaining positions in coalition negotiations.  Why then carry on with cuts that look and feel ideological when Labour will oppose them regardless?  Truly be that moderate, one nation party, rather than leaving it as a risible soundbite.

Alternatively, there is the stupid approach.  Regard Corbyn as such a liability and lightweight that no one could possibly consider voting for him, and just carry on as before.  Remake the British state in the 21st century Tory party image, with trade unions cut even further down to size, the welfare system reduced to not so much a safety net as a half empty bucket of water, and public services deprived of resources to the point where crisis is permanent rather than seasonal.  Favour those who vote over those who don't, featherbed the retiring boomers while actively penalising their children and grandchildren, and hope against hope they'll continue to blame those below them rather than those above.  The Tories might think they'll be able to get away with it, not least when the media is so overwhelmingly on their side.

Forget Corbyn though for a second.  The media eventually tires of letting governments off the hook, whether of the right or left.  When the Tories were going through their useless stage during the first two Blair terms, the press stepped into the breach.  There's no guarantee that if their readers start hurting, as they will, that they won't start to consider themselves the true opposition just as they did previously.  There are only so many times the same brown-nosing served up in response to the last two budgets can be reprinted.

Especially when the Tories seem set on acting with the same level of arrogance as New Labour did at its height.  Apparently parliament cannot be informed of so much as the gist of the legal advice given by the attorney general Jeremy Wright over the killing of Reyaad Khan in Syria, as this would undermine cabinet collective responsibility or possibly deter law officers from giving their "full and frank" opinions.  That this might just be a cover for how the legal advice seems to amount to that briefed last week, that Khan had to be killed because he was the mastermind behind imminent plots against events that had passed without incident is of no apparent concern to a government convinced it can do as it likes.  When it has the nerve to demand that strike ballots must have the support of at least 40%, having won only 37% itself, still intends to criminalise "legal highs" across the board, regardless of whether that has the unfortunate effect of making other drugs similarly prohibited, and continues to cuddle up to and sell weapons to the Saudis, currently trying its best to make Yemen as uninhabitable as Syria, a fall is going to come sooner rather than later.  Underestimating Corbyn is one thing; playing into his hands is another.

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