This week, we hear the Department of Work and Pensions has made up quotes from sanctioned benefits claimants for a leaflet. These fictitious people were pleased they had been sanctioned because it made them up their job search game. No wonder they had to make them up! My experience is those who are sanctioned often do not understand why. Or they understand and know they have been unfairly treated. Like the man I met who had lost his home and was staying with someone else – just think through the trauma that is involved in that – so when a jobcentreplus appointment was sent to his old home he missed it and then lost his benefits. He was reliant on the charity of foodbanks and friends.
The Tories have been in power for 100 days and this is not an isolated story of incompetence and harshness from the Tory government. But we in the Labour party are too busy navel-gaving to take them to task as they deserve. We have heard a lot about the Tories during the leadership contest, but not in the way that we should: Tories voting in it; members of our own party called Tories for having the temerity to suggest we should engage with the world as it is rather than we would like it to be. But the real question for our new leader is: how will you oppose the Tories over the next five years and beat them in 2020?
There will be some waters to navigate along the way, such as the referendum on the European Union. But it is tricky for them too: they only have a majority of 12. They have already backtracked over hunting, English votes for English laws and the Human Rights Act. Economic issues are always going to be harder to split them over, but already my 2015 opponent and another Tory backbencher have attacked them over the changes to tax credits. We need our leader to be ready to seize these moments and turn them to both tactical and strategic advantage.
The debacle over the welfare bill turned our contest inward and we still have not really addressed George Osborne’s adoption of some of our clothing over the minimum wage in particular, in his budget. Yet, if we learned anything from 2010 it is that this summer can frame the whole five-year parliament and the next election. The debate needs to be about how best to take them on.
We know now that they were economical with the truth during the campaign and many (including those who voted Tory) will suffer from Tory policies – but simply telling the electorate this is not enough – because they do not trust us. They recognise our compassion and our sincerity, but they do not believe we will make the tough decisions to get the economy on the right track and change our country for the better. I believe, as I believed on May 8, that they are beatable in 2020 – the question is how we do it and what we need to do over the next five years to be in a position to.