Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

The party of work, not welfare?

Liz Kendall’s core message apparently includes the statement that Labour should be seen as the party of “work not welfare”. (BBC News Website 4 August 2015 : Liz Kendall: I’m an ‘all or nothing’ person)

Kind of says it all, doesn’t it? Labour – the traditional party of the working class, the major cheer-leader (if not originator) of the welfare state – should see themselves facing a choice between “work” or “welfare”.

It’s a false choice.In 1945 the Labour party campaigned (and won!) on a platform addressing the “five great evils” of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor, and Idleness.

Yet now a section of the successor party wants to make Idleness the great evil – and a specific form of idleness – lack of desire to work the greatest evil. This is a perversion of the vision of 1945 and is aping not just the Tories but the worst of the American Republicans.

Work is of course a means to ensure personal viability in a capitalist society – but the avoidance of idleness can (and should) also be a means to self-fulfilment.

Work in the pure capitalist sense is the provision of labour to create wealth – in the hope that the worker will see some fraction of that wealth come their way. In a pure capitalist society that is it. That is why we used to see dockers queuing every morning each hoping to be selected to work, knowing that without work they would have no income. That is why we now see (or more accurately don’t see) workers on zero hour contracts scanning their mobiles each morning to see if they have work.

If work is the be all and end all we have a society that is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and possibly short. If you have wealth that may be OK – you have capital to tide you over and insulate you from that society. If you have a specific rare skill (such as say interbank trading) that may also be OK – you can be confident of finding work and returning to the rat-race.

But if you don’t have wealth or a rare skill, the fear of the evils of Want and Squalor is very real and for society to be merely tolerable – no more – you need some reassurance that there is some form of protection from these twin evils.

“Work not Welfare” explicitly denies this need and any party that hopes to appeal to those who are not materially secure needs to do better.



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