Workfare is hemorrhaging credibility. It’s high time that Labour’s leaders opened their timid mouths.
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When workfare was first brought in, I was disappointed by Labour’s failure to oppose the policy, yet I did not scream “betrayal”. This was an issue on which the room for for manoeuvre was genuinely limited. The sheer popularity of the measure – a function of widespread public hostility to the unemployed – made it tricky to oppose.
Things, however, can change. Yesterday the results of government commissioned research were revealed. It has been found that mandatory work activity has no impact when it comes to getting people into work. The policy is objectively a failure.
This comes just two weeks after the scandal of unpaid Jubilee stewards being made to sleep under Bridge – wherein the nation was able to see exactly what kinds of businesses are taking up the offer of unpaid labour. If ever there was a good moment to try and shift the consensus on workfare – and indeed unemployment – it is now.
Yet from labour’s leadership a stony silence comes. Backbenchers like Tom Watson and John Prescott have done great work in publicising what went on at the Jubilee. Grass roots activists – people who don’t get paid for doing politics – have done even better work in shaming companies that exploit unpaid labour. Yet we still do not even know whether Labour’s top brass consider the treatment of the Jubilee stewards to be a good thing or a bad thing.
It is something of a cliche to say that politicians should lead public opinion, rather than simply trailing it. Certainly, that is something that is often more easily said than done. Yet their are also crucial moments at which it is possible to shift an ugly prevailing consensus. This is one such consensus, and this is one such moment. Unfortunately those elected to lead the Labour movement in parliament appear too timid, too risk averse, and too disengaged from those whom they might wish to shift, to even attempt such a thing. Back to business as usual, in all of its horror.
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