From PIP cuts to the Trade Union Bill, Labour has repeatedly forced the government onto the back foot, writes DIANE ABBOTT
IN SEPTEMBER 2016, Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party with the biggest personal mandate in the history of our party.
He won with more than 251,000 of 422,000 votes. As John Prescott said at the time: “The party gave an overwhelming endorsement to this man [who] got more votes than Tony Blair.”
Since then he has framed the political debate in remarkable ways. But he has received little credit, both for shaping the debate, and subsequent parliamentary victories against the government’s ideologically driven austerity agenda.
It has been forgotten that, immediately after the 2015 general election, the then leadership of the Labour Party was intent on accepting the Tory direction of travel on welfare and benefits.
The argument was that polling showed this was very popular with the public. Hence Labour MPs were supposed to abstain on certain aspects. But when Jeremy became leader he reversed this position. Instead the Labour Party offered clear and principled opposition in Parliament.
We saw the correctness of this stance when, eventually after weeks of growing political pressure, George Osborne had to withdraw his proposed cuts to tax credits.
Then this year, when Osborne made his Budget speech, he confirmed an earlier announcement of cuts to personal independence payments (PIP), which would have meant over 200,000 disabled people losing almost £3,000 a year each.
Contrary to some who would seek to withhold any credit from Labour and its leadership for the defeat of those cuts, our firm opposition played a central role in setting the framework of the discussion around the cuts, and in exposing their unfairness.
When Corbyn spoke in the Budget debate responding to Osborne he made the PIP cuts a centrepiece of his speech to illustrate the unfair nature of the Budget as a whole.
This became the news story, with the media reporting the following day increasing unease about the proposed cuts among Tory MPs.
By the next evening Tory Education Minister Nicky Morgan was on BBC TV Question Time saying that the cuts were only a “suggestion.”
And by the following day Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith had resigned with the incendiary words: “I hope as the government goes forward you can look again … at the balance of the cuts you have insisted upon and wonder if enough has been done to ensure ‘we are all in this together’.”
If Labour hadn’t forcefully opposed these changes — as part of presenting a credible alternative to the unfair Budget — then how would the political pressure have built up to a degree where the PIP cuts were scrapped?
This example illustrates clearly how forcing this government into U-turns and partial retreats is making a real, material difference to the lives of my constituents and people across Britain.
And further achievements are being made. Last week, it was reported that the government has been forced into a number of partial climbdowns on the Trade Union Bill and the watering down of some points.
Make no mistake, the Bill remains a major attack on our trade unions and working people’s rights, but these changes are an illustration of a government shifting under pressure.
In another example, the government has now said it would consider taking a 25 per cent stake in Tata Steel’s UK operations to support a sale, in a long-overdue recognition of the need for government support for the sale process.
On steel, Labour and the steel unions have been calling for action for months. It is one of a number of issues where Labour has led the public debate and increased political pressure for the government to at least be seen to act.
All these achievements are in the face of the most concerted campaign of denigration any Labour leader has ever endured in such a short space of time.
And these government retreats are not an accident — they are a consequence of Labour’s approach. Labour has firmly opposed the Conservative attacks on working people and started to shift the terms of the debate.
In electing Jeremy Corbyn, Labour members chose a leader whose platform was clear — saying that we need to unite against the Tories’ attacks on the majority of people and present a clear, positive alternative to austerity.
There can be little doubt that Labour is now more clearly identified as a party that will stand up for the living standards of the overwhelming majority of people against the Tories’ cuts.
At the same time, in recent weeks we have seen how the failed Tory leadership is both committed to unfair cuts that hit the less well-off while also standing by and failing to tackle tax avoidance by the very richest.
My constituents and Britain as a whole need a Labour Party that together takes the opposition to the Tories.
We desperately need a Labour government to deliver an equal and fair society with housing for all, a world-class national health system, plus well-paid and high-skilled jobs.
Our party has never had more enthusiastic members and supporters — let’s harness this energy and move forward with positive campaigning for this week’s elections and beyond.
• Diane Abbott is shadow secretary of state for international development and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.