“YOU cannot have a rich country with a poor people,” Mexican socialist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told a London audience earlier this year.
The moral force of Lopez Obrador’s point comes from the fact that you can, of course — and Theresa May’s zombie government makes that clearer by the day.
The warning from the Child Poverty Action Group and the Institute for Public Policy Research that benefit cuts associated with the roll-out of universal credit will force another million children into poverty is not unexpected.
As long ago as March the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicted that the Conservative cuts programme would raise the number of children living in poverty to more than five million by 2021-22 — over a third of all the children in Britain.
This grim projection follows years in which the number of poor people in the country has risen — prompting universal credit’s loathed architect Iain Duncan Smith to change the government’s definition of poverty while he still reigned at the Department for Work and Pensions.
How much money you had, the minister decided, was irrelevant to whether you lived in poverty or not: instead this would be determined by a range of other factors such as whether your parents worked (hardly a reliable indicator in this age of poverty pay and zero-hours contracts) and how good your performance at school was.
As with Duncan Smith’s long battle to hide the number of people who were dying after being declared fit for work in his notorious war on disabled people, the changed definition was simply a bid to pull the wool over our eyes, preventing recognition of the true harm being inflicted on vulnerable people by his vicious government.
May’s administration cannot even be bothered with the fiction. When Labour forced a vote on universal credit in Parliament, Tory whips not only declined to show up and defend their policy — they ordered their MPs to abstain. Veteran Conservative MP Peter Bone mused that it was the first time he’d been whipped against supporting his own party’s policy.
The result was a unanimous vote of the House of Commons to halt the implementation of universal credit until the catalogue of administrative errors which are pushing families into debt and even out of their homes could be sorted out. A unanimous vote which ministers casually announced they would ignore.
Following May’s anti-democratic scheme to award her party a majority of select committee chairs despite its failure to win a majority of seats in June’s election, these manoeuvres show a startling contempt for democratic institutions.
A government which does not enjoy the support of Parliament or the people is continuing to impose immiseration and suffering on millions.
Parliamentary democracy is imperfect and incomplete, but compared to the other pillars of the British state — the courts, the monarchy, the military — it has greater potential to act as an instrument of the will of the public. This is of crucial importance currently, when the opposition is for the first time led by a socialist and anti-imperialist prepared to fight for fundamental change.
We know that programme will be fought tooth and nail by the Establishment — we’ve even had this confirmed by the serving army general who threatened shortly after Jeremy Corbyn’s first leadership win that his government might face mutiny by the armed forces.
If May succeeds in normalising government disregard for Parliament, the forces of reaction will be that much stronger and better able to prevent the revolution our country needs.
The battle to stop universal credit must now reach beyond the Commons and hit the streets. A mass democratic movement remains the only way to overcome this savage and pernicious government.