This morning, like the night after Agincourt, lefties like me scanned the bloody, burnt out social media #workfare battlefield in the hope of finding twitching Labour corpses. There were none. Like the French 600 years before, a few generals at the top of the pile made the fateful decision to crush the weak and exhausted. Like the French, they were shown exactly why that’s often not a very good idea at all.
In the three years since Labour have been in opposition, nothing has described their fate better than the welfare debate. With minds stuck in an ideology forged around a gleaming new millennium, welfare was a comforting Blairite hawk to offset the freer doves of education, international aid and health.
Tough on povety, tough on the causes of poverty. It suited Purnell, and Murphy and Cooper as they forged their credentials as “centrists” and who knows? Future leaders?
So the argument goes : “It’s a no brainer. The public think everyone on welfare is scrounging. (Except them) The tougher we are on welfare, the more people in the “Middle” and the “Shires” and the “City” breathe easy at night. (As long as it’s not pensioners and it doesn’t affect them.) Combining a little social justice elsewhere, with a good dose of judgement and steel in welfare = the chance of a majority. 75% of the public support workfare. Therefore, supporting the government on this is a chance to show we are still tough on poverty, tough on the causes of poverty. The Daily Mail fall gasping at our feet, they raise a glass in the gentleman’s clubs, and no-one will listen to the screams of the anguished or weak, well, because they’re anguished and weak.”
Some around the shadow cabinet now look uncomfortable, shift in their seats. This is at least progress. Some mention the change in the welfare narrative lately. Opinion polls shifting, disability becoming toxic for the Tories, the increased media interest and above all, that behemoth of opinion formers – social media. But the hawks give the doves a little slap about and logic prevails. 75% of everyone or about 1% of the active, gobby probably-gave-up-on-us-anyway-leftie-activist-Face-Tweeps???
As has happened so often before, but had been happening less lately, the hawks won the welfare Agincourt, and they took to the commons.
We on Twitter and Facebook steeled ourselves. Defeat had been heavily trailed on the blogs and had met with the grim opposition of the archer who knows he may be amongst small and ragged numbers, but he has all the arrows and the mighty have none.
And so it proved. If the Daily Mail or the BBC even noticed Labour’s unprincipled stand yesterday, designed to get them picked for the election team, there is little evidence today on a quick dodge of budget fever.
But on Social Media?
“Those few, those happy few those band of brothers.
For those yesterday who shed their blood may have been a brother.
Be he ne’er so vile, election day may have gentled his condition and Englishmen abed may have held their front doors wide as any speaks, that canvassed late, upon election day!!!”
For the return of precisely zero centre ground, floating voting, Mail readers, Labour managed to enrage and alienate 10s of 1000s of active, passionate, left of centre, engaged, knowledgeable, informed, opinion formers who are read by journalists and opposition alike – not to mention their own families and friends.
Life has changed since 2000. Politics has changed. The economy has changed beyond all recognition. Living standards have fallen. Corruption seems to stalk everywhere now that gossamer veneer of “success” has floated away.
But most of all, “media” has changed. Numbers of papers sold are plummeting, news figures freefall by their side.
And every day, social media takes over. Sure, not the majority, but the vanguard. And they are the ones who care and think and devise and solve and organise. Just like any world paradigm change, it is the few who lead you to safety not the many.
Every time Labour remembers that, they are rewarded with just a little touch of Harry in the night – Murdoch and Leveson, Gas giants and Loan sharks their names in our mouths bitterly remembered.
We appreciate their company, there in the breach.
But every time they take what they know is the wrong decision on principle, the response is swift and horrific.
I won’t pain myself more by sifting through the “I’ll never vote Labour again” tweets or sifting through the debris of torn up membership cards and broken hearts.
But Labour squandered so much more yesterday on a battle they could never win, and all the while they go on frittering away principles and viable voters on the wind of a cruel popularity it cannot win, our cause be not just.