During this week’s House of Commons debate on the motion of no confidence in the government, I got extremely angry listening to Michael Gove’s speech. While he was giving the government’s official response to the debate, I raised a point of order to challenge some of the harmful rhetoric that was being used. This rhetoric was clearly designed to whip up fear and to polarise – something that is very dangerous in the current climate.
The motion we were meant to be debating concerned parliament’s confidence in the government, to put their record under scrutiny – not only for their abysmal handling of Brexit, but for their devastating record on our public services, homelessness, in-work poverty and the astronomical rise in foodbank use, the impact of Universal Credit, the hostile environment, and how they are failing so many in our communities.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights was scathing in his recent report on the impact of Universal Credit on people in poverty. Universal Credit is forcing many people into debt, rent arrears or food banks, yet it is this government’s flagship welfare policy. And the government has used its immigration policy to spread uncertainty and suffering for many with the right to live and work here, through its explicit intention to create a hostile environment. Clearly, we should not have confidence in this government.
So I was angry with Gove’s lack of engagement with these issues, which had been raised by Labour colleagues throughout the day’s debate. Instead of dealing with these substantive issues, what he delivered was a personal attack on Jeremy Corbyn, using information that he knows to be false.
For example, he implied that a Labour government led by Corbyn would be a threat to our NATO membership and to our armed forces – when Labour’s continued commitment to NATO is clearly stated in our 2017 manifesto. In fact, the last Labour government consistently spent above the NATO benchmark of 2% of GDP on defence. Trying to position the Conservatives as the party of national security is not only misleading but ironic, given that their spending cuts have put Britain’s security at risk, shrinking the army to its smallest size since the Napoleonic wars.
But I shouldn’t have been surprised by Gove’s tactics. It’s a classic move: in the face of a compelling, progressive argument for change, whip up fear to safeguard your interests in protecting the status quo, and the massive inequalities in wealth and power that benefit you, your party and the elites of your country.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen this approach being used by politicians in countries all over the world far too much over recent years. The use of slurs was a desperate attempt to prevent the radical change that we need, and that will transform this country to work in the interest of the many. His speech was an insult to all those currently suffering under this self-interested and callous government.
Danielle Rowley is MP for Midlothian.