Social media is a wonderful thing if you’re of a sociological bent. As John McDonnell gave his response to the Autumn Statement, Corbynites took to Twitter to declare their man victorious. “McDonnell killing Osborne! What a triumph #spendingreview” was typical. Then you scrolled down into your feed to read the press give their take on things. “Tory MPs openly laughing at McDonnell’s response” was one entry. Oh right, I had temporarily forgotten that all journalists other than possibly Owen Jones are a cog in a right-wing conspiracy, so I guess it all makes sense. The country would immediately take to their hearts a shadow chancellor who takes out Mao’s Red Book and begins quoting its wisdom to the House, if only it was reported in the correct manner.
Meanwhile, a great deal of people on Twitter were busy taking the credit for Osborne’s U-turn on tax credits. This one from 38 Degrees was enjoyable: “Tax Credit cuts SCRAPPED. This is a huge win for people power.” As was this one from someone whose blushes I will spare: “Complete u-turn on tax credits. Turns out Jeremy Corbyn is more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Yes, just in case you wondering, it did come replete with a picture of a certain Star Wars character wielding a light sabre with Corbyn’s face photo shopped on. So in light of all of this, I thought it might be a good idea to remind ourselves of who really caused Osborne to have to do an about face on cutting tax credits – and I can assure you that “people power” and Jeremy Corbyn had nothing whatsoever to do with it.
First off, large credit must go to what has become, in the Corbyn era, essentially the official opposition: the House of Lords. This is most inconvenient for the Left, the over-stuffed chamber, filled with ex-politicians and party donors, being the only thing standing between Osborne’s more ambitious plans to cut the state and the remnants of the post-war settlement. No wonder they need to pretend poor Jeremy is Obi-Wan Kenobi.
But in actual fact, the Lords could never have done it on their own. The real reason Osborne had to U-turn on tax credits is all down to the Conservative backbenches. Enough of them were going to rebel in light of what the Lords decided, and that would have meant defeat for the government. So really, the kudos for the tax credit situation as it stands (and will seemingly continue standing) is down to the thinness of the Tory majority.
As bad as having to thank the House of Lords for preserving state spending must be for the Left, having to thank Tory backbenchers must be even worse. So awful that I can imagine them next having to actually compare Jeremy Corbyn to Jesus Christ. Hey, ever notice that their initials are the same? Maybe there’s a T-shirt in there somewhere….
Steve Peers says
It’s usually too simple to ascribe outcomes to single causes: I think it was a combination of the Lords, backbench Tories and the centre-left opposition that cause the U-turn (it wasn’t a complete U-turn anyway, since the family and child tax credit cuts are still going ahead). But the backbench Tory element is probably only part of the story too. Note that Boris Johnson criticised the cuts, and the Sun (having supported the budget on the day with glowing headlines) turned against them too. Surely not a coincidence. Osborne’s ‘U-turn’ therefore makes sense most obviously as part of a bid to improve his prospects of gaining the Tory leadership in a few years’ time.