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Thursday, 22 August 2013 00:00

Get in the real world

Iain Duncan Smith's spokeswoman reckons that shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne's speech on social security spending is "a last-ditch attempt" to hold onto his job.

If Ed Miliband is indeed intent on dispensing with Byrne's services, this would be far from disastrous.

The former Treasury minister will forever be remembered for his half-witted "joke" after Labour's 2010 general election defeat in leaving a note apologising to his expense-fiddling successor David Laws for there being "no money."

Byrne is said to regret having made the comment, but his responses to Duncan Smith's ongoing assault against benefits illustrate that he is totally sold on the false assertions that there is no money and that economic survival depends on bashing claimants.

To be fair to Byrne, the pro-austerity case wasn't designed by him. It emanates from leader Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls.

Miliband has committed Labour to not reversing George Osborne's spending cuts, saying that there will be no borrowing to fund spending projects.

Balls has resorted to new Labour's favourite line of patronising abuse, accusing those who advocate an anti-cuts approach of not living in the "real world."

In the real world, apparently, bankers pay themselves whatever they want, workers have their living standards driven down and are offered zero-hours contracts, the unemployed are witch-hunted for the crime of not having a job and there is no alternative offered to this austerity agenda.

Byrne's error, as far as his boss is concerned, is going too far by accusing Duncan Smith of being too soft on benefits claimants.

In Byrne's assessment, government ministers have "bodged" regulations so that Britain's 4,000 largest families aren't affected "and it does nothing to stop people living a life on welfare."

Such contempt for people denied the right to work comes as second nature to Tories and Liberal Democrats.

It should have no place in a Labour politician's lexicon, but it's been adopted because, as the Tories gleefully tell us, hammering claimants plays well at the ballot box because voters don't like scroungers.

There is nothing positive about scroungers prepared to take without giving, obsessed with selfishly disregarding the rest of society to enrich themselves, but no parliamentary frontbenchers seem capable of seeing the extent of such tendencies in the City.

Even if Byrne is deservedly awarded the order of the boot, Labour will remain in the government's slipstream unless it develops an alternative more radical approach.

The best way of cutting social security spending is by increasing employment and that can't be achieved by victimising people on benefits.

Nor will it be brought about by Labour's "compulsory jobs guarantee" variant of workfare unveiled at the beginning of the year by Byrne.

Labour should learn from the People's Assembly Against Austerity, which is winning growing support in unions and communities for a different approach.

Britain is not skint. Big business, with over £750 billion in liquid assets on their books, and the wealthy elite who enjoyed a five-point cut in their tax rate in April have plenty of capital available for investment.

Investing in council housing, renewable energy, manufacturing and public services could deliver more jobs and higher tax receipts to reduce the national deficit.

It would enrage those for whom intensified exploitation of workers is the "real world" but it would delight the people that are always last to be considered.

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