This is why Liam Byrne cannot lead Labour on welfare

8:45 am - January 9th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    

      Share on Tumblr

Yesterday, while Labour MP Liam Byrne was making speeches in Parliament rejecting the government’s 1% cap bill, the media was highlighting his hypocrisy.

Kiran Stacey at the Financial Times collected his quotes (though the Daily Mail were doing this too).

It is certainly true that the terms [‘strivers’ and ‘shirkers’] are not new: they have been used several times over the last two years by Liam Byrne – the same Liam Byrne who criticised the tone of the debate today.

He goes on to highlight extracts from Liam Byrne’s speeches of the past.

1. In 2011, Byrne told Labour conference: “Many people on the doorstep at the last election felt that too often we were for shirkers not workers.”

2. He told LSE a year ago: “Labour is the party of hard workers not free-riders. The clue is in the name. We are the Labour party. The party that said that idleness is an evil. The party of workers, not shirkers.”

3. An ally of Liam Byrne told the Mail on Sunday in Dec 2011: “Decent Labour voters see their neighbours lie about all day and get benefits while they are working their socks off, and say, ‘Why should I vote Labour when they let this happen?'”

It’s great that many Labour MPs are stridently rejecting this dangerous and counter-productive narrative, perhaps finally recognising it just reinforces Tory narratives with the electorate.

We know from media reports that Ed Miliband hasn’t been happy with Byrne’s hard-line on welfare.

We can also recognise that Byrne himself has started to soften his rhetoric, especially on disability benefits (but is still constantly accused of not listening at all).

But as the lobby press highlighted yesterday, Liam Byrne is partly why this language has become so popularised, and is the wrong person to lead this charge.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  

About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
· Other posts by

Story Filed Under: Blog ,Fight the cuts ,Westminster

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Reader comments

1. Old Holborn

So he admits that Labour voters are benefit addicted wastrels and that Labour spent all the money.

An honest politician.

1. But Tory voters in the City did far more damage to the economy.

He’s talking sense, KILL HIM!!

4. Alisdair Cameron

Let’s be frank, it’s not just a matter of whether Byrne is suitable to lead Labour’s policy on welfare. It’s more about whether the likes of Byrne should be in the party and some consideration needs to be given to how the likes of him rose so high, and steps taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Anyone with half a brain can see that parties buy votes with tax money.

How about if you receive any tax money you shouldn’t get to vote.

6. Chaise Guevara

@ 1 Old Holborn

“So he admits that Labour voters are benefit addicted wastrels and that Labour spent all the money.”

Take the total number of Labour voters. Subtract the total number of “benefit addicted wastrels”. Yep, you’re doing it wrong.

@ Acehole

“How about if you receive any tax money you shouldn’t get to vote.”

Gonna be a pretty small electorate once you’ve gotten rid of all those students, parents, disabled people, pensioners, and the entire public sector.

7. Dark Heart of Toryland

@ Acehole

‘How about if you receive any tax money you shouldn’t get to vote.’

Well that’s preety much anyone working for the financial sector ruled out then.

“It’s more about whether the likes of Byrne should be in the party and some consideration needs to be given to how the likes of him rose so high, and steps taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again”

Add Phil Woolas to that as well.

I think its basically down to incumbancy – there are a breed of people attracted to politics because they like holding power. In the South of England they’ll join the tories, in the north they will join Labour. Most are too imcompetent to achieve anything more than a council seat after years of activism. However occasionally some of these types manage to hide their psycopathy sufficiently long enough to network their way through candidate selection processes and become backbench MPs. The tendancy of greater swings in elections now means that when in opposition, parties have fewer high quality candidates for shadow cabinet positions so some of these get over-promoted and their attack dog style of picking on weak and vulnerable people gets them points in nasty tabloids. Then the party gets elected and they end up in a ministerial post, ruin lots of things whilst the opposition front bench gets a load of new bodies.

9. Robin Levett

@Acehole #5:

How about if you receive any tax money you shouldn’t get to vote.

Bye-bye anyone working for a company supplying the public sector, or public sector workers. I suspect that the franchise now extends to about 3 people.

“…it just reinforces Tory narratives with the electorate.” New Labour in a nutshell. So much of the worst stuff that the Coalition are doing was started by New Labour. They made it politically possible. That’s why Sunny is right about Byrne. He’s not alone though.

“…and some consideration needs to be given to how the likes of him rose so high, and steps taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again” That’s the big problem faced by Labour now. They need to re-invigorate the activist base they betrayed in the past, but are scared to do the right thing in case the tabloids are nasty to them for doing so.

Oh, now they decide to notice this. Even Labour’s recent proposal for the long-term unemployed was spun in terms of how ‘tough’ it was. Still, never mind: maybe Byrne’ll get the sack and be replaced by someone like Stella Creasy.

12. Renie Anjeh

Ed Miliband has used to the term ‘shirker’ before in a speech about responsibility, and if he was so unhappy about Liam Byrne, then why didn’t he remove him from the shadow cabinet in his mini-reshuffle? Personally, I’m not a fan of any politician using the word ‘shirker’ – it sounds a bit Thatcherite – but people do feel that the welfare state does not reward their contribution to society and hard work. People just want responsibility from top to bottom, as Ed Miliband said in his speech in 2011 and sort of repeated this year. Many of these people are Labour people, and some are people who Labour needs to win over. There’s no reason to get rid of him.

decent labour voters see members of the royal family and there cronies lie about all day then fall out of nighclubs pissed out of there heads on the back of the benefits that hard working familys who pay there taxes and do the right thing,huh cameron and osbourne,sorry for demonising the upper classes and posh boys and girls,but somebody has to get to grips with these upper class layabouts and scroungers.

14. gastro george


Is that the Stella Creasy who thinks that “party should reassess all public spending and face the long-term debt challenge head on”? Very “progressive”.

15. Renie Anjeh

@14 – It is progressive and it is Labour Party policy.

16. Volcano Pete

Despite his best efforts Byrne is saddled with baggage.After the debate I am of the opinion David Miliband would make a far better spokesman on these crucial matters.Byrne deserves a rest.

David Miliband gave evidence of his passion in the subject during his “rancid”speech.

David M could be a gamechanger in the welfare battlefields which may determine the outcome of the next general election.

He would have to expect less income but greater value in the long run.

“This is why Liam Byrne cannot lead Labour on welfare”

i agree and i don’t think he belongs anywhere on the frontbench.

@16. Volcano Pete: “David M could be a gamechanger in the welfare battlefields which may determine the outcome of the next general election.”

If David Miliband is the next William Beveridge, George Galloway must surely be Santa Claus.

Way back at the last General Election, Nick Clegg spoke some total rubbish about higher education tuition fees. Many of you may remember it.

In government, he sort of recanted his words without acknowledging that it was an almost undeliverable promise. Many people on the liberal left think that the promise could and should be delivered; I disagree on the basis that I don’t think that it could be fairly and sensibly delivered.

Liam Byrne has spoken some words that are impossible to retract. On at least three occasions, he has treated fellow citizens with contempt. His argument was at the least lazy; if he had truly recognised unemployed people, he would have treated them with respect.

Clegg made an implausible promise.
Byrne treats some people with contempt.

In both cases, moral probity is absent.

20. john p reid

4 Should the likes Of Byrne be in LAobur, After all it was hits sort of policies that won LAobur 3 elections, and while his wing of the party are slowly being told to leave, it’s not as if laoubr are going to win the next election with those opposed to Byrne running the party now,

what happened the last time the right of the party were asked to leave ,the SDP

21. gastro george

@Renie Anjeh

“It is progressive and it is Labour Party policy.”

I don’t give a t*ss if it’s LP policy. And the work “progressive” has had the life sucked out of it – even the Tories say they are progressive. But do you want to try to justify why casting doubt over all aspects of public expenditure and pandering to the debt obsessive meme is in any way positive?

22. Renie Anjeh

20 – The Labour Party and the wider Left is united (well, reasonably). Nearest we have had (and will ever get) to an SDP split is the defection of Luke Bozier and Tara Reid from who thought they were cool Blairites, when in reality they were politically confused closet Tories who just hated Ed Miliband.
21 – On the zero-budget, let us be realisitic. Life expectancy is rising, the population is growing, demand for public services is rising and our debt is increasing in the long-term it is absolutely right to have a zero-budget spending review. Firstly, it is part of the progressive agenda because the poorest people pay the most tax therefore value for money in all areas of public spending is crucial. Secondly, just salami-slicing areas of public spending won’t work, we need to look at our priorities and model spending around those priorities but also look at ways that we can improve services when we have less money around (for eg. switch spending towards public health and acute services, in order to save money). I don’t see what your great problem with that is.

23. gastro george

@22 Renie Anjeh

Repeat after me – the government is not like a household.

Conceding the case to the debt hysterics is just allowing them to frame the argument. In a competition between public sector cutters, the Tories will always win.

24. Renie Anjeh

@23 – Perhaps you should repeat after me – there is nothing progressive about huge debts which hurt the poorest the hardest. I have not said anything about the government or the economy being like a household, what I am pointing out is that with rising demand for public services, due to a rising population and higher expectancy coupled with exiting long-term debt challenges, the question of public spending in the future is essential and we need to look at new ways of saving money based on our priorities. It is not a race about public sector cutting with the Tories, but about how to save money in the future rather than just salami-slicing Whitehall departments.

25. gastro george

@24 Renie Anjeh

“… there is nothing progressive about huge debts …”

Which is exactly my point. I don’t think you understand that government “debt” is not the same as household debt.

I suggest you could read, for example, this.

Excellent summary, well done.

1. Old Holborn?

Didn’t he once have a blog of his own?

What went wrong?

28. Old Holborn


Liam Byrne should go because he’s a tosser. Period.

22.Ben bradshaw’s secretary, went to the libdems and the left are trying to oust Dan hodges , teh SDP comparison was trots deslected shriely williams and John Cartright ,Bill rogers ,so they left .like trying to oust Liam byrne

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Coalition whacks the poor in the wallet | They may say I'm a daydreamer…

    […] beans and crumbs? It seems that by targeting a section of the poor perceived to be scroungers, (and Labour are just as guilty of using this inflammatory language) public attention is diverted away from the real scroungers and cheats – the large […]

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.