All opposed? Opposition Days and universal credit

19 Oct 2017

 

The idea that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks seems to be getting disproved by the government. In spite of the fact that they’ve been in power seven years now, they seem more than capable of learning new ideas and strategies, in spite of how weak and wobbly they’ve appeared to be since the snap election.

 

This newest trick is to diminish the power of the opposition by not opposing Opposition Day. This serves to allow the Prime Minister to not only weaken the words of the opposition but to also hide the divisions within her own embattled party.

 

In spite of the fact that she has been ‘accused of running scared’ over the issue of public sector pay, doing so in the manner that she did allows the government to show, if not unity, then at least the appearance of it.

 

In not opposing Opposition Day motions, there is ‘no vote recorded other than unanimous approval, and no way to say how individual MPs voted.’ Given that the divisions within the Tory party have been shown on issues from Brexit, to leadership, and the upcoming rollout of Universal Credit, it seems that the Prime Minister is doing everything she can to put bandages on those wounds, even if she is accused of cowardice along the way.

 

This idea is clearly a long term plan, given that Tory sources told the Huffington Post that the party would 'not oppose any future non-binding Opposition Day motions for the rest of the Parliament.' This has led to Labour motions on both public sector pay and tuition fees being unopposed. Or unanimously approved, depending on the way you look at it.

 

This ‘unanimous approval,’ no matter how calculated it might be, doesn’t only exist across the House, but across the Tory party as well. Given their continued desire to appear ‘strong and stable’ since the referendum, the appearance of unity serves them well, allowing them to project an image of being above political infighting and backbench point scoring. And, of course, it allows them to quell any would-be rebellions, like the one that’s been brewing over the Universal Credit policy.

 

As of the end of September, a dozen Tory MPs have called on the government to ‘slow down the implementation of universal credit.’ The rollout of the policy has been marred by failures that are far from political: issues in management, or IT, that have caused the programme to fall behind schedule.

 

Between this and the aim to cut £12 billion annually from the cost of welfare, those who claim UC will find themselves worse off than they were beforehand. The Shadow Work and Pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams, has written about universal credit, particularly highlighting ‘the policy of making recipients wait six weeks before payment when they first make a claim,’ something that will no doubt cause recipients to fall behind on paying rent, given they’d need to wait over a month to get the money they would need to make such a payment.

 

On October 18th, there was an Opposition Day debate on pausing the roll-out of UC. Given the dissent among the government about the policy, the lack of opposing the Opposition that the government is doing may be a factor in how they approach the debate.

 

By continuing to not oppose on Opposition Days, the government is able to once again hide their divisions, and allow something else to pass with ‘unanimous approval.’ While it seems that the government hasn’t yet found a way to steady the wobble it’s been suffering from since the election, this strategy at least allows them to present themselves as stable, as unified, even if they’re far from unanimous approval themselves.

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