"Preserve your party, no matter the cost"
Well, when the cost is being unable to influence government policy because of the navel gazing noise generated by stories of splits, then yes party unity matters.
As for morality and conscience, I think you need to get off your high horse. Politics is about making very difficult decisions. Spending £2bn on ESA may seem 'moral' to you, but that money has to come from somewhere in the DWP budget. Would you rather it came from poor children perhaps, or disabled people able to work, or impoverished pensioners on Pension Credit? Which is the 'moral' answer?
Of course you can dodge the question and argue about HS2 (deferred expense, generating investment) and so on. But that wasn't a question which our parliamentarians could tackle in the WRB. They had to make £12bn of cuts. I actually think that those on contributory ESA who have another source of income or savings are better able to bear this than other places where £2bn might be saved from a Department which spends a huge amount of money on sick, disabled, poor and old people.
We can agree to disagree, but it's those kinds of decisions which define politics.
Ben, there wouldn't be even a potential of stories of splits if our MPs had listened to conference in the first place. To be blunt, when conference unanimously supports one policy and principle, and 46 of our MPs vote exactly opposite to that without any attempt to find a compromise, then we definitely have a split in what the party thinks acceptable and what our MPs think acceptable.
This isn't about spending extra money, it's about not cutting support to vulnerable disabled people. And yes, there are more vulnerable people - if I show you 100 terminally ill cancer patients then some of them will be in a worse situation than the others. But that doesn't for one moment make it right to keep following the lowest denominator and taking support away from people who need it while using the utterly pathetic excuse that otherwise you'd have to take it away from people who need it more. Quite frankly, that's bullshit.
Enshrined in our constitution, and on your own membership card, is a committment to building a fairer society where none are enslaved by poverty.
Well many of the 280,000 people who are going to lose support (and, please note, despite being ineligible for ESA they will still be ineligible for stuff like JSA) genuinely need it. And support to the sick and the disabled, to these ESA claimants who have been found unable to work, should be based on need and not on cost cutting.
Have you ever tried supporting an entire household on an income of just £7,500 a year? One with a disabled parent and two young children? One where the other parent has to work a job to bring home a meagre income and then act as carer for their partner and their children? Where they've already suffered two mental breakdowns? Because, let me tell you, this is what this means. I know families in exactly that situation.
This is taking support away from people already living with debilitating conditions, people who are already disproportionately likely to be living in poverty.
This is a question of priorities. We entered government on the claim that we would bring fairness and protect the vulnerable. That claim will be a total lie if we push ahead with these cuts to disability benefits. Because we can afford it if we want to. Quite frankly it was utter idiocy to insist on forcing the same proportion of cuts on every department when the impact of those cuts will differ enmormously between departments. Yes, if we kept the cuts to the DWP the same then we'd have to take the money elsewhere - from wealthy pensioners perhaps, or by means testing stuff like free bus passes and the winter fuel allowance.
But that's a fool's game because the simple fact is that £2 billion over five years is incredibly easy to find in the context of the overall budget. If we actually put some effort in on this then our MPs could find the money. After all, when the Olympics budget keeps on overrunning we don't see the government say "oh, we'll have to cancel them, there's no money left" do we? Instead the government finds the money to pay for it because it deems it a high enough priority.
And that is what this is about. Priorities. Fucking priorities and fucking principles. If we think it's acceptable to take support away completely from 280,000 people, whilst also cutting disability benefits for people in work by 20% and whilst halving support for disabled children living in poverty then we have failed utterly.
Because make no mistake, people will die because of this. Sometimes it will be through subtle things like stress, or pneumonia due to being unable to afford to heat their house (costs which are higher for people who are forced to stay at home all day due to their disability). And some will be the very direct cases of suicide due to people deciding that death is actually a better prospect than the misery they're living in. I know that because it's already happened on several occasions. Disability campaigners are very noble and decent people who are determined to campaign on the facts rather than heart sting tugging but I'm less scrupulous than they are because I know that this policy will mean blood is on our hands.
So, please, don't give me a load of bollocks about our parliamentarians having no choice because they did. If they'd put the effort in, if our leadership had given the slighest damn about the vulnerable and about conference then they could have done something at least. And, even if they found themselves unable to do anything, then at least they'd have tried their best. But they didn't do that. They didn't even fucking try.
And yes, you are absolutely 100% right. These kind of decisions do define politics. And I believe that deciding to take support away from 280,000 long term sick and disabled people, people who are unable to work, people who are already likely to be living in poverty, just because their partner has the temerity to earn £7,500+ a year, is wrong. We're a rich country, we can afford to protect the vulnerable, even in times of austerity. And I believe that we have a duty, as human beings, to look after those who are unable to look after themselves. Like it or not, those are fundamental liberal principles which are enshrined in our constitution. And, whilst I'm perfectly happy to compromise on policy, we should never, never, never, ever compromise on our principles. Especially when lives are at stake.
So, go on, support this policy if you feel like it. Support it because you think it's politically expedient (despite the fact that we've just permanently alienated 3 million sick and disabled voters). But if you do so then you are not a liberal and you clearly don't believe in liberal values. And you are in the wrong party.
Accuse me of being on a high horse all you like. But if you do then I'm proud of it. I'm proud of it because I still have enough integrity to be furious when small minded idiots in power decide to penalise disabled people for a financial crisis that they had no part in creating simply because it would be slightly harder to do the right thing and protect them. And if you don't like that then I'd say that that reflects badly on your own character and integrity rather than mine.
(Apologies for the swearing as you might not particularly deserve being sworn at but I am completely and totally fed up with the kind of cowardly, feeble, immoral excuses that what our MPs have done is in some way acceptable.)