If anything could set my blood boiling at record levels, it would be the repulsive sight of Iain Duncan Smith sneering at the Labour Party: “Nearly 50 Labour MPs have defied their leadership and opposed our welfare reforms which will move our country from a low wage, high tax and high welfare economy to a higher wage, lower tax and lower welfare society. It’s clear that Labour are still the same old anti-worker party – just offering more welfare, more borrowing and more taxes.” The sheer chutzpah of the man who, along with George Osborne, has hit over 300,000 of the poorest children in our country, makes him currently the most odious man in politics, although he has plenty of competition on his front bench.

That Labour decided to abstain rather than oppose the cuts to tax credits and to the benefits cap was simply breathtaking. Acting leader Harriet Harman, a good and decent person, called it wrong, but the problems run much deeper than that. Before, we knew what Labour was against, but not what it was for. Now that they have abstained on such a vital issue, we don’t know what they’re against either.

This was, above all, a crisis of leadership, or rather the complete lack of it. Rudderless after a disastrous election result, they blundered into a cynical trap engineered by George Osborne and ended up supporting and opposing nothing. It was an ugly mess. But it’s not just the absence of leadership, it is the complete lack of policy, of strategy and of any kind of vision of what Labour is for. Yesterday’s shambles made us pine for the good old days of Ed Miliband.

Yesterday, it would have been good enough to oppose the cruel Tory attacks on the working poor. By abstaining in the Commons vote, they really were “anti-worker”, as Duncan Smith suggested, but not in the way he meant it. Labour’s problem is that in the midst of an overlong navel-gazing internal election, policy is not at the forefront of their priorities and boy didn’t it show yesterday. Many Labour MPs, 48 to be precise, voted against the Tory cuts and for once, I support the rebellion, not just as a tactic, but as doing the right thing. Labour’s next problem would be to explain what they would do instead.

The latest Tory cliche, which must be wheeled out by each spokesperson every time they are interviewed, is “our welfare reforms will move our country from a low wage, high tax and high welfare dependency to a higher wage, lower tax and lower welfare society” must be challenged head on. It is a clever slogan with a purpose and must be taken in the same context of the “workers versus shirkers” argument perpetuated by Osborne and co. The idea that the Tories represent those with aspiration “who want to get on” and Labour stands for lazy, scrounging benefit claimants has, sadly, worked with many people and it must be addressed. The world “welfare” should not be a swear word. It’s literal meaning is” help given, especially by the state or an organization, to people who need it, especially because they do not have enough money”. Now, what’s wrong with that? Labour should not shy away from being proud of a welfare state that provides help for the long term sick, the disabled, the terminally ill, carers, the old and vulnerable. These are, in the main, not scroungers. They need our help. There is nothing wrong with being the party of welfare. And I do not need lessons from Duncan Smith on compassion. This is the man who presided over the shambolic transition from DLA to PIP, where many terminally ill people died before their “special rules” payments had been processed. And if there is really such an issue around benefits abuse, then how come councils all over the country have shut down their benefit fraud departments and the DWP scaled back dramatically on investigating benefit fraud a year ago, preferring to go for the “easy hits?”

I do not want to see Labour spending years and years having more and more policy reviews. We had those under Miliband and by the time the general election came along, we still had no real idea what Labour was for. There were a mish-mash of various policies, many of which were noble and positive, but there was no overarching vision, no plan, no strategy beyond winning. More than anything, Labour needs to say not so much what it is against, although it needs to do that as well, but what it is for. Surely it is for the aspirant worker, every bit as much as it is for those who, through no fault of their own, are in hard times. Cameron talks about spreading privilege, but Labour should make it attractive and appealing to talk about extending opportunity and equality to everyone and not just the lucky few at the top.

Calm heads will be needed after last night’s Commons vote. The summer recess is almost upon us and soon politics will slide back into the ether. The game is not up for Labour, yet, because, we must remember, it is usually governments which lose elections, not oppositions who win them. Much water will flow under that bridge between now and 2020 when Prime Minister Osborne will hold the next general election and who knows what will happen between now and then?

So far, by being timid on welfare, Labour has lost the argument that actually welfare is a good thing. Despite the heavy government spin, encouraged by the hysterical right wing press, it is actually an argument that can be won. The public might think it opposes welfare, but does it really want to see someone with terminal cancer die before that person gets their benefits? Does it really want to see pensioners freezing to death because they can’t afford to heat their houses? Or do we want children to go without meals?

Two words: leadership and, yet again I say, vision. Labour has neither of these attributes at the moment and it needs them fast. Without both, the party might as well pack up and go home. It’s as blunt as that.