Why the Tory attack on the 1% benefits cap won’t work


12:33 pm - December 17th 2012

by Sunny Hundal    


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The Labour leadership’s decision to oppose Osborne’s benefit cap at 1% has invited a rather frantic response by the Conservative party.

ConservativeHome says Tory chair Grant Shapps is unveiling this attack ad in marginal constituencies.

It’s a hastily put-together ad running generic stock images.

I’m very sceptical the Tories will actually run the ad in large numbers. It’s only being run on a few websites. It’s like the stream of YouTube videos that the Romney and Obama campaigns created throughout the election cycle to attract media interest even if they were never aired on TV.

In the same way, the intention is to create chatter, get some media attention on turf they like (welfare cuts than why the economy isn’t growing), and scare Labour party people into backing off. Nothing more.

I don’t think it will work because ads have to be believable. I.e. the creator has to have some credibility when making a claim. In some cases a claim (‘Labour spent too much money in power’) can be believable because it chimes with earlier prejudices of voters.

But this isn’t always the case. For example, many Republican outfits tried to paint Obama in extreme terms but didn’t work as they only preached to the converted. For ordinary people that view of Obama didn’t chime with their impressions.

Democrats faced similar problems too. They wanted to emphasise during the election campaign that Republican plans on Medicare would drastically cut provision, but voters didn’t believe they could be so evil so it was a difficult line to run with (can’t find the story that pointed this out now).

The problem for the Conservative party is that as majority of voters believe that they are ‘out of touch’ and are only focused on the rich.

Trying to hit them over the head with an ad that pretends they’re on the side of ‘hard working families’ is much too blunt to work with floating voters. They aren’t convinced by Tory motives and are very unlikely to take lessons from them on where Labour stands.

But there is a broader point here for Labour: the Tories are clearly rattled by their opposition to benefit cuts because it threatens to shatter the consensus they’ve been building. It’s time Labour understood that lesson and opposed the benefit caps more clearly and painted the Tories as the party of only the rich.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Economy ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


They really should be careful when it comes to using pictures of bone idle scroungers lounging around watching widescreen tellies paid for by the taxpayer http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/aug/09/twitter-david-cameron-boxing-photo

I don’t think it will work because ads have to be believable.

You’re looking at this the wrong way. It’s less an attempt to make people think the Tories are on the side of the aspirational strivers (although I’m sure there are efforts on trhat front too). It’s more an attempt to nail the association between Labour and benefit claimants. And that’s a very believable association.

After the 2010 election, the two groups Labour were considered “closest” to were benefit claimants and trade unions. That’s something that the Tories think will work for them in the next election.
http://cdn.yougov.com/today_uk_import/YG-Archives-Pol-PolicyNetwork-SouthernDiscomfortAgain-270810.pdf

They aren’t convinced by Tory motives and are very unlikely to take lessons from them on where Labour stands.

Previously on Liberal Conspiracy: “people say they hate negative campaigning but they’re affected by it and internalise it.” Sunny H

You’ve sidestepped the issue Labour have chosen to focus on, which is that a majority (60%) of the households affected by this cap are working households.

In doing so, they’re setting out to undermine the poisonous and false idea that there is a them/us, contributor/claimant, dependent/independent dichotomy between ‘hard working taxpayers’ on the one hand and ‘benefit claimants’ on the other. Generally speaking, people claiming state benefits *are* hard-working taxpayers: either they’re in work right now, they’ve retired after a lifetime of work, they’re taking time out from their career to raise young children, they’ve recently left school/uni and have yet to find work, they’re unable to work for health reasons, or they’ve recently lost their job. Only a fraction of benefit claimants are living a ‘life on benefits’ year after year, and only a fraction of that fraction are doing so through choice.

The Tories richly deserve to have this blow up in their faces, and Labour should us this ad as ammunition. I think they should stick to this line of spelling out who this cap really affects. 60% are working, yes; but how many are on maternity leave; how many just left school/uni this summer; how many lost their jobs during the double-dip recession; how many are single mums with pre-school age children, etc. The Tories should be put on the spot at every opportunity and asked which of these people are the ‘shirkers’.

3 – I’m not sidestepping anything, I’m just pointing out what I think the intention behind the ad is. Political battlegrounds are drawn in black & white and there’s very little room for nuance.

Ultimately both sides think they’re on to a winner in the benefit battleground. Labour think the Tories will look heartless, Tories think Labour will look like they’re in favour of increasing borrowing to spend on higher benefits.

Proof of the pudding and all that.

What gets me is that the image of scrounges and lazy people is just a big lie. It’s a delusion. Some yes maybe but the majority no.
There is a danger now that the Tories can bring harm to people on benefits by marginalising them and opening them up to attacks by other people who perceive them to be lazy.
Any way I know of plenty of people who work and are lazy. Plus has Cameron and Osborne created and earned their own wealth or has it just been given to them?

My comment was directed at the OP, Tim.

It’s more an attempt to nail the association between Labour and benefit claimants. And that’s a very believable association.

I recognise this and I should have addressed this in my post.

It matters who is making the claim too. So the problem for Tories is that if they make this claim it doesn’t work.

In the same way, if Labour say Tories are out of touch it doesn’t have as much impact as action by Tories themselves (reducing taxes for top, defending bankers in the media).

Everyone expects Tories to make such claims… voters aren’t stupid. But they have to believable on the claims they make. They barely convinced the electorate they cared about the NHS – now even that trust has been eroded.

It’s hard to tell whether these attack ads are a serious initiative or a smokescreen. Mr Shapps has form on the extensive (re)use of stock images, so that’s hardly a surprise. He also strikes me as the sort of person who would seriously propose the binary distinction in the ads without realising (or caring) that it is risible.

Given the trap Osborne laid for Labour in the Autumn Statement with the 1% benefit uprating, I think Sunny is right that this is partly an attempt to keep the debate on territory that is uncomfortable for Labour and away from territroy that is uncomfortable for the Tories (ie economic failure; that the restricted uprating will have have affect more people in work).

I think it may just be that with these ads the Tories have overplayed their hand. They’re willing to stretch the truth as far as possible to make their case. But at some point reality will intrude and render the case they’re making absurd. The case loses credibility, as Sunny says.

I made that point at greater length yesterday here:
http://www.alexsarchives.org/?p=5006 [Osbo's poverty trap and pinging the elastic of reality]

The man in the Tory add who is supposed to be a scrounger actually looks like he is knackered from a hard days works and has just found time to rest whilst the happy family look as though they a living thr life of riley with out doing a hard days work.

It is Distgusting to see the labor party being so mild
there is so many areas they should be attacking this
over the top libcon gov , they condem the real disabled as work dodgers an turn working people against real crippled people an say paranoid phycotic
people should be on jurys an working in school kitchens with sharp knives with high stress levels.

any savings incured are going to be spent on the thousands of people with mental illness that re-enter
the hospital system after meltdown over the stress of there fiscal state, aswell as state funded bullying
morons fed media lies for breakfast an daily mail dinner time reading, these sell outs would pray to satan for more paper money backed up by electronic figures not gold , bravo you sick perverts have gone too far this is not about the 1% of cheats its about taking money off people who really need support while turning a blind eye to the corps tax dodge which if called in could pay the whole debt off , but no keep blaiming the guy in the wheel chair keep blaiming the man with mental illness
after all its there mates that caused this o sorry that was there MATES at the Banks, keep fighting each other while the sharks swim off with all the meat here is some GM soya bread crumbs for you,
Enjoy your false food an false economy its for YOU no really its got your best intrests at heart,
no go an die because this gov loves dead disabled people they wont stop they have a target figure to make an that includes you coffin

can i have my r back please google :(

@9
Yes that hard working family are clearly not working hard enough.

I think there are a lot of possibly unwarranted assumptions going on here. The assumption seems to be that if people realise that many benefits are paid to those in work, the attitude of those who do not get in work benefits will be well that is OK. A touching and rather naive view of human nature. Most people do not think very deeply about these things and if they consider themselves hard-working taxpayers (hard-pressed Guardian). They tend to think the hard-working taxpayers receiving in work benefits are not hard-working enough and that is why they receive benefits.

It is a huge leap of faith to think that a significant element of UK society do not want cuts to benefits whether they are paid to the working or not. Like the issue where people believe their taxes should be cut but raised for those who earn more than they do. It is tapping into these types of resentments that the Conservatives appear to be engaging in. A resentment does not need to have any validity for people to hold the resentment.

Trying to hit them over the head with an ad that pretends they’re on the side of ‘hard working families’ is much too blunt to work with floating voters.

They don’t have to persuade people that the Tories are on the side of “hard working families”.

They just have to persuade people that Labour are on the side of workshy scroungers.

I’d say that claim can be believable because it chimes with earlier prejudices of voters.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. AdamFlude &Friends

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  2. salardeen

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  3. KernowKernewek

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  4. HouseOfTwitsLab

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  5. Jonathan Sadler

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  7. mary murphy

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  8. Kevin Gulliver

    "@sunny_hundal: Tory attack on 1% benefits cap http://t.co/jIgtPMpG"<interesting they use hard working FAMILIES but PEOPLE who don't work.

  9. Jon Leighton

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  10. Karen

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  11. Georgina Lansbury

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