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‘Ed Miliband rejected advice he should match Tories on welfare’

10:13 pm - April 7th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    

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Let’s be under no doubt that the Right are no fans of Ed Miliband.

So it was pleasing to read this today by the Spectator’s James Forsyth, written in the Mail on Sunday:

Labour’s decision to oppose the £26,000-a-year benefits cap puts it on the wrong side of public opinion; one veteran pollster describes the cap as the most popular policy he has ever tested.

Miliband, though, is not backing down from this fight. Several of those closest to him did try to persuade him to use the term ‘benefit cheat’ in a speech soon after he became leader. They believed that Miliband, the son of an academic, needed to speak in the way that voters do. But Miliband refused. He’s determined not to take the tactical approach to the issue beloved by the triangulators of New Labour. Instead, he wants to position himself as a ‘one nation’ politician capable of uniting the whole country.

When Osborne proposed a vote on increasing benefits by only one per cent, Miliband’s advisers warned their leader that this was a trap. If Labour opposed the measure, the Tories would attack them as being soft. A visibly angry Miliband replied, ‘You’re absolutely right it is a trap. But it is a trap for real people not me.’

Bravo! I’m pleased that finally a Labour leader has the guts to stand up to the predictable, reactionary voices from within the Labour party.

Frasel Nelson of the Spectator, also no Ed Miliband fan, appreciates this too.

He blogged today:

On welfare, Miliband seems to have decided to take another political hit. George Osborne has long goaded him about his position on welfare, and last year he even crossed the floor to thank the Labour leader for voting against reform. Something you can never imagine Iain Duncan Smith doing – he wants bipartisan support for this agenda. The American experience shows that welfare reform works best with all-party support. But I wonder if, longer term, Miliband’s more restrained language will bring dividends.

If the Tories learnt anything from their failure to win the last four elections, it should be that their biggest problem is people mistrusting their motives. Being uncharitable about the poor and unemployed, or portraying welfare reform as a way of getting one over on the Labour Party, risks inflicting longlasting damage to the Tory reputation. Recontaminating the brand. Onlookers will be amazed at how quickly the Tories seem to forget these basic lessons.

For now, it seems the party will talk about welfare reform, though in different terms (see this excellent piece today by former Ed M advisor Sonia Sodha) without matching the divisive Tory rhetoric.

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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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Reader comments

The point is that every politician of every persuasion should be in favour of penalising benefit *CHEATS*. A cheat is someone who willfully breaks the rules. In this context, a cheat would be a lawbreaker. Thus all politicians should be against lawbreakers.

The problem is that when the Tories and the right-wing press talk about Benefit Cheats, they’re really talking about “people who end up on benefits for a long time” or “people who *appear* to be getting more benefit than them”. It’s more of a green-eyed-jealousy than someone who is cheating/lawbreaking. And the right-wing press in particular milk these apparently extreme cases, ignoring that in the case of large benefit payouts for housing, it’s actually the private landlords that pocket the state’s money, and not the benefit claimant.

So these people aren’t cheats. They’re not willfully breaking the law. And if there is a certain bit of “bending the rules” then there needs to be just as much focus upon the private landlords and their rents, as there would need to be on your “Benefit mum and her eleven kids” carefully selected cases.

But trying to demonise benefit claimants – as the Daily Mail did with its car crash Philpott headline – and as Cameron and Osborne shamefully did the day after – is not going to stick. There are too many families currently suffering hardships and needing help from the state, who will be angry that they are being dubbed as “Philpott cases”.

So yes, in the long run, if Ed Miliband talks about “benefit reform” – how to get people back into work, and how to make them self-sufficient without state help – then hopefully he will win the argument. It should be an argument based on bettering the Individual as well as benefiting the State, and not one based on false perceptions.

2. Alisdair Cameron

So, why the persistence with Liam Byrne?

This is one of the reasons why I voted for Ed Miliband to be party leader! Glad that he has the courage do the right thing, even if it is not the popular thing to do.

He’s thinking of people outside Westminster and its commentators. Bravo!

5. Sean Halsey

Oh, as if Labour isn’t planning to hammer the poor and disabled just as much:

Tell me how this isn’t anti-welfare rhetoric:

Byrne says Labour’s approach to welfare will be based on three principles: “First, people must be better off in work than living on benefits. Second, we would match rights with responsibilities. Third, we must do more to strengthen the old principle of contribution.”

Priority council housing to “those who work and contribute to their community”, the vicious nonsense of the “principle of contribution” – I can’t wait for Labour to stumble into power so we can stop pretending that they’re a decent party.

6. Daniel Factor

Here’s the Daily Mail screaming that Labour are out of touch with voters…

Labour doesn’t get it

Last week, Labour’s only contribution to the debate on welfare was to howl about the ‘cruelty’ of cutting benefits, and denounce the Government for rightly linking Mick Philpott’s degenerate lifestyle to the huge handouts he received from the State for his 17 children.

Yesterday – after being confronted with opinion polls showing six out of ten voters think benefit payments are far too generous – the party was desperately scrabbling around for something meaningful to say.

Yet what did the hopelessly out-of-touch Ed Miliband and his party come up with? A half-baked plan from benefits spokesman Liam Byrne to increase spending on the £180billion-a-year welfare state, by giving larger payments to the workless if they once had a job.

On tackling abuse of the system by the likes of Philpott, there was only deafening silence. Mr Miliband just doesn’t get it, does he?

I think it’s time for a fack check on that opinion poll don’t you?

Quite, Alisdair and Sean. As Chris Dillow says,

One possibility is that [Byrne’s] just being stupid: he has form. The other possibility is that he’s not. He’s trying to pander to a prejudiced public who are ignorant of the facts of the welfare state by invoking a silly notion of a distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor. I hope none of you were daft enough to think “divide and rule” was only a Tory strategy.

8. Anya-Nicola Darr

While I welcome Sunni’s optimism, he will have to do a lot more than that to win back the many supporters on the Left of the party who are leaving in droves. I know of three of my own friends in just the last week. He can no longer just rely on the fact that Labour voters have nowhere else to go. He needs to come up with a better line than Liam Byrne’s ‘full employment’ rhetoric ‘cos we’ve been down that route before and we all know that there will never be any such thing without a radical reform of our working practices. Humbug!

“rightly linking Mick Philpott’s degenerate lifestyle to the huge handouts he received from the State for his 17 children.”

Daniel Factor, you are a cunt.

10. Old Holborn

“Being uncharitable about the poor and unemployed”

Very easy to be charitable with taxpayers money, isn’t it?

11. MarkAustin

This is a tactical suggestion.

It is abundantly clear that the Tories and the right-wing press, most importantly the Daily Mail have quite deliberately used a very small number of exceptional claims to demonise all benefit claimants. Let’s also be clear that this tactic is working—there are a large number of non-political people out there who think benefit claimants are living in the lap of luxury on the state.

The left (both in and out of Labour) have attempted to refute this idea using statistic. This is not working. There is a lot of academic research which shows that even if an article etc refutes their idea, people only see the bits that confirm their view. For example, if you say “There are only 10 people claiming more than £100,000”, what they hear is “***** *** **** people claiming more than £100,000”.

We must play it the way the Tories have. Examples. No generalisations. Particular cases about particular people. Show them up as the heartless ******** they are. Recontaminate the Tory brand.

@ Old Holborn

What are you moaning about? Since the coalition raised the income tax threshold you can’t be paying any tax on your earnings these days at all.

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