Labour cannot win by debating welfare on the Tories' terms

The week I saw how low the right will stoop

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The Independent Online

Where have we come to as a country when it is fair game to hijack the deaths of six little children for political ends?

The names of these kids – Jack, John, Jade, Duwayne, Jesse and Jayden – are barely even mentioned. Their killings at the hands of the monstrous Mick Philpott are simply weapons to be used in a three-year onslaught against the welfare state.

Earlier this week, I cautioned that the lessons to be learnt from this atrocity were few: that Philpott represented only himself, much as Harold Shipman was an isolated monster who said nothing about other doctors. I anticipated that the enemies of the welfare state would attempt to capitalise on this horror; I confess I did not prepare myself for the sheer depravity of what would come next. It began with the Daily Mail front page: “Vile product of welfare UK”. Other pundits followed suit, to be joined by George Osborne and David Cameron himself.

This is what we have learnt. Those who have attempted to capitalise on these six deaths have proved themselves to lack basic decency and humanity. A three-year crusade to demonise unemployed and disabled people has culminated in the attempt to represent this lone monster as emblematic of  the entire welfare state. Driven in part by the political spinner Lynton Crosby, the Tory strategy to win the next election is clear: turn large sections of the country against each other.

But there is light, too. I spent a lot of time in TV studios this week, trying to fight this tide of poison. I pointed out that, given most of the benefits money he received were tax credits – that is in-work benefits – from the women he abused, the case said nothing about “welfare dependency”; that the welfare state is made up of millions of pensioners, parents who receive child benefit, low-paid workers who receive tax credits, disabled people and those thrown out of work. And the response was overwhelmingly positive.

Tragedies like this have to be removed from public debate. And the separate discussion over the welfare state can be turned around. Let’s talk about reducing welfare spending by stopping subsidising landlords and badly paying bosses. The Labour leadership need to take note. Abandon this to the Tories and lose; or take them on, and you can turn this issue around.