The only thing that might save the Government is that the opposition is so poor

Iain Duncan Smith disclosed that his 2017 target for the full introduction of Universal Credit is set to be missed - but Labour aren't quick enough to criticise

Related Topics

The failure of Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Cred scheme (the IT isn’t working) is not new. This morning the Work and Pensions Secretary said: “I do accept, of course, that this plan is different from the original plan.” In other words, the “vast, vast majority” of benefit claimants will be on Universal Credit by 2017 only by redefining the existing welfare system as Universal Credit.

We have known this for some time. Months ago, when the Prime Minister started his “get the barnacles off the boat” phase of simplifying and streamlining the Conservative message for the next election, he told worrywarts that IDS’s welfare reform would be all right in the end - “there’s no need to rush”. In other words, nothing much was going to happen before the election and it wasn’t important to the campaign.

Which means that, of the three big areas of public service reform, two - welfare and the NHS - have been put on a care and maintenance basis. Only in the third - schools - is a plausible reform programme being pursued with vigour and some success. And even that is unlikely to win many votes because most parents see free schools as a distraction from their own children’s interests.

The only thing that might save the Government is that the opposition is so poor. Instead of berating IDS for failing to get more people off welfare and into work, Labour has been stuck on the wrong side of George Osborne’s policy, of capping total benefits at the level of average earnings, £26,000 a year. It is not a reform so much as a symbol, but it is enough to offset the failure of the grandiose folly of Universal Credit, which, because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t really shift any votes.

Labour ought, for example, to have beaten David Cameron to saying that the dole should not be an option for under-25s. It could have been done in a non-punitive way, by saying that it is in no one’s interest to be Neet (Not in Education, Employment or Training), and that Labour would offer every young person a good Eet option.  

Ed Miliband’s approach has been to bleat about the cost of living. That’s fine, but it is something that oppositions do to fill the time between their main themes. Instead it is the main theme and will vanish like breath on a window next year when wages start rising faster than prices.

Labour could have been using this time to criticise IDS, Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove for the failure of public service reform. It was extraordinary that Cameron allowed IDS and Andrew Lansley to bring two grandiose follies of system-wide structural reform. Universal Credit has done little harm, but so much effort, money and time has been wasted in the NHS, the ill effects papered over only by maintaining the high levels of spending achieved by the Labour government.

Hunt has so far kept up the remarkable feat of keeping the NHS out of the headlines, ably assisted by Miliband’s strange decision to keep Andy Burnham in post as shadow health secretary. That means that any attempt by Labour to exploit what should be one of its strongest subjects - the people’s religion as handed down by St Clem and St Aneurin - is cut off mid-sentence by the phrase, “Mid Staffs.”

On schools, of course, it is harder for Labour to oppose. Gove is explicitly playing to the opposition’s weak spot by claiming to be more Blairite than they. Even the telegenic Blairite Tristram Hunt, who replaced the diffident Blairite Stephen Twigg, seems unable to find a way round this rather obvious ploy. It should not be so hard. All Hunt has to say is that he welcomes Gove’s progressive intentions, but he is doing it all wrong. He should accuse him of focusing too much on free schools and on converting existing schools into academies, when the best thing the Government is doing is continuing the Labour policy of setting up new academies in disadvantaged catchment areas. And he should bang on about raising standards in the teaching profession, which the unions, thinking there’ll be more money in it for their members, will be happy for him to do.

David Cameron would be very happy not to fight the election on public service reform. Labour shouldn’t let him.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page


General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk