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

Share
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

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

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
 

Labour's Simon Danczuk is flirting with Nigel Farage, but will he answer his prayers and defect?

Matthew Norman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick