Editorial: Closed blinds vs closed minds

If Labour defended the poor, it might find support from some in the Government

Share
Related Topics

It is George Osborne's cynicism that is so depressing. Plainly, in last month's Autumn Statement he did not announce the real-terms cut in state benefits over the next three years simply to embarrass the Labour Party. The failure of his economic policy to generate as much growth as hoped meant that he needed to find new spending cuts and tax rises if he were to prevent borrowing from rising again. The welfare budget was an obvious candidate for another salami slice. Hence the rise in benefits, apart from carer and disability benefits, of 1 per cent a year for three years, which means, given that inflation is expected to run at just over 2 per cent, that most benefits will be cut by about 1 per cent a year in real terms.

Yet the relish with which the Chancellor has pursued the theme from his party conference speech about "the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits", is tasteless. And the calculation with which he has forced a vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday on his benefits cut is naked.

Tuesday's vote is an exercise in drawing artificial dividing lines from which even Gordon Brown, the arch-exponent of such crude politics, might have shrunk.

Curiously, it is Ed Balls, formerly Mr Brown's adviser and now Mr Osborne's shadow, who deserves some praise for taking the principled position of opposing the cut in benefits. The Shadow Chancellor has asserted vigorously that 60 per cent of those affected by the cut are in work, receiving tax credits. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor obviously hope that, because public opinion inevitably trades in simple notions, their attempt to paint Labour as the friend of the "closed blinds" shirker will prevail.

Certainly the opinion research published last week by the Trades Union Congress seemed, inadvertently, to confirm this view, suggesting that those who are least well informed about state benefits are most likely to believe that they are too generous, and that they go to undeserving people.

On the other hand, it is possible that, as austerity bites, people understand what is happening in the labour market better than they did in the boom years. We hope that it is more generally recognised than it used to be that most people on benefit want to work, and that tax credits are an important part of making work pay for many low-paid workers.

The other reason for thinking that Mr Osborne's cynical approach might fail is the effect that it is having on the Government. That Nick Clegg might be uncomfortable with "closed blinds" politics is not surprising, and he has publicly warned his coalition partners against "peddling the myth" that "no one could possibly be out of work unless they're a scrounger".

But it is reported that Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, is also unhappy with some of his colleagues' "closed blinds" rhetoric. Mr Duncan Smith's welfare reforms are in danger, but he knows two things: that our benefits system needs to be reformed, and that this cannot be done on the cheap.

If Labour made the strong argument against blaming the poor, and mostly the working poor, for their poverty, in this week's debate, it might find that it had support not just among the voters but among some of Mr Osborne's colleagues in Government.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

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...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
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
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
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'