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
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A pack of seagulls squabble over discarded food left on the beach at St Ives on July 28, 2015  

Number of urban seagulls in Britain nearly quadruples: Hide food and avoid chicks to stay in gulls’ good books

Tom Bawden
 

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen