We learnt from our mistakes. The Tories are set to emulate them.

by John Woodcock

The mythical cost free, universally popular, radical ideas box has been mentioned in this column before.

Though it was coined by Thick of It scriptwriters satirising the last Labour government, the box is enjoying a new lease of life under the new Conservative-led regime.

Iain Duncan Smith whipped it out live on Sky yesterday morning when discussing his proposals to merge the basic and state second pensions, due to be set out in the House of Commons today. (As an aside, I am not sure Labour in government was ever able to get away with quite the level of blatant pre-announcing to the media that ministers now routinely carry out before Parliamentary statements).

The new universal state pension of around £155 per week will be cost neutral for taxpayers, Mr Duncan Smith said. Viewers listening to his calming reassurances would be forgiven for believing there would be no losers from the changes whatsoever.

Hurrah, this is truly an idea straight out of the magic policy box. For in the real world, a radical shake-up that costs the same and creates no loser would be no shake up at all: the new system would have to be exactly the same as the status quo.

In fact, a close textual examination of Mr Duncan Smith’s words on air yields that he actually left himself wriggle room for there to be many losers. But he went out of his way to give the impression that the proposed change would be all up-side.

In doing so, the work and pensions secretary is the latest in a line of ministers who seem to think they disguise the grim reality of their cuts by sugar-coating reforms which are actually going to be pretty difficult for substantial numbers to swallow.

Health reform, now teetering, has been similarly treated by Andrew Lansley. Michael Gove has repeatedly tried to claim his “free schools” proposals can be implemented with minimal fuss and disruption. And Mr Duncan Smith, on the welfare part of his brief, has made soothing but wholly unsubstantiated noises about the effects of moving towards a single benefit system.

Basic common sense should tell ministers that deploying those kinds of tactics might get them through the first few weeks of a new policy, but will seem pretty unwise once people discover the truth and feel bloody annoyed at being spun a yarn.

Contrast this sophistry on the domestic front from Tory ministers with a more open expression in Westminster of the uncertainty surrounding Libya –most powerfully, though not exclusively, articulated by Ed Miliband. At a time when politicians are usually on the airwaves saying “trust us, we know, it will be fine”, it was refreshing to hear senior figures level with the public: namely, by admitting they could not know what the endgame of conflict in Libya would be but thought the cause justified committing the UK’s armed forces anyway.

So far, though, that moment of candour has merely served to highlight the lack of it in other areas.

What’s next? Well, let us see how George Osborne presents the tax simplification drive signalled in the budget. Labour was taught a painful lesson from our own simplification measure that abolished the 10p tax rate: heavy political damage and real losses of income were sustained before Gordon Brown finally realised and acknowledged that the measure did indeed create losers amongst the lowest paid.

We learnt from our mistakes; there are worrying signs that the Conservatives are set to emulate them.

John Woodcock is Labour and Cooperative MP for Barrow and Furness and a shadow transport minister.

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One Response to “We learnt from our mistakes. The Tories are set to emulate them.”

  1. LYNDA DAY says:

    Labour have learnt from their mistakes!!!!!!!!!!!

    That has to be the joke of the year – shame they are 14 years too late and say this when the country they ran is destroyed.
    They should all be locked up for 10 years for treason to the country and while they were destroying it they made sure thay made themselves wealthy.
    I do not know how one of them have the nerve to even show their faces.

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