We’ve been here before on welfare reform. Now the backlash is coming, will Labour hold the line?

by Atul Hatwal

The much quoted definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Today, the Labour party is testing this proposition.

For the third time in seven months, Labour is attempting to re-position itself on welfare. For the third time in seven months the pre-briefing before a welfare reform speech has been about “toughness,” how Labour will cut benefits for young people and respond to public concerns on welfare spending.

We’ve been here before.

As a taster for what’s likely to come, this is what happened the first time Labour went down this road, back in November last year. James Kirkup at the Telegraph wrote a story on potential Labour cuts to benefits for under 25s if they were not in training or ‘intensively’ looking for work, based on an IPPR report and a briefing from the party. 

The backlash from the party forced an immediate denial, with Rachel Reeves tweeting “This is not and will not be our policy” “it’s not our plan” and “it is totally not my position!” Cue much relief,

These weren’t the reactions of random activists, Matthew Pennycook is the PPC in Nick Raynsford’s seat and will be an MP in 2015, Gemma Tummelty works for Ed Miliband and Mark Ferguson edits Labour List.

Take two. In January this year, Tom Newton Dunn at the Sun wrote a similar story about removing benefits for the young unemployed, which was, once again, based on another IPPR report and a briefing from the party. Cue a repeated denial from Rachel Reeves and more relief,     

Given these past reactions, it’s hardly difficult to predict the outrage that will bubble over in the party following Ed Miliband’s commitment to cut benefits for young people living at home, at the launch yet another IPPR report.

The fury will be all the worse given Rachel Reeves’ past denials that there would be no cuts . Such a clear policy U-turn is difficult at the best of times, but on an issue like this, where so many of Labour’s most influential voices have already gone on the record to condemn what is now Labour’s new policy, there is little way back. Not without going through some painful ideological contortions that only the most devoutly loyal would even countenance.

The real question is this: how does the Labour leadership react when the backlash sets in?

The traditional response has been to assuage the angry. In this instance, another U-turn seems unlikely – Ed Miliband’s speech was too unequivocal for that. But that doesn’t mean the policy couldn’t be qualified with exemptions inserted to address concerns and neuter its impact.

If this isn’t enough, there’s always the gambit used when Ed Balls announced that Labour would stick to the Tories’ spending plans: distract the base with a bauble. For Balls, it was announcing a return of the 50p tax rate; for welfare, something comparable could be an end to the current disability assessment regime.

Whatever choice the leadership opts for, one thing seems certain: based on past experience, the louder Labour’s base shouts, the more likely that either the policy will be amended or there will be the policy equivalent of a consolation prize.

At which point, all of the very deliberate pre-briefing about ‘toughness’ and listening to voter concerns on welfare becomes utterly pointless and Labour is back at square one with the public.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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15 Responses to “We’ve been here before on welfare reform. Now the backlash is coming, will Labour hold the line?”

  1. Madasafish says:

    The real question is this: how does the Labour leadership react when the backlash sets in?

    A very introverted view of the world.

    Much more importantly, how will VOTERS react to the policy?

    I am assuming the policy was announced not out of a belief that it’s right but a belief that it will appeal to voters and they will vote Labour as a result.. “Tough on benefits”..

    Given Labour’s past record on the issue of benefits:
    1. any internal dissent is bound to be seen externally as a lack of belief in the policy by Labour
    2. It is unlikely any floating voter is going to believe a word Labour says on the issue anyway – given 1 above. So it will have no impact.

    and 3.

    It will reinforce opinions on Mr Miliband’s leadership..

  2. john Reid says:

    Dan Hdoges somes this up today, when we were 10 points ahead in the polls 2 weeks ago, we could convnce the electorate we were serious on this, after the own goal of the Sun photo,and then apologising for it ,Ed now looks like he’s trying to get back Sun readers , after insulting them by apologising, And rying to appeal to non Labour voters by appearing tough on welfare, then like the Sun fiasco, it appears his cronies at Labour list and his office are back tracking already,

    he really has no credibility left, and ,jumping on the anti welfare bandwagon, clearly shows desperation.

  3. Tafia says:

    Most of the proposal exists already in one form or another to varying degrees. The bits that don’t will never see the light of day if Labour won the election. They would just disappear into the long grass.

    UKIP will have a field day though – ripping benefits of young people while immigrants are given child benefits, working tax credits etc etc. Right up their street.

  4. Tafia says:

    Even Guido is ripping the piss out of it:-

    “Why are the party promising to create a new Youth Allowance for unemployed young people? They don’t need one because they’ve already promised a Jobs Guarantee for every unemployed young person.

    This jobs guarantee is compulsory. It’s even called the Compulsory Jobs Guarantee.

    Today’s policy is about benefit sanctions for those young people out of work, but why do they need that when they’ve already promised to guarantee everyone a job?”.

  5. Landless Peasant says:

    Labour have lost the plot if they can win back my vote by trying to out-tory the Tories! Jog-on Miliband.

  6. Landless Peasant says:

    *think* they can win back my vote…

  7. Robert says:

    I wonder if it is the briefing that is the problem rather than the policy, which I agree with on balance. Some compulsion needs to be there if people refuse to work or train, but hopefully it will not actually happen very often.

  8. Ex labour says:

    I listened to Rachel Reeves on the radio yesterday. Initially I thought it good that Labour are waking up to reality, then she threw in that benefits for older people will increase and the classic words “cost neutral” were spoken.

    So after all the hype, here’s the ACTUAL headline: “Labour dont cut welfare spending”.

  9. paul barker says:

    I am most interested to see how the leadership of Unite will react, theres already evidence that they have decided to disaffiliate this year & these moves would give them a perfect excuse.
    As far as the voters go its way too little, way too late, if it has any effect it will simply confuse & alienate the supporters you already had.
    The reason “Owlgate” took off was because it fitted into all those “Retail Offers” Labour has been making, that image is fixed now.

  10. Landless Peasant says:

    Threatening peoples’ Benefits is a despicable act of treachery traditionally more suited to the Tories, except for the fact that it was Labour who first introduced the illegal practice of sanctioning Benefits. Benefit Sanctions are a form of State Terrorism as is defined by International Law; “action or threat of action intended to intimidate the public or a section of the public”. Miliband, Reeves, Cameron, IDS are all Terrorists and enemies of the People. I certainly won’t vote Labour.

  11. Tafia says:

    Social Security is a contract between the individual and the State and when you claim and take benefits you agree to the terms & conditions of the contract. If you don’t like the T&Cs then don’t claim them.

  12. Landless Peasant says:

    Note to Ed:

    Benefit Sanctions are the main reason that me and all my friends/neighbours are now voting Green instead of Labour. Got that?

  13. Ex Labour says:

    @ Landless Peasant

    I dont know what planet you have just landed from. However if you are voting Green I have a Hair Shirt and some Hemp Underpants which may be of use to you.

    I knew the eco-loons were on the fringes of reality, but your statements are bordering on delerious.

  14. Landless Peasant says:

    @ Ex Labour

    Which of my comments are “bordering on delirious”?

    Are you denying that it was Labour who introduced Benefit Sanctions?

    Are you denying the legal definition of what constitutes State Terrorism?

    I suggest you shred your Hemp underpants and smoke them.

  15. Landless Peasant says:

    @ Tafia

    “If you don’t like the T&Cs then don’t claim them.”

    What other option, pray tell, do the Poor have?

    I have been forced to sign the DWP’s draconian JSA Agreement, an agreement that I do not agree with, yet had no choice but to sign it, which I did under duress. It actually says that I am obliged to spend 35 hours per week “job-searching”, and that my Benefits can be Sanctioned if I fail to comply in any way. Benefits that I have earned, that my parents and their parents before them have earned. State Benefits are NOT a gift, they are a RIGHT! The State OWES US A LIVING, and don’t you ever forget it. Fuck all Labour Class Traitors. No War but Class War.

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