A nod and a wink
We are out of the euro, in the financial and footballing sense, and there was a certain inevitability about the latter. Away from the dreary scenes in Kiev last night, Westminster shifts back into gear this week where the battle for the United Kingdom will commence and the future of our welfare state is discussed, to name just two keynote events. David Cameron will seek this morning to regain the initiative after a desperately poor few months with a flagship speech on the welfare state. The speech is designed as a nod to his backbenches, nervous at the seemingly listless way the prime minister is functioning, and also a wink to the Tory press pack. Nothing brings a warm healthy glow to worried conservative faces than a morning talking about cutting the welfare state. That the ‘something for nothing culture’ of benefit fraud costs the taxpayer fifteen times less than tax avoidance and evasion has seemingly slipped by No 10 now that Jimmy Carr is off the front pages.
The key announcement – to axe housing benefit for under-25s – was heavily trailed in the papers yesterday. But today’s papers focus on another radical idea, of restricting benefits to families with three children or fewer. As a triplet, it is a nonsense to have the state tell the public how many children to have. But both ideas are cleverly targeted at those Britons who do not baulk at any idea, no matter how severe, on how to cut the welfare state. This is an issue that has the potential to press on Labour’s windpipe. Whilst both The Guardian and The Independent have sought to frame the speech as a ‘return of the nasty party’, Labour party strategists will acknowledge that Cameron has the ear of the British public. Much like the topic of immigration, welfare became a toxic issue for the Labour party. Ed Miliband may have delivered a rather half-baked apology last week, but the party remains unforgiven.
On Tuesday, the Commons opens with questions to the chancellor, George Osborne, before MPs debate two Opposition Day motions, on the NHS and on defence. As parliamentary debates go, all three are the totemic struggles of the day. Osborne inherited an economy that was growing at 1.2per cent in the first quarter of 2010, the fastest rate for nine years, and has since plunged the economy back into recession. Ed Balls has largely been vindicated but would be wise not to crow as millions of ordinary Britons suffer the consequences of Osborne’s misrule.
Elsewhere, the pro-union campaign in the Scottish independence referendum launches today, with Alistair Darling spearheading the cross party assault. The myth of Scotland’s first minister as an irresistible force has long since fermented in media and political circles. But the SNP’s popularity does not translate into support for separation. Salmond himself is prone to mistakes, and as liable as any other politician to lose his allure. His customary arrogance, an asset in the past, could begin to grate if Scottish voters sense that he is overdoing the brinkmanship in what is manifestly a serious moment.
On welfare, immigration and the future of the UK the Labour party faces many potential pitfalls as well as opportunities. The first two came to dog the party after 13 years in office and played no small part in the disastrous defeat of 2010 as voters concluded, rightly, that the party did not share – nor understand – their salient concerns. And to Scotland, the future electoral success of the party lies rather too dependently in the land north of the border. But considerations about Labour votes won’t defeat the nationalist argument; moreover we are, as Alistair Darling said this morning, ‘Better Together’.
David Talbot is a political consultant, tweets @_davetalbot and writes the weekly The Week Ahead column on Progress
Photo: Number 10
benefits, David Cameron, George Osborne, hosing benefit, immigration, Jimmy Carr, Scottish independence, welfare reform, welfare state