I began Business of the House questions this week by raising the Resolution Foundation’s report which showed that one in five workers are paid less than the living wage, a rise of nearly one and a half million in three years. We now know that this government’s economic policies have meant that people are £28 a week worse off. I am clear that it is not a recovery if it leaves everyone but those at the top behind. Polling shows 70 per cent of people believe recent improvements in the economy have not benefited middle- and lower-income families. And 81 per cent believe that politicians who say household incomes have grown faster than price rises are; ‘Out of touch’. I couldn’t have put it better myself: this is an out-of-touch government, complacent on living standards, building an economy that only works for their rich millionaire friends.
Next I reminded the leader of the House, Andrew Lansley, that we’ve only been back a few days and it’s already back to normal for the government. We’ve had a rebellion, chaos in the whips’ office, abject incompetence and we had our first U-turn this week with the dropped plans on legal aid price competition. Where there is chaos there is waste; we’ve already had the pointless top-down reorganisation of the NHS at a cost of £1.5bn. This week we discovered they’d squandered £74m forgetting to add VAT on the troubled aircraft carrier programme. And today the sheer scale of the failure at the heart of the work and pensions secretary’s flagship universal credit programme became clear. A report from the National Audit Office says the scheme has been beset by ‘Weak management ineffective control and poor governance’. We’ve also learnt that £34m has been wasted on IT and they’ve spent £300m on a computer they don’t know what to do with. The NAO blame a fortress mentality where only good news in released.
I asked the leader of the House to arrange a debate on this fortress mentality and the impact it may be having on the ability of the civil service to operate effectively in the culture this government has created.
I finished business questions with the lobbying bill which will come back to the House next week. We as a Labour party are committed to cleaning up lobbying, getting big money out of politics and keeping dodgy donors out of Downing Street. But this bill achieves none of this; it has united the lobbying industry and transparency campaigners who agree that it will make lobbying less transparent not more. And the Electoral Commission, hundreds of charities, campaigners and many thousands of members of the public are fighting this government’s sinister gag on free speech in the run-up to the general election. Andrew Lansley doesn’t seem to have learnt many lessons from his last disastrous attempt at a bill – the Health and Social Care Act – but I asked him to learn just one: ‘Pause, listen, reflect and improve’.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
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