It’s been welfare week. The ‘benefits cap’ was a sideshow. George Osborne really needs to get better at politics. The key to tricking your opponents is not to smirk at the same time. If you want Labour to become unpopular on welfare then don’t erect a large sign saying ‘Political Trap ahead, Tee Hee.’ Yes, the cap is vicious and the attempt to stigmatise people on benefits obnoxious. But it is irrelevant. As part of the coalition’s fiscal mandate it vanishes at the end of the parliament. It is also incompetent. IDS can’t tell you whether universal credit – 4,000 claimants and not rising – is in or out. And it’s fungible. If it stayed you can move spending in and out at will. Just to start with – a credit can’t be spending can it …
The real story was Esther McVey on the bedroom tax. I always feel sorry for the Tory members of parliament who are meant to be the voice of the north. Either they are parodically plain-speaking like the wonderful Sayeeda Warsi – and are ignored. Or they are simply a parody like McVey and let uncomfortable truths slip out.
The hardest question politician can be asked about cuts is: ‘Did you have to make them or did you choose to make them?’ Unsurprisingly, ‘a big boy did it and he ran away’ is by far the most acceptable answer. McVey on Radio 5 Live chose, in Chris Morris’ immortal phrase, to ‘speak her brain’. She told us ‘it was never all about saving money’. In other words, they did it because they wanted to not because they had to. It was a political decision.
This is the emblem of Osborne’s failure as chancellor. He is too clever by half. The bedroom tax looked like ‘no-brainer’. A cut in benefits? Tick. A chance to channel anger at benefit claimants? Tick. What went unexamined was the reality. A political chancellor – or his staff – would have asked officials to explain how many smaller social houses were available to move into. Details don’t bother Osborne. But they have come back to bite him. No one is moving – because they can’t. Service families and disabled people are being punished – a really bad look. And Labour get a free pass. They are never asked hard questions on welfare reform because they can correctly say the bedroom tax is awful.
We’ve all got a lot for which to thank George Osborne.
A month ago we were told that Tony Blair had done a dirty deal with the IRA. Cue outrage, shock and condemnation. What was really being discussed was the failure of the Police Service of Northern Ireland – something that was never run by Blair. It had wrongly issued a letter of comfort to an IRA man on the run, telling him that he wasn’t wanted by any police force for any crime. This was wrong – the Met were still looking for him in connection with the Hyde Park bombings. It was this incompetence – wholly created in Northern Ireland – that caused the collapse of a trial.
But you’ll remember that what Blair was accused of was an amnesty for IRA volunteers ‘on the run’. Let’s set aside the illogicality of this. Being sent a letter that says that you are not sought in connection with a crime cannot be amnesty. It’s simply a statement of fact.
Now, just last week Ivor Bell was granted bail on a charge of aiding and abetting the murder of Jean McConville in 1972. Now, pardon me, but if there was a Blair amnesty that wouldn’t be happening, would it? But that’s not the point really is it? The facts don’t seem to matter.
We’re still confused by Tony. Take the fuss about his proposed donation to the Labour party. Suddenly everyone comes on all Metternich: ‘What does he mean by that?’ Yes, bonehead, it means he’s a Labour supporter and wants us to get elected. Let me spell it out in words of one syllable: No one stood as an MP when Foot was in charge in the hope of gain – it was all pain.
To be clear – Blair loves us – can’t we just love him back?
And finally, the BBC. Decriminalising licence fee evasion is madness. It will only cut funding. So what do the Labour frontbench think they are doing running along behind Andrew Bridgen? I met him once when I was doing the Daily Politics recently and because I defended the licence fee he assumed I was a BBC employee. I should say accused. He is vituperative. The Tories don’t care about decriminalising licence fee evasion. They simply hate the BBC. Not because it’s leftwing but because they are Maoists: they want a cultural revolution. Leave them to it, I say. Don’t give them any cover.
John McTernan is former political secretary at 10 Downing Street and was director of communications for former prime minister of Australia Julia Gillard. He writes The Last Word column on Progress and tweets @johnmcternan
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