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Will he, won’t he? Ed Miliband makes noises about benefits war

9 December 2012

9:46 AM

9 December 2012

9:46 AM

Ed Miliband is ready to wage war with David Cameron and George Osborne over the Welfare Uprating Bill, which will see benefits rise by 1 per cent a year, rather than in line with inflation. The Labour leader has been talking tough in the papers this morning, with a piece in the Sunday Mirror in which he says:

‘We should be tough on the minority who can work and try to avoid responsibility. But there comes a moment when a government is exposed for who they are. That happened to David Cameron and George Osborne this week.

‘They showed they are not fit to govern because they played political games with people’s livelihoods. They said they were cutting benefits for the next three years and the mood music was that it was a way to punish the ‘shirkers and scroungers’. But the truth turned out to be so different. Six out of 10 people hit by these cuts are people who get up every morning and go to work. The lowest paid families getting tax credits. The new mum who will lose £180 in maternity pay.’

The Observer, meanwhile, reports that Miliband ‘appears ready to order his party to oppose real-term reductions in income for millions of the poorest and most vulnerable’. But in both instances Miliband and those around him have – significantly – stopped short of confirming that Labour will actually oppose the Welfare Uprating Bill.

The problem in the party is that there are deep divisions on welfare. There are the Blairite modernisers like Liam Byrne, who are aware of the need for Labour to overhaul its image on benefits. And then there are others who bitterly oppose those benefit cuts already approved by Parliament. I sketched out the to-ing and fro-ing within Byrne’s own team last year over the £26,000 benefits cap. Those divisions go all the way down to the grassroots.

James reports in his column today that ‘there will be much more use of the ‘welfare wedge’ between now and 2015’ by the Conservative party. It is an effective way of smoking Labour out of its den on welfare.

Miliband does need to articulate why, if wages are not rising in line with inflation, benefits should do too, even payments for those in work that he identifies in his Sunday Mirror piece. One way out could be for Labour to really focus the debate on ‘strivers’ by trying to amend the Welfare Uprating Bill so that working benefits are stripped out, thus making the party appear ‘tough on the minority who can work and try to avoid responsibility’. But that he has not yet confirmed what his stance is on uprating benefits is significant, and suggests ongoing divisions in the Labour party, just as Tory strategists hoped.

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