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Billy Bragg may not like it, but the Conservatives are the new workers’ party

6 June 2013

11:37 AM

6 June 2013

11:37 AM

Ed Miliband argued this morning that the Labour party ought to be more focused on people working. ‘The clue’s in the name,’ he said. The irony is that Labour gave up on working people some time ago, and used the boom to keep five million Brits on out-of-work benefit while foreign-born workers accounted for 99.9% of the rise in employment. The Conservatives, with their revolutionary Universal Credit, want to make work pay – and save lives rather than save money. I tweeted earlier on today that the Conservatives can be seen as the new workers’ party. This drew a response from the two of the left-wingers I most admire: Polly Toynbee and Billy Bragg.

Like many 40-year-olds, I grew up with Billy’s music. He’s the greatest protest singer of the postwar years – yet I drew rather different conclusions from his lyrics. “People ask me when will I grow up to understand/Why the girls I knew at school are already pushing prams,” he wrote – quite so. The answer has much to do with the way that government subsidies mean that an unemployed mother-of-two has more disposable income than her classmates who became librarians or hairdressers. And it’s the Tories who try to address this, reforming the tax system to support work.

Billy’s 1988 exhortation to ‘start your own revolution and cut out the middle man’ made perfect sense to me: government should empower ordinary people, and not try to interfere with their lives. You don’t need an expensive, meddling middle man. In my Twitter correspondence with him, I also adapted the below graph to show why the Conservatives’ welfare reform is consistent with the principles he adumbrated in his work. Must I paint you a picture? Okay then…

Screen-Shot-2013-06-06-at-10.10.03-554x413


Billy’s point on Twitter was that, if you include tax credits when you’re talking about ‘benefits’ then they are paid to lots of people in work. He’s right, although today he should be directing his concern to Ed Miliband who seems determined to cut the cost of these benefits today. But here’s what Billy should have been protesting about.

Between the slumps - Out-of-work benefits during Labour's boom years

If you want to know why at least four million were kept on benefits during the boom, the answer is that the system was rigged against the workers. Those who wanted to move from benefits into work faced – and still do face – outrageously high marginal tax rates. What a blow to those who voted “not for the iron fist/but for the helping hand.”

Thanks to IDS, it is the modern Conservative Party now offering that helping hand. Universal Credit is intended to flatten out the above graph, and make work pay. Those who are looking for a new England should vote accordingly.

Oh – and Polly argued that the Tories cant be for the workers, given that Osborne has presided over such unemployment. The truth is that, while there is much to worry about in Osborne’s policies, employment has been one of the better stories as the graph below demonstrates:

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 12.15.23


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