The government will push forward with its plans to cut £6 billion in tax credits today and the Commons vote is one that will split both parties. Many Conservative MPs are privately worried about how the party will be viewed for slashing tax credits — even if they agree with it in principle — while some in Labour are worried they will once again be seen as the party who are unwilling to reform welfare.
Frank Field, the veteran Labour MP who was asked by Tony Blair to ‘think the unthinkable on welfare’, said on the Today programme that slashing tax credits could harm the Tories’ image as the party of ‘strivers’:
‘In the long run up to the general election and after the general election, the Chancellor said the Tory party were the party of strivers and we were the party of welfare. And what’s amazing for me is that I don’t think we’ve had a more astute political chancellor in my lifetime and yet by centring the biggest cuts of all on tax credits, he actually blows up that image about the Tory party as the party of strivers. So that for example, if he wins today, over three million people will be worse off by £1200 a pound a year – some much more than that’
Field also said that George Osborne has been doing the rounds of Tory MPs to ensure they don’t vote against the government:
‘While we make fun on our side that the Chancellor doesn’t believe any of this stuff about being on the side of strivers, yesterday he spent the day talking to interview Tory MPs, trying to persuade them not to defeat the government in the House of Commons at 7 o’clock tonight because the key thing they feel strongly about is that they represent large numbers of low-paid workers for vote Tory – and some who don’t vote Tory – but they believe the rhetoric they believe the party that are looking after strivers.’
Field explained on Coffee House last night the political risks the Chancellor faces by cutting tax credits and whether it will destroy his opportunity to reform welfare — something that he appears to believe the Tories should grasp. Osborne and Field have mutual respect for each other: Osborne described Field in an interview recently as ‘interesting and original and he’s open to new ideas’.
But in Labour’s brave new world, it’s notable that Field is leading the charge on tax credits. He’s not a minister or representative of the party’s leadership — just someone who is very knowledge on it. Once again, no one from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet was willing to speak on the Today programme about today’s debate. It’s another bizarre decision, given that this is a tricky policy area for Labour and we are again left guessing what the shadow cabinet thinks about it.