Happy New Year, comrades.Tory-lite thinking is alive and well in Ed Miliband's shadow cabinet. It is too late for me to revise my ranking of our PM wannabe in Labour List's end of year survey. He would have got a Poor rating instead of Excellent for associating himself and my party with Ed Balls thought disordered contribution to the debate on welfare reform published on the PoliticsHome website here in the early hours of this monring.
Just consider the headline: Britain needs welfare reform that is tough, fair and that works. To what level of prejudice and ignorance does the Labour Party have to stoop to secure an overall majority at the next election?
Wouldn't a headline such as : 'Britain needs real welfare reform that is universal, consensual and compassionate' have struck a more appropriate note?
Balls fails to address the underlying causes of either long-term unemployment or benefit dependency in his capacity as shadow chancellor of the exchequer (SCHX to the political cogniscenti). He should have spent a bit of time over the Christmas holiday rereading Harold Wilson's 1963 conference speech in which he said:
"the Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this [technological] revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated measures on either side of industry"
The technological revolution continues apace and Balls wants to offer more call-centre/shelf-packing jobs to those plagued by long-term unemployment, with no guarantee of a living wage, or a career. He fails to address the continued dependence of business on state-subsidies. Worse there is a presumption that:
Of course we need spending cuts and tax rises to get the deficit down, but with the flatlining economy sending borrowing up by 10 per cent so far this financial year it’s clearer than ever that you cannot get the deficit down without a plan for jobs and growth which works.
We only need spending cuts, because the economy has been flatlining under the ConDem coalition, and successive governments, including new Labour, failed to address, not just, unfairness in the tax system, but a breakdown in the tax collection system to the benefit of the rich.
Balls then posits three tests for welfare reform:
First, it must pay more to be in work than live on benefits, both for the individual and the Exchequer.
Second we must get tough on the scourge of long-term unemployment by matching rights with responsibilities.
Our third and final test is this: any welfare reforms must be fair to those who are in work or genuinely want to work.All of this is predicated on a mythical mass of scroungers. Balls fails to tackle what most reasonable people recognised a long-time ago. Britain needs a universal child care system free at the point of delivery - both to encourage a work-ethic in the young, and enable everyone who wants and is able to work to do so without crippling child-care fees.
As for the Tory dog-whistle about rights and responsibilities, isn't it the responsibility of the state to ensure, for example, the economy is delivering full and long-term employment? What's Balls got to say about that - a job guarantee to stack shelves... A guarantee that cannot by definition be delivered by government in a mixed economy. Worse, he promises that tackling long-term unemployment will be a top priority. Well, I suppose that's understandable if it were in the context of restarting the economy, universal childcare, living wage, fair taxes. I could go on.
I have lost count of the number of schemes dreamed up in Whitehall to tackle long-term unemployment which in too many instances have proved to be revolving-door capsules for those affected.
Then Balls adds insult to injury by rounding on 'the minority who try to cheat the system'. Was that addressed to the financial services sector, or the dining clubs of Westminister and Pall Mall? No, of course not. They were and remain the untouchables.
Back of the class for Balls.