Thursday, 19 March 2015

Labour’s Triangulation Strategy for Welfare Benefit Claimants

Interviewed by The Guardian newspaper this week, Rachel Reeves, Labour shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said Labour did not want to be seen to be the party of the welfare state.

We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work,” she said. “Labour are a party of working people, formed for and by working people.”

I think this statement must have the Labour party’s 1945 founding fathers of the welfare state turning in their graves. The post World War 2 Labour government, as well setting up the NHS and extending free school education was also responsible for introducing social security payments for all those in need of it.

Working people, often through no fault of their own, find themselves in periodic bouts of unemployment, which is what the contributory nature of National Insurance was designed to alleviate. Like any insurance policy, you pay into the scheme to insure yourself against future spell of unemployment. National Assistance was also extended to all those who had used up NI based payments or those who didn’t have cover, if they were in need.

The very idea of the welfare state was to provide a safety net for those who through cyclical unemployment or disability were unable to work. This notion has been abandoned by the current coalition government, and true to form, Labour is attempting to steal their opponents political clothes. 

This tactic has become known as ‘triangulation’, first pioneered by Bill Clinton, US Democratic party president in the 1990s.

In a classic example of this tactic, Reeves went onto say “The role of the Jobcentre was to help. Now people are made to feel that they are trying to get something that they are not entitled to,” and “We have had a tenfold increase in the number of people being sanctioned. This government says that they don’t have targets for sanctions but they clearly do.” 

The point with triangulation is to steal your opponent’s policies, but to claim that you can manage them better, by making small changes to the way you implement them. Reeves also said just after taking on her current role eighteen months ago, that Labour will be tougher than Tories on benefits.

I know myself from working at a Jobcentre for a period that straddled the end of the last Labour government and the start of the Coalition government, that sanctions are used much more frequently now than under Labour. But the same Labour government began the task of pushing people off disability benefits and onto Jobseekers Allowance, using the dubious target driven assessments by private healthcare provider Atos. I saw people who were passed fit for work by Atos, who clearly were not fit for work, even in an abundant labour market, which we didn’t have at that time.

The Coalition government hasn’t altered the benefit sanction rules introduced by Labour, but has merely enforced them much more enthusiastically.

In one of Labour’s most shameful episodes of the current Parliament, leader Ed Miliband ordered his MPs to abstain when the Coalition introduced retrospective benefit sanction legislation, after the Court of Appeal had ruled the regime was illegal in 2013. Retrospective legislation is hardly ever used in the UK, because of the inherent unfairness of it. Can you imagine the outcry if a government tried to introduce retrospective legislation to catch the corporate tax dodgers?   

Reeves’ comments are a clear signal, if anyone still needs it, that new Labour is alive and well, and has changed not one iota from the Blairite script of the 1990s, despite quietly dropping ‘new’ prefix. 

Here’s an idea Labour can have for free from me, a slogan for the election. Drop all that hackneyed ‘hard working families’ stuff and use this instead:

Labour: Crap – but not as crap as the other lot!   

1 comment:

  1. I started to worry about this as soon as I heard Rachel Reeves speak. Not much difference between the two. I'm going to vote green but it wont do much. Tory stronghold here.