Thursday, October 07, 2010

Labour triangulated on child benefit - how will Ed respond?

The anomalies of the plans for child benefit are, as I've said, totally nuts. That a couple earning £80K jointly will still receive a minimum of around £1200 as a handout, whilst a couple where only one is earning bringing in £45K won't is universally stupid.

I don't say this because I want higher rate taxpayers to keep child benefit though, far from it, I say it because its clearly silly to say that such a situation is "fair". It's a complete snafu of a policy problem, but I understand why it exists, as its a result of the desire to avoid means-testing.

Let's not forget that means-testing will require form-filling of some sort to establish a household income, and then someone else to process the forms, which costs money.

However, as the polling suggests, most people (83%) really don't have a problem with it, and that's pretty much because those 83% are going to be people that will be unaffected by the change anyway. There are some who argue that the only people complaining are the ones on over £44K anyone who will lose out, this might be true.

The thing is, on reflection, whilst I still think Osborne was a complete cock for allowing the plan to framed like this, tactically it is a perfect bit of triangulation of the Opposition. If they vehemently oppose it, on the rather 1940s-esque grounds of "universality" then the quick response is to say that Labour want to give millionaires a free £1200 a year and clearly don't care about the deficit.

At the same time, even if they propose alterations to the plan in order to protect "middle earners", they place themselves in the odd situation of arguing to give handouts to people in the top 15% of earners.

Even if, as Yvette Cooper has tried to do, they paint it in terms of "children suffering" they're on a hiding to nothing, because they'll have to argue that someone taking home £2700 per month really needs an extra £100 to make sure they're child can eat. That argument is simply not credible.

There is no doubt about it, the policy, whilst causing a storm that varies from those who in principle have no problem with the idea but think the implementation sucks; to those who are simply outraged at the loss of money; it has pushed Labour into a sticky corner with little room to manoeuvre in terms of opposing it without appearing opportunistic.

Of course, they could, if they tack Leftwards, target the anomaly only, and argue that the policy is case of the "same old Tories" keeping benefits for their rich friends on an £80K household income and taking it away from the lower paid.

The only problem they'll have then though, is that the 80% of the country not impacted by it will simply shrug their shoulders, and Labour will reinforce the view that the Tories are now the true friends of the C2 working class, and that Labour puts ideological dogma above tackling the deficit.

It's going to be very interesting to see what Ed Miliband actually does when he faces Cameron at the Dispatch Box. It's said that he is very clever, I think a very clever man would keep quiet, let it happen, and avoid the trap that has so clearly been laid, but we shall have to wait and see.

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