‘So how can Labour remain honest about the need for cuts and yet persuade millions of worried people that it is still worth turning out to vote?
They have to look hard at middle class benefits, as indeed the IoD/Taxpayers' Alliance are doing, and the Conservatives will too. In these hard times, there are still plenty of higher-rate taxpayers getting help who could manage without it. I've always supported the idea of universal child benefit. But if there have to be cuts, then taking away child benefit from the better off, and the winter fuel payment from richer pensioners, would seem sensible ideas and are on Labour's agenda.’
Will that work? Not if the unions have anything to with it. Speaking on the Today programme, Brendan Barber made it very clear that the “TUC does not want essential, universal benefits to be tampered with”, thinking, probably correctly, that such reform is the thin end of the wedge. The TUC prefers targeted tax hikes on pension relief and capital gains tax. An additional problem is that if Labour is to woo the unions and the working class it must demonstrate that its cuts differ from the Tory’s. Ashley acknowledges that the Tories and Conservative minded think tanks are looking at universal benefits and probably suggest excluding the well-off - as they should. Benefit cuts are inevitable across the board; Labour will gain little from them.