David Blackburn

Can Labour re-engage with its core vote by attacking middle class benefits?

Can Labour re-engage with its core vote by attacking middle class benefits?
Text settings

Derek Simpson’s complaint that Labour has failed to keep in touch with its core vote and his half-threat to withdraw Unite’s support over cuts feature prominently across the papers this morning. Simpson’s observation concurs with the consensus that Labour’s disastrous showing in June’s local and European elections and the Norwich by-election was the consequence of its core vote abstaining or defecting to fringe parties; the party’s continued poll freefall is also explained in these terms. So, how to woo the working class and the unions whilst selling divisive public service cuts? Jackie Ashley writes that the best way is to attack middle class benefits:

‘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.