David Blackburn

How should Miliband respond to the child benefit reform?

How should Miliband respond to the child benefit reform?
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Daniel Finkelstein and Philip Collins’ email exchanges are always enlightening. This week, they discussed child benefit. Both think it has altered the markings on the playing field of politics. Ed Miliband is yet to respond: how should he?

From: Daniel Finkelstein

To: Philip Collins

If you were Ed Miliband, where would you go now on child benefit?

First option: total opposition to the Government’s plan. You get to hoover up discontent but you don’t look much like a governing force, do you? And it seems hypocritical. Plus, you said you were going to support the Government on many cuts. If not this, then what?

Second: you go with it. You look big, you look grown up, but lots won’t like it. And you really help out the Tories on a sticky one.

Third: you say yes in principle but attack the one-earner anomaly. The advantage is obvious….but your position is pretty complicated and you end up being forced to back one of the other ways of doing it which don’t really work.

So….what?

From: Philip Collins

To: Daniel Finkelstein

My view is option three. 85% of people are not higher rate tax payers. If you start criticising the move, Tory ministers do speeches within the hour on “the few not the many”.

So, I would support it, even though that has downsides as you say. It does help the Tories but there will be plenty of cuts to come and you can wait for one that hits the poor.

There are a lot of practical objections and though they are hard to communicate they are not impossible.

I would be inclined in general to go for the coalition on the grounds that they talk a good game but they don’t know what they are doing. And this would fit into that.

From: Daniel Finkelstein

To: Philip Collins

I see that.

Here’s the counter case. It’s neither one thing nor the other. Don’t you want to establish a really clear direction for your leadership?

Option three sounds like a bit of a cop out. I should think this measure is supported by almost every Labour or potential Labour voter.

Go with it and you win yourself a lot of space on the rest of the cuts and send an early signal that you meant what you said in your speech.

No?

From: Philip Collins

To: Daniel Finkelstein

Not quite. You can have options two and three together. You say you will vote for it but you reserve the right to make criticisms of the competence of the government. You can have option three for free.

And you know that another cut will be along any minute now that you can agree with fully, then another that you can disagree with. You don’t need to rush for definition.

However, if you said you had to choose support or dissent, I would choose support.’