I’ve always admired Jon Cruddas, and worried a little at his being placed at the centre of Ed Miliband’s policy unit. What happens if he talks sense? Well, my fears were well-founded: a good dollop of common sense has emerged from Cruddas, through the medium of today’s Sunday Times splash.
On 21 June, we learn, Cruddas was speaking to Compass, a left-wing policy group, and was kind (too kind) about the IPPR’s ‘Condition of Britain’ report – which I’d recommend to conservatives with a taste for schadenfreude as it’s almost comically vacuous and exposes a Labour movement entirely bereft of new ideas. Cruddas was speaking about the report, saying that it took the IPPR nearly two years to come up with it. And yet, he said…
'We managed in the political world to condense it into one story about a punitive hit on 18 to 21-year-olds around their benefits. That takes some doing, you know, a report with depth is collapsed into one instrumentalised policy thing which was fairly cynical and punitive… And instead instrumentalised, cynical nuggets of policy to chime with our focus groups and our press strategies and our desire for a top line in terms of the 24-hour media cycle dominate and crowd out any innovation or creativity.'
Well said that man. He’s referring to Rachel Reeves’ rather cruel plan to deny the dole to the under-25s unless they go to study for some exams to take them up to Level 3 (the equivalent of an A-Level). I do support tough-love welfare reform policies, as implemented by Blair and IDS. But on the condition that they are effective. Would sending the young unemployed off to study for NVQs of questionable value to employers be effective? Or just a way to persuade the tabloids that you're tough on welfare reform? I suspect the latter.
The Tory plan is for the young to find work - which people are now doing in record numbers. Each day, the UK employment count is rising by 2,000.
As I wrote in my Daily Telegraph column, this policy exposes a lack of political seriousness. For a start, youth unemployment is falling at the fastest rate in 15 years:
Second, her 'punitive' policy (Cruddas is quite right to use that word) would affect 100,000 Neets – young people not in employment, education or training. The last set of figures showed that the number of Neets falling, over the last year, by more than that amount: the market is doing this work by itself.
And finally, the vacuous IPPR report made no mention of the fact most of the Neets that she’s talking about didn’t even get to GCSE level. So badly were they failed by the system that 40 per cent have the numeracy skills expected of nine-year-olds. It’s not much use sending such people off to study for an NVQ if they stand precious little hope of passing. It’s pointless, as well as punitive.
Cruddas is a serious politician, who can see that his party leader just doesn’t have serious answers to Britain’s serious problems. I have a feeling that more voters will draw this conclusion as the election draws near.