David Blackburn

Why don’t Labour talk about welfare reform?

Philip Collins is shackled by the epithet ‘Tony Blair’s former speechwriter’; shackled because his columns prove him to be his own man. His latest (£) is a carefully argued critique of the Labour Party’s total lack of a welfare policy, titled ‘Labour Can’t Win If It’s On Mick Philpott’s side’ . The most arresting section is:

‘There is no better illustration of the self-harm of Labour’s position than that it is driving me into the arms of the Tory backbencher Bernard Jenkin. I usually regard Mr Jenkin as the prime specimen of perspective-free hyperbole on Europe and tax cuts. But Mr Jenkin was one of a number of Tories who suggested that child benefit be limited to the first two children; this would save £3.3 billion if it were applied to all recipients.

There are more than 85,000 households that claim for five children (!90 familes claim for ten) and almost a quarter of a million that claim for four. Many working people take the responsible view that, though they would love another child, they cannot afford it. What’s wrong with embodying the same standard in the benefits system?’

Labour’s silence on these matters really is deafening. It does not take genius (nor does it make you callous) to see that the Philpott case, though extreme, raises some questions about how we order society. It raises questions about our acute housing shortage, the policing of our benefits system, the efficiency of our social care services, the competence of the criminal justice system, and our ability to protect vulnerable and impressionable women from monsters like Mick Philpott. And, of course, it raises questions about how such a monster was created and supported. One must not deny Philpott’s personal responsibility for this and other crimes; but I do not believe that such tragic stupidity and malevolence emerged entirely ex nihilo. Most

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