Of all the reasons why Peter Hain should go, here’s my top one. Right now a quarter of British families are caught up in Labour’s hideously complicated means-tested benefits – tax credits, etc. If they “forget” to declare income, it’s called benefit fraud – an offence for which Hain’s department successfully prosecuted 28,800 people in 2006-07. Yet now that Hain himself has forgotten to declare income he has a get-out clause: declare late, and you are automatically off the hook. Not so for those being hounded for over-payment of tax credits.
Everyone has seen the DWP posters “no ifs, no buts” – which Guido brilliantly adapts for Labour special advisers now and again (and, indeed, a version adorns my News of the World column today). Hain claims he was stumped by a four-page, large-type Electoral Commission form. Has he any idea about the 25-page forms he makes low-wage British workers fill in to reclaim a fraction of their money back? For as long as the DWP is prosecuting a zero-tolerance approach to income declaration, it cannot be led by a man who “forgot” about his legal obligation to declare £103,000. For as long as Brown keeps him, he will represent grotesque double-standards at the heart of his government. And families forced into the bureaucratic nightmare of tax credits (ie, the people who decide British elections) will resent it the most.