Last weekend, Labour leader Ed Miliband finally set out Labour’s stall in regards to the coalition’s cuts to benefits. In last week’s Autumn statement, Chancellor George Osborne announced that benefits would rise by 1% for the coming years, in effect a real terms cut as inflation pushes price increases at a greater rate. Ed Miliband came out and opposed the cuts, probably much to the glee of the Tory Party, and this has the potential to become a major, major factor at the 2015 general election.
To this point, the Tories have focussed on splitting the country on lines that would suit them electorally. The cuts to benefits follows coalition rhetoric of ‘strivers’ and ‘skivers’. The Tories have attempted to split the lower classes along the lines of those who are in work and those who are unemployed, presenting the unemployed as feckless and lazy, leeches on the state’s tight budget who purposefully remain on benefits rather than seeking a job. This is an abhorrent notion. Presumably in Osborne’s cushy Tatton constituency he has not witnessed the never-ending queues outside of job centres that the rest of us find unnervingly common. However, the Tories message has hit home with some and they have partially succeeded in convincing many that some unemployed are indeed feckless, parasitical skivers. For this reason, Miliband is taking a huge risk by stepping out of line so early before the election.
In truth, Miliband’s stance is a very principled and moral position (although it has worried New Labourites). It is right that those who already live very close to poverty are kept afloat in a time of rising prices. Where the Tories see a political advantage, Miliband sees real people and real families. It is worrying however, that the public will fail to see Miliband’s side of the argument. After all, the public tend to see themselves as strivers, not skivers, and to be seen on the side of the ‘skivers’ is not a popular position. What both Labour and Miliband have to do is present the human side of unemployment and welfare dependency. They must show how people fight for jobs that simply aren’t there, how they as a family suffer for want of food due to spiralling prices, not because they spunk their benefits away on fags and booze.
With unemployment at a seriously high level, particularly with the young, the Tories risk that, with unemployment so widespread, the public will see through their skivers and strivers façade and see the human face behind it. If not, Labour has to shove it down their throats. If the economy is still ailing at the next election, Labour cannot afford to lose the election as the public see them as economically inefficient. As such, they must immediately plan for how they would fund a benefits rise in line with inflation to counter Tory questions about Labour’s economic capabilities.
Ed Miliband has a very hard job in convincing the public of the worth of those on the jobs scrapheap. However, presenting the human side of unemployment will help. Furthermore, Labour should make overtures to Lib Dems ostracised by these measures to help them counter the Tories dividing arguments. The Tories aim to win the next election by segregating society into those Labour will help (the feckless, the lazy, the parasitical), and those the Tories want to help (strivers, the middle-classes, those who work hard but still barely get by). In truth the Tories preach a very dividing and untruthful narrative, and the Labour Party must expose this. Ed Miliband this week set out on of the key battlegrounds for the next election, it is one he must win.
BY: Thomas Hollywood