Alastair Campbell’s spin cycle of violence

Commons confidential.

A righteous Alastair Campbell posing as the George Washington of British politics, a spin doctor who never told a lie, was an enjoyable sideshow during the Ed Miliband-Paul Dacre slugfest and the Damian McBride circus. The old Downing Street weapon of mass disinformation, officially decommissioned after the Iraq war, was fingered as the source of the “psychological flaws” smear against Gordon Brown in New Labour’s early days.

During those long Blair v Brown years, the Labour split extended to the press. Blairites, especially Campbell, sucked up to Rupert Murdoch and the Sunwhile the Brownites assiduously courted Dacre and the Daily Mail. A reactivated Campbell was in full destruct mode when he verbally battered a Mail executive on Newsnight. A snout whispered in my ear that the Mail is compiling a dodgy dossier on Campbell’s friendship with Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch’s most prized red top. Campbell vDacre has the smell of a dirty fight to the death.

It appears that the Tory conference motto, “For hardworking people”, didn’t impress the zillionaire hedgefund shark Michael Hintze. Alas, I’m unsure quite why. My radar-lugged source was listening intently in a lift in Manchester’s Midland Hotel as the Tory donor tutted disparagingly and declared, “This slogan . . .” before a flunkey, sadly, changed the subject. I’ve asked the source to work harder to discover the basis of Hintze’s quibble.

The TUC’s first lady, Frances O’Grady, has earned elevation to a pantheon of union leaders that includes John Edmonds and Rodney Bickerstaffe, after she rejected a gong. O’Grady, I’m assured, turned down an MBE.

Her hero, the late, great Jack Jones, declined all manner of baubles until he was offered Companion of Honour by the Queen. He accepted the title, arguing it was being bestowed on the T&G union, rather than him personally. O’Grady, I’d wager, isn’t personally interested in honours, full stop.

The GMB, a union representing binmen and dinner ladies, and which has earned a reputation as a scourge of the City, is backing an investment banker, Zaffar Van Kalwala, in the Labour target seat of Brent Central, where the Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather is retiring. The struggle takes many forms, comrades!

The former postie Alan Johnson is scribbling a second volume of his life story after the success of the first, which described how he was brought up by a teenage sister. My chap suggested his writing helps explain why the former home secretary isn’t interested in the shadow cabinet but would graciously serve in a future cabinet. Well, that and how one job comes with a salary and chauffeur but the other doesn’t.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Image: Montage by Dan Murrell

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 11 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Iran vs Israel

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Universal Credit takes £3,700 from single working parents - it's time to call a halt

The shadow work and pensions secretary on the latest analysis of a controversial benefit. 

Labour is calling for the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) to be halted as new data shows that while wages are failing to keep up with inflation, cuts to in-work social security support have meant most net incomes have flat-lined in real terms and in some cases worsened, with women and people from ethnic minority communities most likely to be worst affected.

Analysis I commissioned from the House of Commons Library shows that real wages are stagnating and in-work support is contracting for both private and public sector workers. 

Private sector workers like Kellie, a cleaner at Manchester airport, who is married and has a four year old daughter. She told me how by going back to work after the birth of her daughter resulted in her losing in-work tax credits, which made her day-to-day living costs even more difficult to handle. 

Her child tax credits fail to even cover food or pack lunches for her daughter and as a result she has to survive on a very tight weekly budget just to ensure her daughter can eat properly. 

This is the everyday reality for too many people in communities across the UK. People like Kellie who have to make difficult and stressful choices that are having lasting implications on the whole family. 

Eventually Kellie will be transferred onto UC. She told me how she is dreading the transition onto UC, as she is barely managing to get by on tax credits. The stories she hears about having to wait up to 10 weeks before you receive payment and the failure of payments to match tax credits are causing her real concern.

UC is meant to streamline social security support,  and bring together payments for several benefits including tax credits and housing benefit. But it has been plagued by problems in the areas it has been trialled, not least because of the fact claimants must wait six weeks before the first payment. An increased use of food banks has been observed, along with debt, rent arrears, and even homelessness.

The latest evidence came from Citizens Advice in July. The charity surveyed 800 people who sought help with universal credit in pilot areas, and found that 39 per cent were waiting more than six weeks to receive their first payment and 57 per cent were having to borrow money to get by during that time.

Our analysis confirms Universal Credit is just not fit for purpose. It looks at different types of households and income groups, all working full time. It shows single parents with dependent children are hit particularly hard, receiving up to £3,100 a year less than they received with tax credits - a massive hit on any family budget.

A single teacher with two children working full time, for example, who is a new claimant to UC will, in real terms, be around £3,700 a year worse off in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12.

Or take a single parent of two who is working in the NHS on full-time average earnings for the public sector, and is a new tax credit claimant. They will be more than £2,000 a year worse off in real-terms in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12. 

Equality analysis published in response to a Freedom of Information request also revealed that predicted cuts to Universal Credit work allowances introduced in 2016 would fall most heavily on women and ethnic minorities. And yet the government still went ahead with them.

It is shocking that most people on low and middle incomes are no better off than they were five years ago, and in some cases they are worse off. The government’s cuts to in-work support of both tax credits and Universal Credit are having a dramatic, long lasting effect on people’s lives, on top of stagnating wages and rising prices. 

It’s no wonder we are seeing record levels of in-work poverty. This now stands at a shocking 7.4 million people.

Our analyses make clear that the government’s abject failure on living standards will get dramatically worse if UC is rolled out in its current form.

This exactly why I am calling for the roll out to be stopped while urgent reform and redesign of UC is undertaken. In its current form UC is not fit for purpose. We need to ensure that work always pays and that hardworking families are properly supported. 

Labour will transform and redesign UC, ending six-week delays in payment, and creating a fair society for the many, not the few. 

Debbie Abrahams is shadow work and pensions secretary.