The Lefties it's OK to love

In this week's NS, the left told us which Tories they love. But is that love reciprocated?

The NS has a cover story: Which Tories is it OK to love? I love my other half, and he's a Tory, but I don't think that's the point of the article. And despite all those pop songs that urge "you gotta love you-self, bay-bee", I don't count either. I shall read the views of the Left-of-centre Great And Good with interest.

Anyway as an act of symmetry, because I love symmetry, I thought I'd return the favour. Which people of the Left do Tories love?

I lack the magazine's institutional reach, so my own "research" didn't involve ringing round the Establishment. Thank God for Twitter, eh! Below are the responses from random twittering Tories, along with my own choices, which are the top three.

George Orwell. Obvious really, but it's not only his prescient warning about totalitarianism that make me a fan. I go back to his essay on politics and the English language -once a month at least, and shudder anew each time I read his instructions about clarity, because despite my best efforts I continue to break them. An essential read for anyone who wants to communicate well, or to deconstruct the communications of those who prefer obfuscation (I've just broken one of his rules). Besides, which Tory doesn't vibrate with recognition at this:

Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse.

When I read that, I'm like that scene in When Harry Met Sally. Yes that one. Yes that's a metaphor. Almost.

Frank Field. Also obvious, I know, but equally deserved. From his fight against Militant in the 80s (in a profile of him in the Independent in 1993, he said his nightmare is "sitting in a smoke-filled room confronted by rows of staring eyes and faces contorted by hatred") to his common-sense advocacy of welfare reform, Field is one of those politicians whose reach extends beyond his actual words: he gives permission for debates to occur, which the elite would often prefer to leave undiscussed. In this sense, he's a gatekeeper: if Frank Field thinks it's acceptable to discuss the human implications of social security policy, then it's OK for the rest of us to air our views too.

Tom Harris. Like Field, Harris refuses to parrot the banalities of the age, which are nearly all to do with a horror of expressing judgement about lifestyles. For this sin, his party has previously overlooked one of its most skilled communicators: if there were any sense in the political ordering, Harris would already be leader of the Scottish Labour party, and not only a candidate for that position. (I only hope that having a Tory declare his political love doesn't do him any harm.) Sometimes it's useful to ask yourself a question: which political opponent would I least like to stand against in an election? Harris is at the top of my list, because he's honest, good-humoured, and kind. One of the good guys.

Here are some responses from Tory Twitterers, one or two of which might surprise you (they did me):

@torypride nominated John Cryer and Gisela Stuart, for their work on the European Referendum Campaign. @botzarelli suggested Dennis Skinner: "disagree with almost everything but he's uncompromising and takes role of MP seriously". I agree. Skinner deserves recognition for his unwavering commitment to the centrality of class as a predictor of outcome, a legitimate hypothesis to which we Conservatives have never quite been able to provide a proper response (there is occasionally a downside to resisting ideology). This thought reminds me of the admiration I have for Nick Cohen, who writes often about class, the forgotten discriminant, as well as tackling head-on both the horrors of clerical fascism and the hypocrisy of those who defend it.

@blondpidge suggested Tony Benn, "because he's a man of great principle". I'm aware of this widespread feeling about Mr Benn. Since we're writing about love, I'll admit only that I share neither the fascination nor the adulation. I prefer him to Caroline Lucas, is about as strong as I'd put it.

Since it's good to learn something new every day, I was pleased to read about Sir Roger Douglas, nominated by @Stuart_Barrow, who also reminded me of how much we owe Chris Smith. As Stuart puts it, we owe Lord Smith a lot for taking a stand and coming out "decades before some on our side grew a spine".

Finally, and I wonder if this will please him, big Twitter Tory-love goes out to John Prescott, from @jwgsharp, who writes that despite disagreeing with the politics, Prescott's "background, strong beliefs", and the fact that he "sent his kids to the school allocated to them. No banging on about Comps and sending to selective or private school", all impress him.

Reading the list again, there's something obvious to see, I think. Regardless of our affiliation, we have attraction to people who articulate the truth as they see it, as clearly as they can, and who hold fast to their principles regardless of the vagaries of political fashion, or how unpopular this leaves them in the meantime.

They are also largely politicians who don't learn how to speak in an inhuman manner, because they're so sure of their principles that they're immune to the fear of "gaffes" (stupid, stupid word) that afflict the less-certain or more career-minded.

Tony Blair, by the way, wasn't suggested by anyone.

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Time to start fixing the broken safety net that no longer catches struggling families

We are failing to ensure we look after the children of families both in and out of work.

Families on low incomes are once again bearing the brunt of a tough economic environment. Over the past decade, rising costs of items such as food, energy and childcare, combined with stagnating wages and cuts in benefits, have repeatedly put a squeeze on family budgets.

Between 2014 and 2016, some of these pressures eased, as inflation sank to zero and pay started to grow again. But now that inflation has returned, for the first time in postwar history the increasing cost of a child is being combined with a freeze in all financial support for children. The failure to uprate either benefits, tax credits or the wage levels at which tax credits are withdrawn means that inflation is bound to erode modest family incomes both in and out of work.

The gradual fall in living standards that this produces will be worsened by other benefit cuts that come in over the next few years, for different families at different times. For a start, the phasing out of the “family element” of Child Tax Credit (and its equivalent in Universal Credit) will eventually result in all low-income families getting more than £500 a year less from the state than at present.

Since this only applies to families whose oldest child was born in April 2017 or later, it hits families with the youngest children first, with the effect spreading gradually through the population. The restriction of tax credit entitlements to a maximum of two children is also being phased in, affecting only third children born from this year on, but will clobber families much more severely, with a loss of nearly £2,800 a year per child.

Some existing larger families who escape this cut have nevertheless had their income severely reduced this year (by anything up to £6,000) by the reduction in the benefit cap.

My latest report on the cost of a child, for Child Poverty Action Group, takes stock of these trends and the effects they will have on parents’ ability to provide for their families effectively. For some families in work, improved support for childcare and a higher minimum wage partially offsets the losses incurred as a result of the above cuts. But for those relying on benefits as a “safety net” when they are not working, the level of this net is being progressively lowered over time. On present policies, the support that it provides will sink below half of what families need as a minimum sometime early in the 2020s – having in contrast provided about two thirds of their requirements at the start of the present decade.

There comes a point when a “safety net” stops being worthy of its name because it is no longer enough to provide even the bare essentials of modern life. The evidence shows that when income sinks this low, most families can only escape severe material hardship either by going into debt or by getting help from extended family members.

We are about to enter a new parliamentary season, led by a government that survived by the skin of its teeth after a disgruntled electorate failed to give it the clear majority that it sought. Raising family living standards has been at the heart of the political promise to improve people’s lives. The benefits freeze alone seems to contradict this promise by creating a downward escalator for the half of families relying on some kind of means-tested benefit or tax credit, in combination with child benefit.

For those  who are “just about managing”, and particularly for others who are not managing at all, the clearest signal that Philip Hammond could give in his Autumn Budget that he is starting  to reverse the direction of that escalator would be to restore a system of benefit upratings. This would at least allow incomes to keep up with living costs, stopping things from getting systematically worse, and giving a stable foundation on which measures to improve living standards could build.

Professor Donald Hirsch is director of the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University