The next Labour leader will be called Miliband

The first proper poll of Labour members confirms that this is a two-horse race.

My column in the magazine this week is on the subject of the Labour leadership election and the "operation", both inside and outside the party, to target the man with the momentum, Ed Miliband, and portray him as a wild-eyed, left-wing extremist -- a "Bennite", a throwback to the 1980s. (Incidentally, the proud Labour "rightist" and Ed M supporter Luke Akehurst has a rather interesting rebuttal to this ludicrous charge on his blog.)

Meanwhile, the Ed Balls camp has been in touch to firmly deny the report in my column that its man has "privately conceded" that he "cannot win". But Balls's campaign has failed to take off, despite his robust and repeated attacks on the coalition and, in particular, on the surprisingly hapless Michael Gove.

Tthere's more bad news for the shadow education secretary today: the first proper poll in this leadership election, of almost 2,500 Labour members and trade unionists, found Balls trailing in last place, behind Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott -- fifth out of five candidates.

The poll adds weight to the idea that this is now a two-horse race and that the next Labour leader will be called Miliband. From the Press Association:

David Miliband is set to be the new Labour leader, edging out his younger brother Ed in what is becoming a two-horse race, according to a new poll.

The YouGov survey for the Sun predicted that the Milibands will leave rivals Ed Balls, Diane Abbott and Andy Burnham trailing to claim the first two places in Labour's electoral college of MPs and MEPs, party members and affiliated organisations including unions.

When the defeated candidates' votes are redistributed, shadow foreign secretary David would beat shadow energy secretary Ed by a margin of 54 per cent to 46 per cent, the poll found.

With the race so close, it's no surprise that both Miliband brothers are said to be desperate to have Ed B's second-preference endorsement -- in particular Ed M, who has narrowed the gap with his elder brother but has yet to overtake him or "break through".

Will Balls offer a second-pref endorsement at all? And if so, will it be for his "Blairite" rival of the past decade, David Miliband, or for his once-junior colleague at the Treasury, Ed Miliband? I'm told that the shadow education secretary has yet to make up his mind -- but if/when it comes, such a move could prove to be the turning point in this increasingly dull and drab Labour leadership election.

UPDATE:

David Miliband will be delighted that he secured the endorsement of Gillian Duffy, Gordon Brown's nemesis and a member of the Unite union (which endorsed brother Ed). In a semi-dig at his elder sibling's publicity stunt, Ed has been joking with friends that perhaps he should go in search of Sharron Storer's endorsement.

UPDATE 2:

It's worth checking out Jim Pickard's post over at the FT Westminster blog, which examines how the polls were hopelessly wrong in predicting the result of Labour's deputy leadership contest in 2007. (Hat-tip: "Will M" in the comment thread below.)

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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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.