Ed Miliband shows his hand on child benefit

Miliband defends the universal welfare state in his first post-conference interview.

Ed Miliband took to the This Morning sofa today, for his first big post-conference interview and finally passed comment on the child benefit fiasco.

The increasingly impressive Yvette Cooper, who is likely to top the shadow cabinet poll today, has so far led Labour's attack, denouncing the cuts as an anti-family measure. But one sensed that many Labour MPs were waiting for Miliband to lead the way. After all, some in the press had suggested that the Labour leader would struggle to oppose a measure that only penalised the top 15 per cent of earners.

But Miliband, who mounted a strong defence of the universal welfare state during his leadership campaign, finally showed his hand today.

He said: "All families need support. I am against the changes that the government is making to child benefit ... The way they have gone about them has caused huge anxiety, particularly for mums who are staying at home while maybe their husbands are going out to work."

And, in recognition of the fact that child benefit remains one of the essential pillars of the Beveridge model, he added:

But when it comes to child benefit which has gone to all families for 60 years in this country - it was a legacy of the Second World War - I think it is really important to support families in this country and I think child benefit is a good way of doing it.

He didn't, as he has done before, quote Richard Titmuss's wise assertion that "services for the poor will always be poor services", but it was clear that he remains a passionate universalist. As a classic social democrat, Miliband understands that the decision to make child benefit universal was never just a matter of income, rather it was an act of social solidarity that bound rich and poor alike into the welfare state.

The key dividing line of this Parliament -- a universal welfare state versus a residual one -- remains in tact.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Emmanuel Macron's French election victory may change less than most expect

The centrist is not the first to succeed from outside the traditional parties in the Fifth Republic.

Emmanuel Macron has won the first round of the French presidential election, and will face Marine Le Pen in the run-off.

The numbers that matter: Emmanuel Macron 24 per cent, Le Pen 21 per cent, François Fillon 19.9 per cent, Jean Luc Mélenchon 19.9 per cent and Benoît Hamon 6.3 per cent.

According to the polls - which came within 0.9 per cent of the correct result in the first round - Macron will easily defeat Marine Le Pen in the second round.

The single transferable take that compares Macron to Hillary Clinton and Le Pen to Trump ignores a few things. Not least his programme, the different electoral system and the fact that Macron is popular - the most popular politician in France, in fact. Jean Luc Mélenchon declined to back a candidate in the second round and will poll his supporters on who his leftist bloc should back. But it's not comparable to the feud between Bernie Sanders and Clinton - which, in any case, was overwritten. Most Sanders supporters backed Clinton in November. The big story of that election was that the American mainstream right backed Donald Trump despite his manifold faults.

The French mainstream right is a very different beast. Fillon has already thrown his weight behind Macron, warning against the "violence" and "intolerance" of the National Front and the "economic chaos" its programme would inflict. And to the extent that it matters, Hamon has also endorsed his former party colleague, saying that there is a difference between a "political adversary and an enemy of the Republic."

So, if he wins, has everything changed, changed utterly? That's the line in most of the papers this morning, but I'm not so sure. French politics has always been more fissiparous than elsewhere, with parties conjured up to facilitate runs for the Presidency, such as the Democratic Movement of perennial candidate, now Macron backer François Bayrou, and Mélenchon's own Left Party.

I'm dubious, too, about the idea that Macron is the first to succeed from outside the traditional centre-right and centre-left blocs in the history of the Fifth Republic. That honour surely goes to Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, a popular finance minister in a Gaullist administration, who ran on a independent centrist platform in 1974 - and won the presidency.

Giscard d'Estaing had no majority in the National Assembly and had to "cohabit" with his former colleagues on the Gaullist right. In the long run, far from upending the left-right pattern of French politics, he continued it. (Indeed, d'Estaing is now a member of the centre-right Republican Party.)

You don't have to look hard to see the parallels with Macron, a popular finance minister in a Socialist administration, running on an independent centrist platform and very likely to win, too.

France's underreported and under-polled legislative elections in June will give us an idea of the scale of the change and how lasting it may be. If, freed from the taint of Fillon's scandals, the French Republicans can win the legislative elections then talk of the "death of the traditional centre-right" is going to look very silly indeed.

Equally, while Hamon won the presidential nomination, the Socialist Party's legislative candidates are largely drawn from the party's right. If En Marche!, Macron's new party, can go from no seats at all to the largest group but are short of a majority their natural allies in getting through Macron's programme will be from the remains of the Socialists. Far from irrevocably changing the pattern of French politics, Macron's remarkable success may simply mark a period of transition in the life of the French Left.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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