A poll to calm the coalition's nerves

Poll shows 83 per cent support child benefit decision - Labour must be clearer in its defence of the

A new YouGov poll showing that 83 per cent of the public support the coalition's decision to abolish child benefit for higher rate taxpayers will calm some jangled nerves in the Tory Party. The survey at least confirms, as progressives have long argued, that the majority of voters support tax increases on higher-earners.

But for those, like me, who believe that universal child benefit is an essential pillar of the welfare state, it's still a dispiriting poll. Yvette Cooper, who increasingly looks like a good bet for shadow chancellor, has done a good job of linking the move to the coalition's other anti-family measures (the abolition of baby bonds, the three-year freeze in child benefit, the abolition of the health in maternity grant, the withdrawal of child tax credits from higher-earners) but Labour must mount a much clearer, principled defence of a universal welfare state.

Yet dig below the headline findings and there is some evidence of public discontent. Asked if a couple on £30,000 each should receive child benefit when one earner on £44,000 doesn't, 46 per cent say no and 41 per cent say the anomaly is "not ideal but acceptable".

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Latest poll (YouGov/Sun) Conservatives 13 seats short of a majority

Elsewhere, there's more good news for the Tories, who seem to have enjoyed a conference poll bounce. The YouGov daily tracker puts them up two points to 43 per cent, with Labour unchanged on 39 per cent and the Lib Dems down one to 11 per cent. But, with the spending review now just two weeks away, this may be one of the last polls the Tories can take encouragement from.

New Statesman Poll of Polls

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Hung parliament, Labour 15 seats short.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo:Getty
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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.