Cameron hints that child benefit cut could be eased

"We always said we would look at the steepness of the curve," says PM, as worries over the female vo

Removing child benefit from higher rate taxpayers was a coalition policy which drew criticism from across the board -- and now David Cameron has hinted that it could be watered down.

After the plan to cut child benefit for higher earners was announced in 2010, inconsistencies quickly emerged: stay-at-home mothers would be penalised, as a household in which one parent earns just over the threshold of £42,000 would lose all their child benefits, while another with two earners of £41,000 each would not be affected.

Cameron told the House magazine:

Some people say that's the unfairness of it, that you lose the child benefit if you have a higher rate taxpayer in the family. Two people below the level keep the benefit. So, there's a threshold, a cliff-edge issue. We always said we would look at the steepness of the curve, we always said we would look at the way it's implemented and that remains the case, but again I don't want to impinge on the Chancellor's Budget.

This reflects growing concern about falling support for the Conservatives amongst female voters. (New Statesman blogger Gavin Kelly has written extensively on this). The cut to child benefit is just one on a long list of policies which hit women harder than men: cuts to Sure Start, the abolition of baby bond and the health in maternity grant, and the three-year child benefit freeze. Indeed, a recent study by the House of Commons Library found that of the £2.37 billion to be raised through tax credit cuts and caps on public sector pay, 73 per cent (£1.73 billion) will come from women, and just 27 per cent (£638 million) from men.

It is no surprise, then, that the government is thinking of somehow sweetening the pill (this has been on the cards since September at least). But how much change are we talking? The Welfare Minister Chris Grayling said last night that he had "heard nothing to suggest we are about to change direction massively", while George Osborne has previously said that a more sophisticated way of implementing the cut would be too expensive.

So we are unlikely to see the cut -- due in 2013 -- scrapped all together. It is a big part of the coalition's deficit reduction programme, and could save. £2.5 billion a year. What is more likely is that it will be examined to see if a taper can be applied to the system to ease its implementation. It is speculated that Osborne could make a move as soon as the next Budget. Exactly what that move is -- and whether it successfully halts falling support amongst female voters -- remains to be seen.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The English left must fall out of love with the SNP

There is a distinction between genuine leftism and empty anti-establishmentarianism.

After a kerfuffle on Twitter the other night, I am all too aware that writing something even mildly questioning of the SNP government is the British equivalent of approaching a lion pride on a kill. Nevertheless, seeing the almost hero-levels of mental gymnastics tweeted by Mhairi Black, in the week of the Hillsborough inquiry whereupon Nicola Sturgeon posed with a copy of The Sun endorsing her re-election, prompted me once more to consider just how spectacular the distance has become between the SNP that stood against Ed Miliband versus the SNP today and in government.

Mhairi tweeted: “So Kezia wants to put up the taxes of Scottish people to subsidise Tory cuts that her party supported in Westminster?”. Confused? So am I.

This follows in a series of SNP revisionism on what austerity is and the excuses the SNP has hidden, not quite so conspicuously, up its sleeve to not act on its new tax powers, so as not to break its bond with Middle Scotland. They insist that Labour’s plans for a penny tax are not progressive, and have framed it in such a way that an anti-austerity plan has now become a subsidy for cuts Labour actually haven’t supported for more than a year now. Just like that, the SNP is a low-tax mimicry of Toryism.

But it isn’t ‘just like that’. The SNP have governed from an economically cautious stance for seven years. For a brief period, they borrowed Ed Miliband’s clothes. But once the Red Wedding had been completed, they returned back to where they started: as successors to New Labour, though that is hardly fair: they are far, far less redistributive.

So why is it, in the 2015 election, and even today, many of us on the left in England still entrust our faith in SNP rhetoric? Still beat the drum for an electoral ‘progressive’ coalition with a party that doesn’t seem very happy to embrace even the concept of higher taxes?

My theory is that the SNP have successfully, indeed more successfully than any party in Britain, adopted the prime hobby of much of the Left: ‘againstism’.

‘Againstism’, clumsy I admit, is to be against everything. This can include a negative framing of being anti-austerity but not pro-anything in its place. But in this instance, it means to be anti-establishment. The latter, the establishment, is what Labour as a party of government always has aspired to be in competing to be the national government in Westminster - which is why elements of the Left will always hate it and will always vote against it. In a way, some of the left is suspicious of governance. This is occasionally healthy, until it prevents real progressivism from ever being elected.

While in government, Labour could be seen as sell-outs, rightly or wrongly, because they became the establishment and had no one but themselves to blame. The SNP are the establishment, in Scotland, but can nevertheless exercise ‘againstism’, even with new tax powers. They always will so long as Westminster exists, and so long as their main motivation is independence. This is why the bogeymans that sustain nationalism are not natural allies of social democracy; to achieve social democracy would be to remove the bogeyman. This means that the Lesser New Labour tradition within which they govern will continue to go unnoticed, nor be doomed to eventual death as New Labour itself suffered, nor be looked back on as an era of neoliberalism. The SNP can just avert attentions back to the Westminster establishment. ‘Againstism’. Paradoxically, the way the SNP have managed to come to exploit this is because of New Labour's devolution. Devolution has created, for the first time, the perfect environment for an establishment in one part of the country to blame the establishment in another. It has allowed for the rise of an incumbent insurgent. The SNP can campaign as insurgents while still being incumbents. It is a spectacular contradiction that they alone can manage.

Insurgency and anti-establishment politics are not, of themselves, a bad thing. We on the Left all dip our toes in it. It is a joy. It is even more fun for us to be successful. Which is why the celebratory mood that surrounded the SNP gains in Scotland, a paradigm shift against one incumbent for another, is, objectively, understandable. But these insurgents are not actually insurgents; they are the illusion of one, and they have had the reigns of power, greater now for the Scotland Bill, for seven years. And they have done little radical with it. The aim of an anti-establishment politics is to replace an establishment with something better. All the SNP have done is inherit an establishment. They are simply in the fortunate position of managing to rhetorically distance itself from it due to the unique nature of devolution.

This is why some of the Left still loves them, despite everything. They can remain ‘againstists’ regardless of their incumbency. They do not have the stench of government as a national Labour government did and inevitable would have. So the English Left still dream.

But now, with this mounting evidence and the SNP’s clumsy revisionism, it is up to the English Left to distinguish between genuine leftism and empty anti-establishmentarianism, and to see the establishment -via governance- as something to define for itself, to reshape as something better, rather than something to be continuously against. This is, after all, what Attlee's government did. The SNP have not defined the establishment, they have continued someone else's. It's up to us to recognise that and fall out of love with the SNP.