Alistair Darling: I was warned that Universal Credit would be unworkable

Darling reveals that while serving as Work and Pensions Secretary, he was told that the programme would be "very difficult" to implement and would cost more than it saved.

The most notable intervention during Iain Duncan Smith's emergency statement on Universal Credit (the subject of an excoriating report today by the National Audit Office) came from Alistair Darling. 

Darling, who is always listened to respectfully by Conservative MPs, told the House that while serving as Work and Pensions Secretary he was warned by officials that a Universal Credit-style system would be all but impossible to implement and would likely end up costing more than it saved. He said:

I was advised then that it was technically very difficult, if not impossible, to implement at anything like an acceptable cost, and whatever the cost I was quoted it was likely to end up costing an awful lot more.

Darling rightly pointed out the absurdity of Duncan Smith claiming that Universal Credit, which aims to replace six of the main means-tested benefits and tax credits with a single payment, was "on time and on budget" - the NAO report reveals that £34m of IT programmes have been written off and the programme, which was originally due to apply to all new claimants of out of work benefits from this October, will now apply to just ten job centres - and asked Duncan Smith what advice he had received about it. He dismissively replied that he had been told it could be delivered and complained that Labour had just "carped". 

In reality, as the NAO report reveals, the DWP is considering delaying the full introduction of the programme until after October 2017 since the current timetable means there will be "less time to deal with any problems identified during migration".

But while Darling's revelations are damaging for Duncan Smith, they also pose questions for Labour. At the moment the party still supports Universal Credit in principle and has called for cross-party talks with civil servants to save the programme. But if the problems with the system prove as intractable as many fear, Labour may eventually conclude that it is, as Darling's officials warned, simply unworkable. 

Former Chancellor Alistair Darling said he was warned that Universal Credit would be "very difficult, if not impossible" to introduce at an acceptable cost. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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To stop Jeremy Corbyn, I am giving my second preference to Andy Burnham

The big question is whether Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper will face Jeremy in the final round of this election.

Voting is now underway in the Labour leadership election. There can be no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn is the frontrunner, but the race isn't over yet.

I know from conversations across the country that many voters still haven't made up their mind.

Some are drawn to Jeremy's promises of a new Jerusalem and endless spending, but worried that these endless promises, with no credibility, will only serve to lose us the next general election.

Others are certain that a Jeremy victory is really a win for Cameron and Osborne, but don't know who is the best alternative to vote for.

I am supporting Liz Kendall and will give her my first preference. But polling data is brutally clear: the big question is whether Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper will face Jeremy in the final round of this election.

Andy can win. He can draw together support from across the party, motivated by his history of loyalty to the Labour movement, his passionate appeal for unity in fighting the Tories, and the findings of every poll of the general public in this campaign that he is best placed candidate to win the next general election.

Yvette, in contrast, would lose to Jeremy Corbyn and lose heavily. Evidence from data collected by all the campaigns – except (apparently) Yvette's own – shows this. All publicly available polling shows the same. If Andy drops out of the race, a large part of the broad coalition he attracts will vote for Jeremy. If Yvette is knocked out, her support firmly swings behind Andy.

We will all have our views about the different candidates, but the real choice for our country is between a Labour government and the ongoing rightwing agenda of the Tories.

I am in politics to make a real difference to the lives of my constituents. We are all in the Labour movement to get behind the beliefs that unite all in our party.

In the crucial choice we are making right now, I have no doubt that a vote for Jeremy would be the wrong choice – throwing away the next election, and with it hope for the next decade.

A vote for Yvette gets the same result – her defeat by Jeremy, and Jeremy's defeat to Cameron and Osborne.

In the crucial choice between Yvette and Andy, Andy will get my second preference so we can have the best hope of keeping the fight for our party alive, and the best hope for the future of our country too.

Tom Blenkinsop is the Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland