Labour dismisses alleged plan to remove child benefit from parents who refuse MMR jab

The party says the proposal, reportedly considered by Jon Cruddas, is "not part of the policy review" after opponents label it a "jab tax".

After criticism of a policy vacuum, there's been no shortage of announcements from Labour at this year's conference: repeal of the bedroom tax, guaranteed childcare for all primary school children from 8am-6pm, tougher enforcement of the minimum wage (including increasing the fine for non-payment from £5,000 to £50,000), a ban on Atos running Work Capability Assessments and a requirement for all companies to train an apprentice every time they hire a skilled worker from outside the EU.

But here's one idea that it's safe to say wasn't on the grid. Today's Times front page claims that the party is considering plans to remove child benefit from parents who refuse to give their children the MMR jab. It adds that the proposal, currently in place in Australia, is being explored by Jon Cruddas, Labour's policy review coordinator, "as a way of attaching 'conditionality' to benefits and services provided by the state." A source tells the paper: "This is an example of the sort of measure which we want to see that ties public goods to how people behave as citizens".

In view of the low immunisation levels in some areas (more than 1,000 people caught measles in Swansea earlier this year), the proposal might seem reasonable to some, but it's easy to see how it could quickly become politically fraught for Labour. Unlike other measures, designed to ease the "cost of living crisis", here's one that could increase it. Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, a former GP, was quick to brand it a "jab tax".

Labour figures at last night's New Statesman party reacted with bemusement when the policy was mentioned to them, suggesting that only Cruddas (who has warned that Labour would lose the election if his views were translated "into party policy") could account for it.

And the party's press office swiftly kiboshed it last night.

Labour's policy review coordinator Jon Cruddas. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Owen Smith is naïve if he thinks misogynist abuse in Labour started with Jeremy Corbyn

“We didn’t have this sort of abuse before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Owen Smith, the MP challenging Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest, has told BBC News that the party’s nastier side is a result of its leader.

He said:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.

“It’s now become something that is being talked about on television, on radio, and in newspapers. And Angela is right, it has been effectively licenced within the last nine months.

“We’re the Labour party. We’ve got to be about fairness, and tolerance, and equality. It’s in our DNA. So for us to be reduced to this infighting is awful. Now, I understand why people feel passionately about the future of our party – I feel passionately about that. I feel we’re in danger of splitting and being destroyed.

“But we can’t tolerate it. And it isn’t good enough for Jeremy simply to say he has threats too. Well, I’ve had death threats, I’ve had threats too, but I’m telling him, it’s got to be stamped out. We’ve got to have zero tolerance of this in the Labour party.”

While Smith’s conclusion is correct, his analysis is worryingly wrong.

Whether it is out of incompetence or an unwillingness to see the extent of the situation, Corbyn has done very little to stamp out abuse in his party, which has thus been allowed to escalate. It is fair enough of Smith to criticise him for his failure to stem the flow and punish the perpetrators.

It is also reasonable to condemn Corbyn's inability to stop allies like Chancellor John McDonnell and Unite leader Len McCluskey using violent language (“lynch mob”, “fucking useless”, etc) about their opponents, which feeds into the aggressive atmosphere. Though, as I’ve written before, Labour politicians on all sides have a duty to watch their words.

But it’s when we see how Smith came to the point of urging Corbyn to take more responsibility that we should worry. Smith confidently argues that there wasn’t “this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism” in the party before Corbyn was voted in. (I assume when he says “this sort”, he means online, death threats, letters, and abuse at protests. The sort that has been high-profile recently).

This is naïve. Anyone involved in Labour politics – or anything close to it – for longer than Corbyn’s leadership could tell Smith that misogyny and antisemitism have been around for a pretty long time. Perhaps because Smith isn’t the prime target, he hasn’t been paying close enough attention. Sexism wasn’t just invented nine months ago, and we shouldn’t let the belief set in that it did – then it simply becomes a useful tool for Corbyn’s detractors to bash him with, rather than a longstanding, structural problem to solve.

Smith's lament that “it’s now become something that is being talked about” is also jarring. Isnt it a good thing that such abuse is now being called out so publicly, and closely scrutinised by the media?

In my eyes, this is a bit like the argument that Corbyn has lost Labour’s heartlands. No, he hasn’t. They have been slowly slipping away for years – and we all noticed when Labour took a beating in the last general election (way before Corbyn had anything to do with the Labour leadership). As with the abuse, Corbyn hasn’t done much to address this, and his inaction has therefore exacerbated it. But if we tell ourselves that it started with him, then we’re grasping for a very, very simple solution (remove Corbyn = automatic win in the North, and immediate erasure of misogyny and antisemitism) to a problem we have catastrophically failed to analyse.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.