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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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.