David Cameron gives a speech at the EU Council building in Brussels on March 6, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Tories' opposition to Labour's youth jobs plan shows they are still standing up for the wrong people

Cameron's party can’t and won’t take the action necessary because it can’t admit that for ordinary Britons there is no real recovery.

Today, Labour announced that if the party wins the next election every young person out of work for more than 12 months will be given a paid starter job, and that every adult aged 25 or over claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) for two years or more will be given the same support. A Labour government would work with employers to help fund paid work with training for six months. It would mean paid jobs for more than 50,000 young people nationwide – including the 370 in Barnsley who have been left on the dole for over a year by this government (across Barnsley, long-term youth unemployment is up 106 per cent since January 2011).

But this would also be a tough contract – those who can work will be required to take up the jobs on offer or lose their benefits. A life on benefits will simply not be an option. The Compulsory Jobs Guarantee scheme will be in Labour’s election manifesto and funded for whole of next Parliament through a repeat of Labour’s successful tax on bank bonuses and restricting pensions tax relief for people earning over £150,000 – the top one per cent – to the same rate as basic rate taxpayers. It is absolutely right that those at the very top contribute to delivering a recovery for the many.

In a response obviously written before Labour's announcement, the Tories claim this funding has already been allocated, only to look ridiculous once we published the detail which states clearly that the Compulsory Jobs Guarantee is the only policy which will be funded by the bank bonus tax and the proposed changes to pension tax relief. This will be a central part of Labour’s package to get people in to work and bring down the benefits bill. The cost of long-term youth unemployment is £350m a year. It’s unacceptable that taxpayers face such huge costs to pay for the government’s failure to get young people off benefits and into jobs.

Labour will bring welfare spending under control by moving people from benefits and into work and this will run in parallel with other important initiatives, including a Basic Skills Test to assess every new Jobseeker's Allowance claimant within six weeks of claiming benefits. Anyone who doesn’t have basic English, maths or IT skills will have to take up training or risk losing their benefits.

The Tories can’t and won’t take the action necessary to help us to earn our way out of the cost-of-living crisis. They can’t because they can’t admit that for ordinary Britons there is no real recovery. Having declared that "Plan A" was a success and that the "good news will keep on coming", David Cameron is in denial about the cost-of-living crisis that is engulfing the country - with families on average £1,600 a year worse off since he came to power. Indeed, when it was put to Treasury minister David Gauke on the radio that "the idea had merit", his out-of-touch reply was that the government's "record on unemployment is a good one".  It was British Chambers of Commerce economist David Kern who today in fact said, "Any scheme that helps young people to work is a good scheme."

The government won’t take action because it only stands up for a privileged few. Having delivered a £3bn tax cut for millionaires, the Tories think that the top one per cent of earners not only need that tax cut but that they should get tax relief on pension contributions at more than twice the rate that the average taxpayer does. Moreover, the Tories announced a further £12bn of welfare cuts if re-elected.  This comes from a party that introduced a bedroom tax for the disabled, whilst they continue to bankrolled by donations from the mega-rich and the hedge funds.

Of course, the Tories and the Lib Dems refuse to repeat Labour's successful tax on bank bonuses which raised £3.4bn in 2010. We know that bank bonuses are actually higher this year than last year: bonuses at Barclays are up ten per cent at £2.4bn, they are up eight per cent at Lloyds at £395m, HSBC bonuses are up six per cent at £2.3bn, and the RBS bonus pool this year is £588m. But what is the government doing about it? Ministers are currently busy campaigning in Brussels against an EU cap on bankers’ bonuses.

On the backfoot this week, they tried to question Labour's figures. Yet they still refuse to accept our proposal to let the OBR independently audit our plans. What are they afraid of? That Conservative scaremongering about Labour spending will be exposed as untrue?

Labour will take tough decisions to get the deficit down fairly, while making work pay and spreading opportunities for all, in particular for our young people. As a country we simply cannot afford to be wasting the talents of thousands of young people and leaving them stuck on the dole for years on end. It’s bad for them, it’s bad for our economy and it’s bad for taxpayers who have to pay the bill.

Once again this week highlights the battleground for the next general election.  The Tories (backed by the Lib Dems) will stand up for the top one per cent and will die in a ditch to defend the bankers.  A future Labour government would take real action to restore what Ed Miliband has called "the Promise of Britain" - that we must ensure once again that the next generation have better opportunities, not worse ones, than the last.

Michael Dugher is shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, vice-chair of the Labour Party, and MP for Barnsley East.

Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East and the former Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Photo: Getty
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The “lunatic” incident showed us the real Owen Smith: and it ain't pretty

Forget the slur - what really matters is what it says about his empty promises, says David Wearing. 

Owen Smith has embarrassed himself again. Having previously called for Labour to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”, advocated negotiations with ISIS, and described himself as “normal” with “a wife and three children” while competing with a gay woman to stand for the Labour leadership, you might expect him to have learnt the value of expressing himself more carefully. But no. Not a bit of it.

At a rally on Tuesday evening, Smith described Jeremy Corbyn as a “lunatic” with no “coherent narrative about what’s wrong with Britain”. It’s an interesting choice of words from someone who needs to win over tens of thousands of Corbyn’s supporters if he is to avoid a crushing defeat in this summer’s Labour leadership election. Indeed, we may look back on this as the final nail in the coffin of Smith’s campaign.

Let’s be honest. Most of us at some stage have used casual language like this (“lunatic”, “insane”), to describe those whose rationality we don’t share or understand. I’ll admit to having done so myself. But it is wrong. It perpetuates a stigma around mental illness and damages peoples’ chances of getting the care and support they need from society. We should all cut it out, especially those of us who aspire to high public office.

Beyond this, however, Smith has driven a coach and horses through the central premise of his own campaign. Throughout the summer he has presented himself as substantively agreeing with Corbyn on almost all domestic and economic issues, and only seeking to pursue that agenda more effectively and professionally. He has set out a range of policies - including a £200bn “British New Deal”, workplace rights and more redistributive taxation - that constitute an overt appeal to the social democratic, progressive values of the hundreds of thousands who joined the party to support Corbyn and secure a clean break with the neoliberalism of New Labour.

But it is simply not credible to simultaneously say “I agree with Jeremy” and that Jeremy is a “lunatic”. No one uses the word "lunatic" to describe someone whose politics they basically share. No one says “your diagnosis of the country’s ills is incoherent, and that’s the substantive agenda I want to take forward”. Smith’s remarks indicate that, deep down, he shares the incredulity expressed by so many of his colleagues that anyone would want to abandon the Thatcher-Blair-Cameron “centre ground” of deregulation, privatisation, corporate-empowerment and widening inequality. After all, Corbyn’s narrative only appears incoherent to those who regard the post-1979 status quo as self-evidently the best of all possible worlds - give or take a few policy tweaks - rather than the very essence of “what’s wrong with Britain”.

This incident will confirm the suspicion of many Labour members that, if he did win the leadership, Smith would dilute or ditch most of the policies he has used to try and win their votes. Those fears are well founded. Take as one illustrative example the issue of immigration, where Smith has shown one face to the party while suggesting that he would show quite another to the country, as party leader.

At leadership hustings, Smith presents an enlightened, pro-immigration, anti-xenophobic stance, but in a Newsnight interview last month we saw something rather different.  When asked if there were “too many immigrants” in the UK, he replied that “it depends where you are”, giving official comfort to the post-Brexit “pack your bags” brigade. He asserted that EU migration “definitely caused downward pressure on wages” despite academic studies having repeatedly shown that this is false, and that EU migration is of clear overall benefit to the economy.

Then, calling for an “honest” discussion on immigration, Smith noted that his wife is a school teacher and that schools in their local area are under pressure from “significant numbers into South Wales of people fleeing the Middle East”. In fact, a grand total of 78 people have been resettled in the whole of Wales under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. In the local authority encompassing Smith’s constituency of Pontypridd, the total number is zero.

This suggests, not someone who shares members’ values, but one who probably regards the leader’s pro-immigration stance as “lunatic”, and would prefer a return to the days when Labour erected the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention camp, rejected the vast majority of asylum applications from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and when Tom Watson put out an election leaflet reading “Labour is on your side, the Lib Dems are on the side of failed asylum seekers”.

Smith’s problem is that his mask keeps slipping. And every time it does, the choice before Labour members comes into sharper focus. On the one hand, they have a man who lacks many of the managerial and communication skills for party leadership, but who shares their values and who they can trust to fight for their agenda until a credible successor can be found. Against him stands a man they may not be able to trust, who may not share their values, and whose claims of professional competence grow more threadbare by the day. It’s a poor choice to be faced with, but Smith is at least making it easier for them.