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

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: How should Labour respond?

The government always gets a boost out of big setpieces. But elections are won over months not days. 

Three days in the political calendar are utterly frustrating for Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – the Queen’s Speech, the Budget and the Autumn Statement. No matter how unpopular the government is – and however good you are as an opposition - this day is theirs. The government will dominate the headlines. And played well they will carry the preceding with pre-briefed good news too. You just have to accept that, but without giving in or giving up.

It is a cliche that politics is a marathon not a sprint, but like most cliches that observation is founded in truth. So, how best to respond on the days you can’t win? Go to the fundamentals. And do the thing that oddly is far too little done in responses to budgets or autumn statements – follow the money.

No choices in politics are perfect - they are always trade offs. The art is in balancing compromises not abolishing them. The politics and the values are expressed in the choices that you make in prioritising. This is particularly true in budgets where resources are allocated across geographies - between towns, cities and regions, across time - short term or long term, and across the generations - between young and old. To govern is to choose. And the choices reveal. They show the kind of country the government want to create - and that should be the starting point for the opposition. What kind of Britain will we be in five, ten, fifteen years as these decisions have their ultimate, cumulative impact?

Well we know, we are already living in the early days of it. The Conservative government is creating a country in which there are wealthy pensioners living in large homes they won, while young people who are burdened with debts cannot afford to buy a home. One in which health spending is protected - albeit to a level a third below that of France or Germany – while social care, in an ageing society, is becoming residualised. One where under-regulated private landlords have to fill the gap in the rented market caused by the destruction of the social housing sector.

But description, though, is not sufficient. It is only the foundation of a critique - one that will succeed only if it describes not only the Britain the Tories are building but also the better one that Labour would deliver. Not prosaically in the form of a Labour programme, but inspirationally as the Labour promise.

All criticism of the government – big and little – has to return to this foundational narrative. It should connect everything. And it is on this story that you can anchor an effective response to George Osborne. Whatever the sparklers on the day or the details in the accompanying budgetary documentation, the trajectory is set. The government know where they are going. So do informed commentators. A smart opposition should too. The only people in the dark are the voters. They feel a pinch point here, a cut there, an unease and unfairness everywhere – but they can’t sum it up in words. That is the job of the party that wants to form a government – describing in crisp, consistent and understandable terms what is happening.

There are two traps on the day. The first is narrowcasting - telling the story that pleases you and your closest supporters. In that one the buzzwords are "privatisation" and "austerity". It is the opposite of persuasion aimed, as it is, at insiders. The second is to be dazzled by the big announcements of the day. Labour has fallen down here badly recently. It was obvious on Budget Day that a rise in the minimum wage could not compensate for £12bn of tax credit cuts. The IFS and the Resolution Foundation knew that. So did any adult who could do arithmetic and understood the distributional impact of the National Minimum Wage. It could and should have been Labour that led the charge, but frontbenchers and backbenchers alike were transfixed by the apparent appropriation of the Living Wage. A spot of cynicism always comes in handy. In politics as in life, if something seems to be too good to be true then … it is too good to be true.

The devil may be in the detail, but the error is in the principle – that can be nailed on the day. Not defeated or discredited immediately, but the seeds planted.  

And, if in doubt, take the government at their word. There is no fiercer metric against which to measure the Tories than their own rhetoric. How can the party of working people cut the incomes of those who have done the right thing? How can the party who promised to protect the health service deliver a decade of the lowest ever increases in spending? How can the party of home ownership banish young people to renting? The power in holding a government to account is one wielded forensically and eloquently for it is in the gap between rhetoric and reality that ordinary people’s lives fall.

The key fact for an opposition is that it can afford to lose the day if it is able to win the argument. That is Labour’s task.