Bicycles and other items sit on the balconies of council run housing in Lambeth. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Miliband to affirm radical agenda for change at "Condition of Britain" launch

The IPPR report will play a crucial role in shaping Labour's policy platform for the election.

Labour has entered what policy review head Jon Cruddas describes to me as "the most important period in the whole parliament". Over the next few weeks, the party's final major pieces of policy work - IPPR's "Condition of Britain" report, the Local Government Innovation Taskforce and Andrew Adonis's growth review - will be published ahead of the crucial National Policy Forum in Milton Keynes from 18-20 July.

The run of policy will begin on Thursday when Miliband speaks at the publication of "Condition of Britain" at Rich Mix cinema in Bethnal Green. The report, which was launched back in February 2013 by Cruddas, has long been regarded by Labour figures as potentially the most significant study of Britain since the crash, with many comparing it to the 1994 Commission On Social Justice (on which David Miliband served as secretary) which proved so influential on the subsequent New Labour government.

The aim of the review will be to answer the question that has often occupied Labour minds in this parliament: how does the party achieve progressive change when there's less money around? Its three pillars will focus on redistributing power, recognising contribution and rewarding work, and strengthening services and institutions as as a better route to social justice than cash transfers.

The first will mean a radical programme of devolution from Whitehall to end a "century of centralisation" and to achieve change in an era of fiscal constraint. The second will seek to reaffirm the contributory principle by linking social housing allocation to work (paid or voluntary), offering extra childcare for working parents, and introducing a higher rate of Jobseeker's Allowance for older people who have contributed the most over their lifetimes. The third will mean shifting spending from benefits to services, for instance from housing benefit to housebuilding  and from tax credits to the living wage.

While Labour won't accept all of the recommendations of the report (it will, for instance, reject a proposal to fund universal childcare by freezing child benefit), it will represent the best guide yet to what social policy would look like under a Miliband government. Ideas such as transferring responsibility for housing benefit from the DWP to local councils will be embraced.

Expect the Labour leader to emphasise that he is offering "big, bold reforms", rather than "make-do-and-mend spending solutions". It is, to use a word that Miliband won't, "predistribution" in action. Rather than seeking to narrow the gap between rich and poor through expensive remedial measures such as tax credits, the aim is to stop inequality before it starts by tackling its structural roots.

The combination of austerity and the living standards crisis has created a historic opportunity to overhaul the British model of welfare. On Thursday, Miliband will once again underline his determination to seize it.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.