Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves is communicating Labour's tougher messages on immigration and welfare. Photo: Getty
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Labour continues tough line as it condemns Tories for ballooning housing benefit bill

The shadow work and pensions secretary is to slam the Conservatives for welfare spending, which follows her tougher stance on EU migrants.

Today, the shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves will predict that the housing benefit bill is set to double from its 2010/11 level by 2018/19, and will slam the Tories for its spending in this area.

It seems like an innocuous bit of summer oppositionery but there is more to it than that. Labour – which has been spooked by recent research highlighting Ukip’s threat to its vote in blue-collar areas, and is also aware in general of the popularity of tough stances on the welfare state and immigration – appears to be moving in a more hard-line direction this month. And Rachel Reeves is the messenger.

A few days ago, she suggested that migrants from Europe should be denied welfare until they have contributed tax. This is an idea that outflanked the Tories on immigration benefits, going one further than David Cameron’s announcement that EU migrants would only be allowed to claim benefits for three months. This is a tough line, and arguably Labour’s clearest message yet that it is facing up to the sensitive, yet electorally pivotal, subject of immigration.

Housing benefit is a subject similarly fraught with feeling among voters. This is mainly due to the coalition’s widely-reviled “bedroom tax” policy, which stirred up the public’s feeling against the government tinkering with welfare spending many of them rely on during their day-to-day lives. Yet bringing down welfare spending is undeniably popular with the electorate.

Housing benefit and bringing down the welfare bill is a tricky one for the Labour party, particularly as it voted against the government’s housing benefit cap. Ed Miliband has pledged to scrap the bedroom tax and the popularity of this could be seen as enough to inform his party’s messaging on housing benefit for the time leading up to the election, without specifically addressing how it would bring down the housing benefit bill itself. In other words, Reeves need not have said any more about it for the time being.

However, blasting the government on its welfare spending reveals Labour’s tougher new direction. It may just be tentatively tough at the moment, but it’s clear the party is willing to face the politically sticky subject of welfare spending, with Reeves to condemn the government’s record on welfare spending as one of “failure and waste”. She will also claim that the extra cost of the government’s hand-out between 2010 and 2018 will be £12.9bn – or £488 for each household in Britain.

Labour also makes itself vulnerable to the question: what is its solution to this ballooning bill? Reeves proposes an increase in the minimum wage and advocates the living wage to bring down the bill. She links the increased housing benefit spending to the coalition’s inability to solve the “cost-of-living crisis”; people in work still have to rely on state hand-outs to live. It’s a bold move for a party usually associated with being “soft” on welfare to open itself up to scrutiny on how it would bring the bill down itself. It will be interesting to see whether Reeves and her colleagues continue throughout the summer to ask some of the more difficult questions for the Labour party, as well as attempting to answer them.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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This is no time for a coup against a successful Labour leader

Don't blame Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour Party's crisis.

"The people who are sovereign in our party are the members," said John McDonnell this morning. As the coup against Jeremy Corbyn gains pace, the Shadow Chancellor has been talking a lot of sense. "It is time for people to come together to work in the interest of the country," he told Peston on Sunday, while emphasising that people will quickly lose trust in politics altogether if this internal squabbling continues. 

The Tory party is in complete disarray. Just days ago, the first Tory leader in 23 years to win a majority for his party was forced to resign from Government after just over a year in charge. We have some form of caretaker Government. Those who led the Brexit campaign now have no idea what to do. 

It is disappointing that a handful of Labour parliamentarians have decided to join in with the disintegration of British politics.

The Labour Party had the opportunity to keep its head while all about it lost theirs. It could have positioned itself as a credible alternative to a broken Government and a Tory party in chaos. Instead we have been left with a pathetic attempt to overturn the democratic will of the membership. 

But this has been coming for some time. In my opinion it has very little to do with the ramifications of the referendum result. Jeremy Corbyn was asked to do two things throughout the campaign: first, get Labour voters to side with Remain, and second, get young people to do the same.

Nearly seven in ten Labour supporters backed Remain. Young voters supported Remain by a 4:1 margin. This is about much more than an allegedly half-hearted referendum performance.

The Parliamentary Labour Party has failed to come to terms with Jeremy Corbyn’s emphatic victory. In September of last year he was elected with 59.5 per cent of the vote, some 170,000 ahead of his closest rival. It is a fact worth repeating. If another Labour leadership election were to be called I would expect Jeremy Corbyn to win by a similar margin.

In the recent local elections Jeremy managed to increase Labour’s share of the national vote on the 2015 general election. They said he would lose every by-election. He has won them emphatically. Time and time again Jeremy has exceeded expectation while also having to deal with an embittered wing within his own party.

This is no time for a leadership coup. I am dumbfounded by the attempt to remove Jeremy. The only thing that will come out of this attempted coup is another leadership election that Jeremy will win. Those opposed to him will then find themselves back at square one. Such moves only hurt Labour’s electoral chances. Labour could be offering an ambitious plan to the country concerning our current relationship with Europe, if opponents of Jeremy Corbyn hadn't decided to drop a nuke on the party.

This is a crisis Jeremy should take no responsibility for. The "bitterites" will try and they will fail. Corbyn may face a crisis of confidence. But it's the handful of rebel Labour MPs that have forced the party into a crisis of existence.

Liam Young is a commentator for the IndependentNew Statesman, Mirror and others.