Conservative Party campaign posters outside Labour's manifesto launch last week. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why the SNP would struggle to hold Labour to ransom

There is a Commons majority for Trident and the party couldn't amend Budgets in the way it hopes. 

For yet another day, the Conservatives are pushing the line that a minority Labour government would be held to ransom by the SNP. In his first intervention of the election campaign, John Major will warn in a speech that the nationalists would hold sway over economic policy. "Labour would be in hock to a party that - slowly but surely - will push them ever further to the left," he will say. "And who would pay the price for this? We all would. We would all pay for the SNP's ransom in our daily lives - through higher taxes, fewer jobs, and more and more debt.” The Tories regard this attack as a powerful means of winning over Ukip defectors and Lib Dems in southern battleground seats.

In recent weeks they have warned that a Labour government dependent on the SNP for support would be forced to abandon Trident and captiulate on deficit reduction. But this rhetoric masks what would be a very different reality. Firstly, as I wrote last week, the SNP has already dramatically reduced its bargaining power by vowing not to prop up any Conservative-led government. In the case of Trident, as Stephen noted yesterday, those MPs in favour of renewal (most of Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems) will vastly outweigh those opposed. As long as the Tories are prepared to walk through the division lobbies with Miliband, there is no chance of the SNP blocking defence spending (as its deputy leader Stewart Hosie grandiosely suggested it would). 

The nationalists' hand is little stronger in the case of the Budget. We are told by Major and others that the SNP could flood Labour's programme with tax rises and spending increases. But as Colin Talbot, professor of government at Manchester University, notes in an essential post: "In the Westminster parliament only the government can propose taxation or spending measures. These can be defeated, or amended, but only by cutting spending or lowering or removing taxes – not by increasing either." There is no parliamentary means by which the SNP could force a Labour government to spend £140bn more on public services (as proposed in its manifesto). It is this that explains the confidence of Ed Balls in asserting that he would not "negotiate" with the party over the Budget and that its measures would be entirely determined by himself and Ed Milliband.

The SNP could, in theory, combine forces with the Tories to vote down a Labour Budget (without fear of triggering a second election owing to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act). But would it really be prepared to obstruct measures endorsed in its manifesto such as the reintroduction of the 50p tax rate, the repeal of the bedroom tax, the abolition of non-dom status and a bankers' bonus tax? The sight of SNP MPs voting alongside Conservatives to prevent such progressive policies would be a gift to Scottish Labour. 

For these reasons, whatever the political merits of the Conservatives' attack (and there are some Tories who fear it is crowding out their core message), it deserves to be treated with far greater policy scepticism than at present. The SNP talk a good game but they would struggle to play one. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The High Court is right to rule the benefit cap is "unlawful" for lone parents with small children

The idea this ill-judged policy helps people transition from the social security system into paid work has been exposed as a myth. 

Thursday’s High Court decision that the benefit cap is "unlawful" for lone parents with children under the age of two is another blow to the Tories failing austerity agenda. It is failing on its own terms, it's failing our communities, and it’s failing the most vulnerable in our country – including the victims of domestic violence and those facing homelessness.

The judgment handed down by Mr Justice Collins was damning. Upon considering the impact of the benefit cap, he concluded that “real misery is being caused to no good purpose.”

The government’s claims that this ill-judged policy helps people transition from the social security system into paid work have been exposed as a myth. Seven out of eight households hit by the cap have very young children, are too ill to work or have a work-limiting disability. The spiralling cost of childcare has left many unable to find or afford good quality childcare in order to allow them to work. In some cases, families lose up to £115 a week, pushing them into deeper into poverty.

Labour warned the government of the impact this policy would have on lone parents with very young children during the passage of the Welfare Reform and Work Act. We tabled amendments to exempt lone parents with young children. They refused to listen and thousands of families have been pushed into poverty as a result, including survivors of domestic violence.

Many parents are perpetually stuck in insecure, poorly paid work on a zero hours contract, with the majority of their earnings spent on childcare. Alternatively they are unable to find work which fits around their childcare responsibilities and are then subjected to the benefit cap resulting in families struggling to make ends meet. Just under 320,000 children now live in households likely to be affected by the new lower cap, which was introduced last November. This is at a time when one in four of our children are growing up in poverty.

Despite these obvious barriers facing families with young children, particularly lone parents, it has taken a brave group of campaigners to challenge a government which lacked the foresight to see the real damage they are inflicting with another one of their disastrous austerity cuts. The Government’s own evaluations show that only 16 per cent of families impacted by the benefit cap move into paid work compared to 11 per cent who would have moved into work anyway.

For too long, this government has pushed our children into a lifetime of poverty, as punishment for parental circumstances, whilst continuing to give hand-outs to the privileged few.

What a difference a year makes. Only last July, the Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street pledged to “fight the burning injustices” facing our society. Not only has she failed spectacularly, her government continue to pursue policies that are further entrenching these injustices.

It is clear that the benefit cap hits the poorest in our society the hardest. This judgment is a further blow to Theresa May’s unstable minority government and I implore the Prime Minister to accept the High Court's judgement and end this discriminatory policy against lone parent families.

This is the latest in a series of judgments found against the government in relation to their austerity programme. After rulings on the bedroom tax, Personal Independence Payments and now the benefit cap, the government should now accept the ruling instead of spending yet more taxpayers’ money on an appeal. 

Labour has proudly stood against the benefit cap, its discrimination against parents with young children and the government’s cruel austerity programme which has caused too many people real misery.

A Labour government would immediately implement the High Court ruling and only a future Labour government will transform the social security system so that, like the NHS, it is there for the many in our time of need.


Debbie Abrahams is shadow work and pensions secretary.

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