Ed Miliband took to the This Morning sofa today, for his first big post-conference interview and finally passed comment on the child benefit fiasco.
The increasingly impressive Yvette Cooper, who is likely to top the shadow cabinet poll today, has so far led Labour’s attack, denouncing the cuts as an anti-family measure. But one sensed that many Labour MPs were waiting for Miliband to lead the way. After all, some in the press had suggested that the Labour leader would struggle to oppose a measure that only penalised the top 15 per cent of earners.
But Miliband, who mounted a strong defence of the universal welfare state during his leadership campaign, finally showed his hand today.
He said: “All families need support. I am against the changes that the government is making to child benefit … The way they have gone about them has caused huge anxiety, particularly for mums who are staying at home while maybe their husbands are going out to work.”
And, in recognition of the fact that child benefit remains one of the essential pillars of the Beveridge model, he added:
But when it comes to child benefit which has gone to all families for 60 years in this country – it was a legacy of the Second World War – I think it is really important to support families in this country and I think child benefit is a good way of doing it.
He didn’t, as he has done before, quote Richard Titmuss’s wise assertion that “services for the poor will always be poor services”, but it was clear that he remains a passionate universalist. As a classic social democrat, Miliband understands that the decision to make child benefit universal was never just a matter of income, rather it was an act of social solidarity that bound rich and poor alike into the welfare state.
The key dividing line of this Parliament — a universal welfare state versus a residual one — remains in tact.