Why the Tory plan to axe pensioners fuel benefits is as flawed as Labour’s Ed Balls up

Tory manifesto

Tory Manifesto: An Ed Balls Up on fuel payments for pensioners

 

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This  is the extract from the Tory manifesto relating to plans to axe the £200 a year payment to all pensioners and the £300 a year payment to those over 75 . The plan is stolen from the Labour manifesto of 2015 and was originally proposed by Ed Balls to “save £100m “.

we will target help where it is needed most.So we will look at Winter Fuel Payments, the largest benefit paid to pensioners, in this context. The benefit is paid regardless of need, giving money to wealthier pensioners when working people on lower incomes do not get similar support.

So we will means test Winter Fuel Payments, focusing assistance on the least well-off pensioners, who are most at risk of fuel poverty.

Fine words but very difficult to implement. Why?

Four years ago I investigated how Labour could implement the same policy – and found it unfair and unworkable. This is what I said:

“As a punter and pensioner who pays higher rate tax because my freelance earnings top up my pension I expected to be one of the people targeted by Ed Balls. In fact it will have zilch effect, a load of old Balls if you like.

Let me explain why. The fuel allowance is currently paid to individual pensioners with a cap of £200 per household. So for a start I only receive £100 of  fuel benefit. The other £100 goes to my wife, also a pensioner, who is a standard rate taxpayer. So his planned saving will be halved anyway in my case.

But it is actually worse than that. My wife became a pensioner before me and was entitled to the full household fuel allowance in her own right. So when I was on The Guardian, ( then on just over £80,000 a year) our household was receiving then  a £200 fuel subsidy for a short time. What will happen under the Balls changes is that my wife will get back the full benefit of £200 – so we will still continue to receive exactly the same subsidy.

I suspect I am not alone. I know of many people around me in the shires, where in traditional families of that generation the main earner is the male who will  pay high rates of tax. His spouse who brought up the children, and did part-time work instead, would be a  standard rate taxpayer. These wealthy households will continue to get the subsidy.

Ed Balls

Ed Balls in more serious mode

Now Ed Balls could get round this by imposing a household cap equivalent to the income level set by the higher rate of tax. But if he does this he will run into fresh problems.”

I chased this up with the Inland Revenue.

They confirmed four years ago that they do  not collate figures showing how many households have higher rate and standard rate taxpayers who are currently eligible for winter fuel payments. They do not need to collect the information as taxpayers are assessed individually. So they don’t know the breakdown. The only figures they have are the number of higher rate taxpayers who are pensioners. I doubt anything has changed.

Theresa May

Theresa May:Leader of the Tory party. Pic credit:BBC

So how are the Tories going to do this. They could scrap the present system and go back to the old fashioned 1950s style tax system- where the man had to fill in the form for the household. But that would be deeply regressive, anti feminist and take no account of modern relationships where couples may not even be married or have  a gay partnership.

They could limit payments only to those claiming pensioner credit – removing all other pensioners- but that would hit the JAMS – just about managing pensioners with a huge hole in their income and be deeply unpopular.

Or they could  say every person has to fill in a means test form – which means even if it was done on line – have to employ more staff at a huge cost just when they want to axe more civil servants.

It ain’t going to work and will be deeply unpopular and  be full of anomolies.  In other words Theresa May has just created another Balls-up.

Austerity Britain: How Unison has helped create Durham’s new poor

durham-tas-with-john-mcd

Durham teacher assistants lobbying shadow chancellor John McDonnell at the Labour conference in Liverpool

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While the national  press depicted Labour’s policies as “la la land”  and Jeremy Corbyn as ” unelectable” down at the grass roots  a group of feisty women campaigners were lobbying union leaders and John McDonnell at the conference over the very issues that have led to the rise of Corbyn and the demise of the metropolitan elite.

The Durham teacher assistants or assistant teachers as they prefer to call themselves are just one group who have been hard done by austerity and public service cuts that followed the banking crisis and is still going on today.

Their case has been more eloquently outlined by my former colleague on the Guardian  Adita  Chakrabortty  in this long article where he describes them as the Lions of Durham. Basically they are among 2700 TA’s paid from just £14,000 to  £20,000 a year and now facing a pay cut of 23 per cent or the sack.This follows years of no or minimal pay rises that have already cut their standard of living. Even those who decide to work longer hours still face a 10 per cent cut.

The most they have been offered is some  “compensation” a deferment of the  wage cuts for two years but by the time Britain goes to the polls in 2020 they will all be far  worse off than now.

All this  is happening under a Labour controlled council and they are represented by a Labour affiliated union, Unison, which supported Corbyn for the leadership.

Durham county council – which to be fair has faced substantial cuts under the Tories – seem to have mishandled the whole affair by not implementing properly an agreement four years ago and were faced with legal advice saying they had to bring  the system into line with other authorities and impose cuts..

But probably the worst offender is Unison itself who, according to the campaigners, has done little to represent them by negotiating hard on their behalf like say the FBU does for its firefighters or the RMT for its guards.

Until the Labour conference Unison seem to expect the workers themselves to lobby local councillors and local Labour MPs to try and persuade them to change their mind. Not altogether surprisingly the councillors – faced with advice from officials that they would  be breaking the law to do so – have shied away.

And most of the MPs with one notable exception- Grahame Morris Mp for Easington  – have said they cannot negotiate themselves with Durham County Council on their behalf as it is up to their union.

This has left a load of activist voters very, very angry. It has been made worse by the patronising  and off hand treatment from some officials in Durham County Council’s human resources department who haven’t even bothered to spell out the lower rates of pay.

And while Dave Prentis, the union’s leader, makes great rousing speeches ( he did so at fringes in the conference) on the plight of the lower paid public sector workers, his officials lower down the chain have been distinctly unhelpful, patronising and some times downright rude to their own members. No wonder one of the teaching assistants described Dave Prentis as  “all mouth and no trousers”. But then he is not facing a 23 per cent pay cut from Unison.

All this is leading to damaging repercussions. Some of the assistants are planning to vote Liberal Democrat in May’s elections while supporting Corbyn at the next general election. They want revenge on the councillors and unfortunately if the Lib Dems ( who are having a local council resurgence)  win seats it will be seen as a verdict against Jeremy when it is against a local Labour council.

Following the conference the Unison TA’s have voted overwhelmingly for strike action and want union support – their GMB colleagues voted narrowly against.

It seems to me time Unison pulled its finger out and went into hard negotiations with the local council. The deal they are being offered is worse than people in many other authorities have got – where wages have been safeguarded through regrading – and it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of regional organisers like Clare Williams to organise such talks now there a vote for strike action.

My view on Unison is also shared by local Labour  MPs like Kevan Jones, who has taken stick from the teacher assistants for not intervening. As a former trade union negotiator himself, he is not impressed by Unison’s local tactics and their failure until now  to negotiate on their behalf.

If Unison do let these workers down they will not only betray their members but bear some responsibility for creating more unnecessary poverty for low paid workers and fuel resentment and anger that is already felt by people left out in the cold by the Tories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Call General Election now: What Ed would tell Theresa

ed-balls

Ed Balls Pic Credit: Wikipedia

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I went to  an unusual book launch by a politician this week. Instead of a self serving glowing account of their great achievements (pace Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson to name but two) this book by Ed Balls is refreshingly  honest – it talks about his political mistakes (intended or otherwise).

Ed Balls – who probably will become more famous for his performances  on Strictly Come Dancing than his role in promoting tax credits – suffered the ” Portillo moment” at the last General Election when he was unexpectedly defeated by the Tories. Indeed he revealed  BBC Panorama had unsuccessfully tried to get him to do a programme with Michael Portillo on this very fact and compare and contrast how high flying politicians feel when the electorate rejects them.

Organised by the Strand Group  (see report ) at Kings College, London Ed Balls admitted many mistakes – such as he could have handled better the sacking of Sharon Shoesmith, the former head of Haringey’s childrens’ services, over the notorious torture and death of Baby P.

He was also critical of May’s failure of leadership over Brexit and also warned that when governments have a weak opposition the media narrative is all about splits in the government – hence the obsession about the Blair Brown split when Iain Duncan Smith led the Tory party. So if the Labour row continues May could find life difficult as the media hone in on Tory Brexit splits.

One experience Gordon Brown and Theresa May share is that both of them have been anointed Prime Minister – neither faced a campaign against rivals and both took office without winning a general election.

In his book Ed Balls describes the botched attempt to call a general election immediately after Gordon became leader. Ed writes at the time ” the ‘risk’ of going for an early general elecrion was nowhere near as risky as deciding not to.”

But Labour dithered – first talking up an early election – and then knocking it down.But the result was devastating and certainly Brown made a mistake in not  acting  earlier and more decisively.

As Ed concludes on the day Brown backed off from an election: ” A dismal day in October, a day from which Gordon’s premiership and the togetherness and trust of his closest advisers and confidants never recovered.”

So what would Ed advise Theresa to do now. I asked him this when I got him to sign a copy of his book.

His answer was frank. She should call an election  setting out her  own manifesto and then be able to choose her own Cabinet.

Given the troubles she will face with colleagues – and potential new rows over decisions like Heathrow, HS2, Brexit, immigration etc and the current divisions within Labour it might be good advice for the Tories. She has a much smaller majority than Gordon Brown inherited from Blair.Otherwise she might regret it like Gordon Brown.

I wonder if she might surprise us all by announcing it at the Tory Party Conference?

 

 

 

 

 

The Media’s Attack on Corbyn: Research Shows Barrage of Negative Coverage – Media Reform Coalition

This factual analysis shows what everybody suspected – there has been an unrelenting media attack on Jeremy Corbyn in the media since he was elected.It is by a press dominated by unelected multi millionaire owners. This is chilling for democratic debate. The scale of the bias is staggering, particularly in the news coverage.

Inforrm's Blog

corbyn_coverage-360x222New research by the Media Reform Coalition shows how large sections of the press appeared to set out systematically to undermine Jeremy Corbyn in his first week as Labour Leader with a barrage of overwhelmingly negative coverage.

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Is Corbyn’s Labour already cutting the mustard with local voters?

Tommy Gray- Labour's biggest by-election winner in Chorley with a 12.7 per cent wing

Tommy Gray- Labour’s biggest by-election winner in Chorley with a 12.7 per cent wing

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One interest I found I share with Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage is that both us every week check the Twitterfeed of @britainelects – which provides details of every local council by-election in Britain.

Our exchange at the book launch of Lord Ashcroft’s Call Me Dave unauthorised biography revealed that both of us have a healthy scepticism of opinion polls but a mutual interest in seeing how real voters are turning out to vote in by elections across the country.

Corbyn’s mauling in the mainstream media coupled with distrust among the Parliamentary party one might expect no one in their right mind to vote Labour and for evidence in advance of the Oldham Parliamentary by-election that he is already in trouble.

In fact the reverse is true which might explain why the same mainstream media has been rather quiet about it. Three by-elections in totally different seats have seen huge swings to Labour. I write about this in Tribune magazine this week.

They are Euxton North ward in Chorley, Lancashire; South Camberwell in London  and Banbury in Oxfordshire..

In Chorley the party recorded a 12.7 per cent swing –taking the seat with 57.3 per cent share of the vote and winning with 697 votes. The big loser was UKIP whose share of the vote dropped by 12.4 per cent – getting just 76 votes. The Tories were second and saw their vote drop by 0.3 per cent with 443 votes.

In South Camberwell, in the London Borough of Southwark, Labour recorded a 9 per cent swing – winning with 1,244 votes – and taking a 57.9 per cent share of the vote. The party’s nearest rival, the Greens, saw a 1.3 per cent drop and the Tories were down 1.4 per cent. Only the Lib Dems, who were third, recorded a small increase of 2.3 per cent but polled just 200 votes.

In Banbury, Oxfordshire, saw Labour take a seat from the Conservatives on a 5.9 per cent swing –taking 45 per cent of the vote in the Grimsby and Castle ward in the town. The Tory vote fell by 7 per cent and the Lib Dem vote fell by 1.5 per cent. UKIP’s share of the vote did rise 5.6 per cent – but the party only got 150 votes. Labour polled 781.

The results are not mainly good  for UKIP whose plan to oust Labour as the party of the Opposition in the North is plainly not working as their council candidates are taking a mauling in some seats and making no progress in others.The Tories are very resilient. their vote is going up from a low base in Scotland and they have made four gains  this autumn – three from the Liberal Democrats and one from Labour. They also put in a credible performance in Barrow where they gained 23 per cent in a traditional Labour seat  almost ousting the UKIP opposition candidate. And Labour are still falling back in Scotland.

The one bad result for Labour in England has been Bury where the Tories took a seat from then with a swing approaching 14 per cent – but other parties also lost votes.

The Lib Dems seem to be reviving in rural areas – running the Tories close in one seat and taking a Sussex seat – but they are still declining in urban areas. They can boast one landslide result in Torbay when their former MP Adrian Sanders held a seat on a 39 per cent swing. But the same night they lost their third seat to the Tories in Aberdeen.

All this suggests that there is still a lot to play for – but Labour which had a huge rise in membership following Corbyn’s victory is more than holding its own and getting some spectacular swings.

The Tory narrative put forward by Cameron and Osborne is also still hitting a nerve – otherwise they would not be gaining seats. All this makes  the December 3 by-election in Oldham the more interesting.

Wake up Red Ed, Canny Cam is running rings round you

 

raise your game, red ed.Pic courtesy Belfast Telegraph

 

If I were David Cameron I would be sorely tempted to start planning now for any early election. Friday’s election results were a dream ticket for the Tories. They must have thought they had woken up in paradise. They managed to rout their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, on their core issue, electoral reform and get the electorate to blame them for the coalition’s broken promises. They destroyed much of the Liberal Democrats core base in Tory heartlands.  They actually GAINED council seats and councils when they were  already by far the largest party in local government.

In Wales, – Labour did brilliantly in South Wales – but the Tories are now in second place , having regained Mid Wales to add to Pembrokeshire and North Wales.  The only thing that marred the party was Alex Salmond’s spectacular win in Scotland, but there they can take comfort to see Labour stalled ( Labour’s vote held up but they lost seats because people turned to the Nationalists and not them).

 Only in the North where Labour’s  stellar performance did a similar demolition job on the Liberal Democrats ( some of the swings in Newcastle at 22 per cent were equivalent to old style Lib Dem by-election gains) were the Tories not in the picture.

While Labour’s 800 gains look respectable effectively they piled up votes in Liverpool , York Humberside, the North East, and the East Midlands. The victories in the South, Gravesham and Ipswich, were isolated. They failed to get back Dover, lost seats to the Tories in Dartford and Hemel Hempstead and failed to make a serious impact in Watford, Thurrock and Harlow. Gloucester, a bell weather election seat, saw its council go Tory.

 If there was an election tomorrow  Ed Miliband would get the Labour vote up but in many cases it would just increase existing Labour majorities or take Lib Dem seats. And that will not be enough to win. The Tories with more Lib Dem seats to gain already have an advantage, let alone their simple but wrong narrative that the cuts are all the fault of Labour. So while Ed’s strategy to get back disillusioned Lib Dems has been a good start, it is only a start.

The party needs to do two things. Find out what the Tory’s new-found friends in the South and Midlands really want from government and the issues where the Tories are really vulnerable. Labour will not win by only talking to itself. Ask why there was success in Gravesham but not Dartford.

Labour need to up their game and go on the offensive. Polite pussy footing around and sympathy will not win elections. Unless they take the Tory narrative head on and work out an alternative and believable narrative of their own they will get nowhere.

If they don’t do this they will be written out of the  script. They needn’t just use conventional media – which is slowly dying – to get their message across, they have the whole internet at their disposal and it’s free.

So get your act together, Ed. A new nose job is not enough to get you through the door at Downing Street.

Death and rebirth? of Liberal Democrat England

 

Nick Clegg - not quite 100 per cent bad news

Today’s humiliating result for the Liberal Democrats -coming sixth with just 8.25 per cent of the vote in Barnsley,Central is a harbinger of a deeper change facing British politics.

Anybody keeping abreast of local  council election results in Labour strongholds will not have been at all surprised to see this collapse of a party  that has broken many of its election promises and got in bed with Labour’s traditional enemy -the Tories.

All that has happened is the Parliamentary lobby has caught up with a dramatic collapse of Liberal Democrats in working class towns and urban areas.

Less than a month ago a Liberal Democrat decided to stand in Worksop for Bassetlaw council and came bottom of the poll with 28 votes. Labour gained the seat from the Tories with 1174 votes. Other pathetic Liberal Democrat showings in the last six months include 67 votes in Bromsgrove, 45 votes in Wednesbury,98 votes in Swindon  and an incredible 10 votes in Rossendale in Lancashire.

 Labour should be pleased because in some of these pathetic showings it is enabling them to take seats from the Conservatives including coming back in Camborne, Cornwall. In other places like Warrington and Liverpool where they are taking seats directly off the Lib Dems they are being returned  with thumping majorities.

But before everybody gets carried away  with the total destruction of the Lib Dems  there is another story going on  in many (not all) Conservative rural areas. Here slowly but surely the Lib Dems are making GAINS against incumbent Tories in their heartland seats.

Examples  this year include two gains from the Tories -in rural Shropshire and Conwy in Wales. While at the end of last year the Lib Dems took a seat on Fareham council from the Tories with a swing of nearly 30 per cent since the May general election.

 Another surprising gain was in rural Newdigate in Surrey where the Lib Dems took a seat from the Conservatives in their Mole Valley heartland. And they beat the Tories to gain a seat on Bodmin Town Council when an independent stood down.

Of course not every result fits in this pattern, the Tories did gain a seat in South Lakeland from the Lib Dems (where Labour got a pathetic 32 votes) and the Lib Dems did take one seat from Labour in Truro in the same period.

But there does seem to be a bit of a pattern from these scattering of results which will be really tested in May. The scenario appears to be that the Lib Dems will be massacred in major cities by Labour and their collapse in other urban areas will probably cost the Tories control.

But in rural areas it looks like the Lib Dems could hold their own and even, if well organised, make gains from the Tories.

 Nick Clegg’s  and David Law’s realignment of the Liberal Democrats as a right of centre libertarian party appears to be giving confidence to Tory voters to trust them in their traditional heartlands while making Labour the only left of centre show in town. That could make a seismic shift in British politics.