What about the poor, Mr Miliband?
I know it is probably unfashionable to criticise a new leader this early on (and probably considered bad form) but I am going to go ahead and do it anyway. Ed Miliband was widely praised for his performance at todays Prime Ministers Questions and with some justification. Tactically it was absolutely the right call to lead-off on child benefit cuts given the current disarray in Labour’s ranks over our opposition to the Browne Review. We have Alan Johnson to thank for this, Mr Johnson seems not to have heard or certainly listened to the rumoured ban on ‘off-the-record briefing – had Ed lead-off on this Cameron would simply have torn him to shreds. So, having made the right tactical call it was unsurprising Ed would shine against an opponent who was daunted, not really by Ed Miliband, but by the fact this is an issue that caused the government benches to remain largely mute during the early exchanges.
However, the general glee amoung Labour activists tends to ignore the fact that who ‘wins’ PMQ’s tends to concern only two sets of people; a) active politicos in various shapes and sizes who are mostly already affiliated and b) the media who just cant resist the lure of an old-fashioned gladiatorial slog. William Hauge was an acknowledged star at the opposition despatch box but a flop with the wider electorate; something that basically confirms the analysis above and the fact they couldn’t care less about who the darling of the chamber is. More worryingly Mr Miliband seems to have totally forgotten about a group which initially seemed to concern him; the poor (indeed, Cameron mentioned them more times). This isn’t a matter of semantics; when it comes to policy it brings him close to sounding positively enthusiastic about other benefit reforms – like those to Disability Living Allowance, for example.
Mr Cameron has is onto something with his appeal to fairness and increasingly it seems like this governments will reverse Margaret Thatcher’s strategy and actually attempt to use the poor as a weapon against the middle classes and conceal the poor’s pain behind headline-grabbing attacks on the ‘squeezed middle’. A commenter on LabourList thinks Mr Miliband is being awfully clever in that defending the middle classes ‘automatically’ means defending the poor. Wrong. Mr Miliband is actually being awfully naive and playing Mr Cameron’s game. If it is so ‘insightful’ and cleaver then please, somebody explain why support for the cut in child benefit is well above 50% is all the opinion polls I have seen. If your income starts to raise above the £30,000 line then popular opinion starts to care about you less in graduating degrees. Your perceived as being very much on your own.
In harping on about the ‘squeezed middle’ Mr Miliband is reinforcing the Cameronite lie that it is only this section of society that suffers and, paradoxically, destabilising the prospect of a unified cross-class rebellion. People with a disability do not want to hear that our *only* concern is for those people losing their child benefit. Notice I emphasise only to make it quite clear I have no problem with these concerns being addressed but I do with them being our sole obsession. Ignored and fed-up of being taken for granted this section of the alliance has had its patience with Labour tested enough. I am sick of Labour leaders who only talk about the poor when it is only to pander to their prejudice on issues like immigration, something that alarmingly Mr Miliband also seems like he will make a habit of. If you want to win Mr Miliband you are going to have to find room to talk about the poor again, after-all that is what Labour was created to do, not *solely* represent the interests of a group that every political party courts as they are ‘swing-voters’.