The coalition government have played a very good game on the proposed benefit cap. Labour activists have been throwing their arms up in complete indignation at the latest ‘attack on the poor’ from the nasty Tories. They bang the drum for the working-class, the underclass and the downright poverty stricken in society who will most likely suffer from these proposals. They are right, of course, to highlight the problems with the proposals, but my goodness, they’re naïve. They’re preaching only to the converted. No one else will listen to them.
This is why things have gone well for the Tories. Forget about the result of any votes on this issue, the only thing that concerns those running the party is the votes at the next election and, in the public’s mind, the Tories are absolutely on the money when it comes to this. Now, I know all too well just how badly flawed this plan is but that’s because I’m involved in politics and take an active interest in legislation and I couple that with my ideological position. The public, as a whole, do not. It’s not that the public are ignorant, or stupid, but they’re just occupied with other issues far more pressing to them to investigate the detail.
So, when the people on the centre ground are looking at the arguments for and against this is what they’re presented with by the media: Tories want to cap benefits at £26K a year but Labour thinks that’s too low. That’s not the conservative media pushing that line, it is all media. Look in the Guardian and you’ll see there’s no shortage of Labour/Left wing commentators highlighting the examples of generally agreeable people likely to be hit by the cuts. That entirely misses the point – the public are all too aware of many on benefits who play the game and they want something done about it.
This is an issue that time and again, the Left fail to address. Let’s stop pretending, stop making excuses and stop ignoring the genuine complaints about benefit culture. The statistics, unfortunately, are rather irrelevant. There is a public perception of a benefit culture and so it exists and must be addressed, whether evidence backs it up or not. Failure to acknowledge this will lead to a whole generation spent in opposition for Labour and the Lib Dems (note that the Tories aren’t at all bothered that the Lib Dems aren’t with them on this).
The opposition to the proposals is correct technically but utterly flawed, politically. The proposals are a sop to a problem that exists in the public mind and any opposition needs to be formed around a different way to solve the problem. Instead of saying ‘these proposals won’t work and could make things worse’ Labour should be saying ‘Our proposal to fix the problem is this and these are the reasons it’s better than their proposals’.