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The ‘bedroom tax’ shows Downing Street does need a Damian McBride character

27 February 2013

MPs are debating that Cut With the Awkward Name, the Under-occupation of Social Housing: Housing Benefit Entitlement, also known by its opponents as the ‘bedroom tax’, this afternoon. I’ve already posted about some of the problems that this policy might throw up, however well-intentioned, but there’s also an important political point here.

When I talk to Tory MPs about this cut, some of them accept that there are problems with specific cases, and with the number of smaller homes that are actually available for people to move into (interestingly, one housing association has reclassified its properties so tenants can avoid being eligible for the cut), but what exercises them more is that the Coalition’s spinning machine hasn’t really moved at all on this cut. There was no attempt to sell this as a positive thing in the way that the Treasury did with the £26,000 benefit cap. The awkward long name was never badged into something those promoting the policy could explain quickly, and thus it left a vacuum for its opponents to throw their own name, the ‘bedroom tax’, in. This now means that it is difficult for David Cameron to refer to the cut without saying the words ‘bedroom tax’, thus reinforcing the idea that the cut is a bad thing. He tried hard not to use those words at PMQs today. This isn’t what the Prime Minister should really want to do, but his press machine has left him with little choice.

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There was an interesting exchange between Robert Halfon and Damian McBride at the Public Administration Select Committee today which underlined this point. Halfon, who really is a master in badging up policies to make them sound appealing, asked McBride whether he thought the Downing Street machine today needs its own McBride:

Halfon: Just putting the negative stuff to one side that affected you in your last years, do you think Downing Street needs a Damian McBride?

McBride: It depends what, I don’t want to talk about myself in the third person, but it depends what kind of Damian McBride, what year I was working in.

In a positive sense, you need someone who is prepared to get on top of every single thing that’s going on and spot problems. I mean, to go back to, not to get into the issue that we’re were talking about that’s been on the front page of the Daily Mail for three days, but I don’t think anybody will be in any doubt that that story, which might be a terrible story anyway, has been made worse by the media handling and by people not sort of seeing the immediate problem coming down the pipe. I think this committee has reflected before, and Lord O’Donnell when he was before the committee recently, said well as far as I am concerned special advisers are a good thing, but special advisers when they’re briefing the media, they’re a bad thing. And I don’t think you can see the two as separate, because if you are not paying attention to the sort of potential media problems, just potential problems, but if the media is going to light on them then you know that they are big problems, you’re not paying attention to those then it doesn’t give you the space, the freedom and almost the momentum in some ways to concentrate on your big picture items…

The frustration on the Tory benches is that there wasn’t this sort of scanning ahead taking place from the introduction of the regulations on this benefit cut to its implementation. What they want is someone a bit more like McBride, with aggression to fight a story. And even those who are very loyal to Cameron wish that when he does announce a policy that is very easy to sell indeed, there isn’t the aggressive media follow-up that they’d hope for.

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  • room attack 2013

    it is a total disgrace the fear that david cameron and etc as put us through. reguarding this bedroom tax. i have lived at my council property for 18 years which is a 3 bedroom house. i am disabled so i have had certain things altered due to my disability i have at to have a walk in shower fitted , plus suffer with epleptic fits.and other problems. im living on the minimum amount the law saiz you need to live on which is hard going. and cameron exspects me to pay %25 bedroom tax in april it is impossible which means by the time i pay my gas/ letric/ water/ bedroom tax/ weekly it leaves me with £31.50 to feed and clothe myself plus pay all my other debts. cant be done. what cameron and all these rich one,s want to do is try living on the minimum amount that they say we need to live on for afew years and see how they would feel having %14 and %25 BEDROOM TAX PUT ON THEM. AND SEE HOW THEY WOULD LIKE TO LOSE THERE HOME AFTER IT AS TAKEN THEM YEARS TO GET IT AS THEY WANT IT. its always the poor that get hit what is this world coming to? and also beem it is the goverment that is bringing this bedroom tax in on april it,s them thats making us move so they should be responsible to pay for removals and storage of tenants property as there is no way tenants who are down sizing from a 3 or 2 bedroom property to a 1 bedroom are going to have room to fit all there stuff in and beable to afford to pay the council £7.50 to dispose every 3 items . please excuse any spelling mistakes . hope common sence is seen and bedroom tax is canceled

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    The call for a McBride character is based not on his well documented nasty side but for his ability to weed out at the dafter plans of the lunatic Chancellor Brown. This government needs someone to take a similar role.

  • DWWolds

    Extract from a tribute to Philip Gould on the Radio 4’s Last Word programme:
    “Together he and Mandelson began to build the communications team that made Labour such aformidable election winning machine”.

    The Conservatives need some to do the same. At present their communication is absolutely dire.

    • Simon

      I wish I could recommend your post more than once. It is shocking but if we conservatives want to regain the kind of values that once made this country great we have to keep the pressure up on labour and their supporters to highlight what a shit-bag lot they are.

      • Newsbot9

        You mean the values of the Empire? Yes, I’m sure you do. Colonisation, exploitation and repression are indeed great values, and your hatred of democracy, freedom and workers are indeed “shit-bag”.

  • Colonel Mustard

    It’s called propaganda and the left have always been better at it than the right because their ideology requires delusion and deceit to begin with. They specialise in misrepresentation, not just because they might disagree with the policies of their political opponents but because they always wish to undermine them, regardless of any underlying truth, reality or benefit to the people as a whole. The modern attention span and the need for soundbites aid them. But the Tories will never be any good at this for, despite their demonisation by the forces of the left, their primary aim is not to attack Labour at any cost but to govern the country for the best, however clumsily or incompetently.

    They are on the pitch, playing, and Labour are on the sidelines heckling. But when the roles are reversed Labour spend as much of their time on the pitch devising ways to heckle the Tories on the sidelines as they do playing. And McBride was central to that obsession with discomforting opponents first and thinking about truth and responsibility afterwards. His departure has not left a vacuum within Labour, as we have seen…

    • Russell

      Well said. You should copy your comment to No.10, although I believe nobody there would do anything about the situation described perfectly by your words.

    • Newsbot9

      A typical reversal attack based on your lies. The Tories have lied over and over.

  • Darren

    This government wasn’t even elected and should leave things well alone until a REAL government has been elected.

    • DWWolds

      If this government does nothing we’ll be ion an even bigger mess than the one Labour left behind.

      • Newsbot9

        Except that Belgium, in the period when it didn’t have a government, did better economically that the coalition. So…

  • ButcombeMan

    Serious question, when these false but convenient memes, get planted by those who would artfully manipulate the unthinking public, why do sloppy journalists here, play the game and reinforce the memes, by idly using them-repeatedly.

    Certainly there is a point to this article, both Labour and LibDems are far better at planting useful messages through false memes than are the Tories.

    It does not need a Damien McBride nastiness to remedy this, ii just needs someone with some sense of strategy and grip. Where is that Australian? Is there any evidence of his existence?. Is anyone doing a weekly performance appraisal on him?

    • Newsbot9

      Yes, shame that this is a correct and accurate meme. Just like the slavery one.

  • Daniel Maris

    Was this one of those bright ideas from that genius Grant Shapps? It should be known as the Piss Off Hard Working Families (Lose Your Family Home) Benefit Amendment Bill.

    Are council tenants not allowed to have the kids to stay?

    • DWWolds

      There are a number of major problems with your comments. Under Labour we had a massive increase in immigration and thus the number of people wanting social housing. In parallel with that the new builds of social housing dropped by half. So we are left with a situation where the amount spent on housing benefit has doubled to £23m, there are 250,000 in over-crowded accomodation and 1.8m on the waiting list. Other than the present proposals nobody seems to have made any sort of suggestion of how those problems can be dealt with.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Well, to be fair Labour have proposed to keep everything in the garden nice and to shower their permanently aggrieved electorate (the soviet one supported by the unions which was enlarged by importing a few million new voters) with bribes by using the money tree at the top of it. You know, the one you get to by travelling up the garden path. Apparently that tree never runs out of money like the treasury where Byrne left his note “The money is all gone” but for some odd reason it only works when Labour are in opposition.

        • Newsbot9

          Ah yes, you think we’re in the Euro, and don’t have the pound.

      • Newsbot9

        Except, of course, that’s not the problem. No, the number of people wanting social housing has risen quite steadily since Thatcher ended most council house building. And yes, the Coalition have slashed it again.

        We have a massive structural shortage of housing, in which immigration is a minor issue.

    • Radford_NG

      Like, if one of them’s serving his tour of duty in Afganistan,and wont have a home to come back to on leave unless his parents pay a fine for having too many rooms.

      • Russell

        Firstly your comment is a lie. The parents won’t have anything to pay. The taxpayer pays for housing benefit not the person who receives this money and secondly Parents of serving troops do not have any decrease in their housing benefit. More labour spin.

  • Chris lancashire

    The LAST thing the government needs is a McBride character.

    • jack mustard

      Indeed. Why would the self-proclaimed Nasty Party need a specific person to do the “negative stuff”?

      • Chris lancashire

        The Coalition has been refreshingly free from the unpleasant, underhand PR activities characterised by the Campbells, Whelans and McBrides. Leave that sort of activity to Labour.

        • jack mustard

          But it hasn’t half enjoyed maligning large chunks of the UK population.

          • Chris lancashire

            Better than maligning large chunks of the world as practised by Blair-Campbell or large chunks of their own government as practised by Brown-Whelan.

            • jack mustard

              Let’s not forget the Tories backed the “Blair-Campbell” adventure.

              • Chris lancashire

                They backed the Brown-Whelan adventure as well.

              • Russell

                They made the mistake of thinking a British PM would not lie to parliament……they did not know Blair.

              • Colonel Mustard

                Weak. But in keeping with the latest unconvincing Labour script that somehow the gang on the opposition front bench had nothing to do with the many Blair-Brown crimes.

                • Newsbot9

                  Yes, of course you have to call for making losing power a crime now your Tories are in.

        • Newsbot9

          Free? Ah yes, it doesn’t pay it’s spin advisers, they’re in the business of living off unearned income.

  • SonofBoudica

    I quite agree. The same ineptitude was shown over the work experience scheme where the looney left was permitted to make all the running and fix the idea of “slave labour” in people’s minds. Incompetent or what?

    • Newsbot9

      Yes, your slavers were incompetent. Again. How dare the truth be allowed into the public, you need to suppress it stat!

  • toco10

    Given what McBride got up to in Downing Street when working for the dysfunctional and erratic Gordon Brown the very thought of a look-a-like replacement is distasteful in the extreme.He and the Labour Government were rightly disgraced for what happened under McBride.

    • Makroon

      “He and the Labour government were rightly disgraced … ” ???
      I think not.
      McBride’s operator is still there as shadow Chancellor, and most of the other Brown henchmen form the rest of the Labour front-bench.
      And even McBride has reemerged from under his stone and is brazenly holding forth in the media.

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    What is needed more than anything else in Downing Street and in the Ministries is people with common sense, a vague idea at least what life is like for ordinary folk and, above all, good judgment. This “under-occupation” idea is something that one might expect an academic think tank to have floated. More practical and sensible people would have seen immediately that it was a non-starter.

  • Russell

    It’s not difficult, a reduction in a taxpayer funded housing benefit cannot possibly be called a tax!
    Miliband and labour MP’s (and journalists) who continue to wrongly name this benefit can be seen to be pretty stupid and not in favour of protecting taxpayers money.

    • Robert_Eve

      Similar to the nonsense ‘Granny Tax’.

      • Russell

        It is about time (long overdue) that government Ministers and spokesmen started calling things like this the ‘Labour Tax’ or the ‘Brown Tax’ which although still incorrect as it isn’t a tax, is more appropriate as the reductions to people in receipt of other peoples money is clearly down to labour.
        This government is hopeless in addressing things like this and needs some ‘attack dogs’ to repudiate the idiotic labour lies and distorting of the facts.

        • Newsbot9

          Of course you want to use ideological blinkered name when you’re talking about your own policies. It’s a typical absolute lie from a government of liars.

          Keep calling the truth a lie. Orwell would be proud.

    • Steve R

      They’re not being stupid, they’ve coined the term deliberately, as it supports the primary & ongoing narrative of “tax cuts for the rich, tax increases for the poor” – this is calculated, co-ordinated & managed mis-information, designed to mislead the electorate – the Labour propoganda machine at it’s darkest, a reminder of what went on between 1997 and 2010, and what will happen post 2015, if tricks such as this succeed in achieving the single objective – regaining power, whatever it takes & whatever the consequences for the country – as they’ll spin their way out of that little problem when the time comes……………….

      • Newsbot9

        Yes, how dare it tell the truth!

        Labour are actually getting it right for a change.

    • Newsbot9

      It’s not reducing housing benefit. If anything, it will increase it. This is aimed at social housing. Forcing people into private housing, with the associated far higher levels of housing benefit…

      Not to mention the much higher government costs when you drive people away from their friends and family, and leave the government as their only source of support.

      So yes, you’re “protecting” it by spending more. Tory policy!

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