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The political centre just moved, to the right

5 June 2013

Today must count as one of the most encouraging days for the centre right in British politics in recent times. Labour’s apparent abandonment of universal child benefit is a massive blow to the 1945 settlement. It is akin in significance to when Labour began to accept the privatisations of the Thatcher era.

Now, there’s no intellectual difference between declaring that better off pensioners won’t receive winter fuel payments and that better off mothers won’t receive child benefit. But in symbolic terms, the difference is huge. The winter fuel payment is a recent addition to the welfare state, introduced by the last Labour government. It is not fundamental to it. By contrast, child benefit—or family allowance, as it was initially called—is one of the pillars of the welfare state, an original recommendation of the Beveridge report. If it can cease to be universal, why can’t the state pension?

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Downing Street can barely conceal its delight about Labour’s apparent u-turn. When George Osborne first proposed removing child benefit from higher rate taxpayers, there was chuntering from some on the right. But Labour’s acceptance of it today offers the Tories a chance to start redefining what the welfare state is, turning it into more of a safety net than a universal service. This would be more fiscally sustainable and wouldn’t need such large tax increases to continue funding it.

When the Tories were out of power’, Osborne—to the irritation of many on his own side—was sceptical of the party’s ability to change the terms of political debate. He used to urge patience, saying ‘in opposition, you move to the centre. In government, you move the centre.’ Labour’s acceptance of the child benefit cut is proof that, in at least one area, he has done that.

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  • David B

    I wonder how long it will be until they accept the benefits cap

  • thanksdellingpole

    What is all this crap, when the money runs out nobody will be getting anything.

    Trust BitCoin!

  • David Webb

    It is a tiny move. The main parties have no intention of halving the size of the state.

  • Andrew

    The difference is that people rightly feel that they have paid for their old age pension through years of NI payments. The Government knows what a political pain pensioner poverty and means testing has been over years, hence the introduction of a flat rate pension. Any suggestion of undermining this central piece of social insurance would be a political disaster.

    • andagain

      The difference is that people rightly feel that they have paid for their old age pension through years of NI payments.

      They may feel that way, but not rightly. If they HAD paid for their old-age pension, the current government would have a lot more money, and we would not be in the current mess.

      • rubyduck

        andagain “If they HAD paid for their old-age pension”

        No matter how much was paid in, Labour would have spent it.

        • andagain

          Well we certainly can’t blame the electorate can we? It can’t have been their fault that they voted for governments that gave them money instead of saving it.

    • David B

      We need to get to grips with the welfare state. The longer it is left the more people feel “entitle” to an unfunded pension and the whole system will collapse in on itself. The problem is people did not pay for their pension. NIC was treated like all other tax and spend in the year it was collected.

      We now need a welfare state that provides for the needy and the rest need to take responsibility for preparing for their old age.

  • allymax bruce

    Forsyth, you choob, put my comment back up; are you afraid of the homos?

  • Colonel Mustard

    Well any move to the right by the elites ruling over us should put them – where? – just left of centre I reckon.

  • chan chan

    Child benefit, amongst other things, should be scrapped entirely. Taxes should then be greatly lowered across the board.

    • telemachus

      And what about the crumbling NHS

    • Tom Tom

      So should State Pensions.

      • telemachus

        You cannot be serious
        If you have no other source of income these are below subsistence

  • MirthaTidville

    Or in a nutshell…spend/ gamble/fritter away every cent you have…make sure you keep nothing…then and only then, will you get back anything, in return for your vast contributions……

  • Will Rees

    The more you contribute, the less you are entitled to – right wing how?

    • HookesLaw

      You make a fair point
      We have been left an economic mess by Labour as such the money has to come from those who have it … until spending and the economy are under control

      All Balls has done is declare war on the middle class so very old Labour
      Typically the Speccy thinks this is a move to the Right

    • David B

      True, but as conservatives we live by a fairness rule that says we will look after ourselves as best we can and only ask for help when we really need it and we don’t resent people who tried and failed being helped. What we don’t like is people who won’t try and wait for others to bail them out.

      Labour and the left demand everyone treats them fairly when they are selfish and unfair to everyone with the “what’s in it for me” culture.

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