Danny Alexander rejects George Osborne’s comments on the Philpott case

Danny AlexanderI told you the other night that Sarah Teather had condemned George Osborne’s comments connecting the Philpott case to the welfare system. Some people made comments along the lines that it was only a backbencher, and no Liberal Democrat minister had said such a thing. Well, yesterday, Danny Alexander did. The BBC has the story. Danny said:

George Osborne is clearly right that there needs to be a full debate about the future of our welfare system but the Philpott case is an individual tragedy. Children have died in that case and the vile individuals who were guilty of these murders have rightly been punished by the courts but that’s where I think that we should let that case lie. I wouldn’t want to connect that to the much wider need to reform our welfare system.  The principle of the welfare system needs to be that people should always be better off in work than they are on benefits. That’s what’s motivating the big changes that we as a Coalition Government are making to the welfare system this week…

In a week where I have repeatedly called for senior Liberal Democrats to speak out when Tory ministers say things that make Liberal Democrats wince, I am happy to give credit where it’s due.

And a wee update from today’s Guardian:

A coalition rift was blown into the open when the Liberal Democratscondemned George Osborne for “playing politics” with the deaths of six children after the chancellor highlighted the Mick Philpott case to raise questions about high welfare payments.

Amid deep unease among senior Lib Dems – up to and including Nick Clegg – over the Conservatives‘ use of the deaths of six children to make the case for controversial welfare reforms, the party went out of its way to distance itself from the chancellor’s remarks.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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24 Comments

  • Richard Harris 6th Apr '13 - 8:14am

    @ Geoffrey Payne. Seconded!

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 6th Apr '13 - 8:37am

    That’s not going to happen, though. Calmly taking him down when he talks mince is a good thing, though.

  • @Caron
    The trouble is that on too many occaisions he is enthusiastically supported by Lib Dem Ministers rather than calmly taken down…

  • David Blake 6th Apr '13 - 10:47am

    I suspect that Osborne was not really pleased that Cameron supported him. It was all part of his leadership campaign.

  • Simon Shaw: I do not know why you missed it, let me repeat my comment in Caron’s previous piece on this subject:-

    From The Guardian I read:
    When asked on a visit to Derby whether the Philpotts were a product of Britain’s benefit system, Osborne said: “It’s right we ask questions as a government, a society and as taxpayers, why we are subsidising lifestyles like these. It does need to be handled.” He said Philpott “was responsible for horrendous crimes, crimes which have shocked the nation”.
    Actually, Osborne does not answer the question, but says something more general and then affirms that it is Philpott (rather than the benefit system) that is responsible for these crimes.

    Danny Alexander’s repost is welcome well considered fair comment, that relates to Osborne’s actual words. I am not sure why Danny Alexander gets such flak and hatred in political blogs. Is it that he is a less than larger than life figure? Is it his hair colour?

    A question was put to Osborne, so he had to respond. Much of the criticism is of what people imagine he refrained from saying but (they guess) he thought. More interesting, in a political sense, is Cameron’s defence of Osborne because I think that Cameron realises that the highlighting of perceived ‘benefits excesses’ plays well for his party. In the light of Labour’s silence on its intended policy it draws Labour into an image trap, that could harm the Labour party at the next election.

    Is there a clear Liberal Democrat pathway through this issue that can elicit public confidence? Raising the income tax threshold is clearly a key point, but there are details in the changes to welfare that need to be urgently addressed too. The spare bedroom cut is a mess as it is predicated on an assumption that smaller housing is actually available and exempt pensioners who are the most likely to be living in homes with accommodation beyond their requirements.

  • @Martin: The problem with his words is that he was trying to be clever. Instead of saying what Sarah and Danny said, AKA, this case unequivocally has nothing to with wider welfare reform. On the other hand, he used this tragic case to publise his own dislike of welfare. His then tentative comment that this the actions of the individual does not detract from his crime of using this case’s public attention to make a public message. You say he was asked a question, well, then he should answer it, rather than try to be clever and use the question/case as a way to attack welfare by the back door because people hate him enough and are smart enough to know what he is doing. As for Danny, well, having spoken to him a few times, I can say he is a really nice guy with some good ideas, but he is probably seen as too close to the Tories (and their most hated man) to be accepted by our wider party.
    PS Martin, it would also help if you posted the word text unedited.

    “The principle of the welfare system needs to be that people should always be better off in work than they are on benefits.”

    This is something which is worrying though. What about those who cannot work? While I am sure Danny, in his own mind, had implied exceptions to this rule; for him to speak in such absolutes is concerning for me,

    @Geoffrey I third that, but sadly, Cameron knows he his own position is too weak to get rid of Osborne, despite it being the right move for society and his party.

  • I can think of many reasons for Osborne to resign , mainly that he is pretty much useless at his job , However, what he says about the Philpott case is only causing outrage because it links to the crass attempt at stirring up trouble from the Daily Mail.
    Personally, I think the Judge summed up the case against Philpott perfectly.

    As for the idea that Osborne is making a leadership bid, I don’t see it. He’s not a good speaker and he isn’t popular enough. Really, the Tories missed a trick by going for Cameron instead of Davis . With the possible exception of May the other candidates are also weak. Johnson is a cartoon character and Gove isn’t liked by anyone outside of Tory circles.

  • ” The principle of the welfare system needs to be that people should always be better off in work than they are on benefits. ”

    Really? Is it not that those in need should be helped to meet those needs? It is desirable that those in work should be better off than those on benefits but is it ‘the principle’? Maybe it should be that the welfare system should provide insurance against the hard times that most people will experience as an inevitable consequence of free market systems. Maybe its principle should be that it protects the population against the five evils of squalor, want, idleness, disease and ignorance.

    Osbourne’s words were calculated and the inevitable destination of the logic of demonising those on benefits to undermine the principle of a welfare state and replace it with a system of safety nets that merely salve the conscience of the better off without offering a fair deal to those who are inevitably left in need by the free market. This safety net welfare system is to cover benefits, housing, health and education offering those in need just enough to survive but not thrive. The conservatives believe that individuals are trapped in the benefit system by the moral turpitude caused by being insufficiently hungry. They do little to disguise this belief any more. This new system that liberals are enabling and we must conclude therefore support, however, is not a welfare system at all and is nothing to do with liberal egalitarianism. It is rather, the state as giver of charity.

    The “liberals” that comment on these pages, led by Danny Alexander (bedroom blockers will pay), have engaged gleefully and energetically with this process of demonising those on benefits (and the tax credit system that his ‘principle’ of making sure work always pays actually largely solved). It is a bit rich that those engaged in such a process should then baulk at the chancellor merely voicing explicitly the logical conclusion of that rhetoric.

  • @jedibeeftrix
    “he simply isn’t likeable enough to beat gove”

    Less likeable than Gove? Is that even possible?

  • @ Martin “Is it his hair colour?”

    Do you realise just how patronising this is ? Do you believe that people are so shallow that they don’t like Danny as a result of his hair colour – really ??

    It’s far more likely that they don’t like Danny because of what he says & how different that is to what he said when in opposition.

  • Simon Shaw I very much agree with you, though Liberal Al makes some fair points, which add significance to your observations about The Times version . Simply reordering the remarks changes the emphasis. Clearly a review of the case is being carried out by Derbyshire social services and and it is only proper that there should be questions bout what can (if anything) be learnt from it. This should include how welfare and other support was administered. Are there ways that can make it more difficult for a domestic tyrant to exercise control?

    Martin B I do not know how much you get around the political blogs, but if you have, it can hardly have escaped your notice that, sadly, Danny Alexander’s hair colour does seem to be an issue for quite a few – it very often gets thrown in as part of an insult. I agree it is shallow.

    Perhaps you have some examples of mismatches between what he says now and what he said in opposition. Perhaps you would prefer a more ebullient and combative personality. I think of all the LibDems in government, his position is the most difficult. I think many journalists and opposition politicians thought he would trip up and undo himself. In fact, although he has anything but set the heather alight he has been pretty solid.

    PS; Liberal Al, I did not get what you meant about posting unedited. Is it something to do with your browser? I had blockquotes in there which do not seem to have operated in my browser even though the HTML tags have disappeared on my browser.

  • David Allen 6th Apr '13 - 11:20pm

    Osborne has successfully provoked his opponents to fight a battle on Tory ground. Win for Osborne. Let’s all stop thinking about the Coalition’s economic failure, and concentrate our attention on the benefits bill. Win for Osborne.

    Labour lose because they appear to be soft on Philpott, or at least they do if you are rather stupid and you have no very clear political views. Since that makes you a crucial floating voter, and one who can be readily swayed, it is very important that you like what Osborne said. Win for Osborne.

    But the Lib Dems lose too. Osborne has deliberately said something sufficiently outrageous that not only real Liberals like Sarah Teather, but also party hacks like Alexander feel compelled to say that Osborne goes too far. Big win for Osborne! The Lib Dems have done just what he wanted them to do, which was to differentiate themselves from the Tories, and to demonstrate that if you really want to clobber people on benefits, the Lib Dems cannot be trusted to go as far as the Tories will. Votes for Osborne.

    Think of it like this. You are a string quartet. Musical taste is going against you. Everybody seems to want heavy metal. What do you do to get an audience back? Well, one approach would be to offer heavy-metal-lite, by performing a tasteful little transcription of “Bat out of Hell” for violin and cello. Would that work?

    Er, then, why should we think there are any votes in being Tory-lite, in offering to clobber benefit claimants gently using padded sticks? We are making the same mistake as my fantasy musicians. They would do better to stick with the Mozart and wait until people get tired of loud noise. We would do better to stick to our principles.

  • Credit due to Danny. Congratulations for a strategic victory.

    Osborne’s error did not induce an overreaction from LibDem’s, with an inital comment from a thoughtful backbench voice in Sarah Teather, thereby forcing Cameron to speak out in support of his tory number two on a toxic area for them with the result that it puts further distance between him and his hapless coalition partner at the Treasury.

    His success is on two counts: spotting the opportunity, and stage-managing it with precision.

    Rinse and repeat.

    Danny vs Georgie, it’s no contest!

  • @David: The thing is, any voters who would agree with Osborne on this are already his supporters. At best, this may win back a few UKIP defectors (‘few’ being the key word) , but it will also almost certainly lose them yet more swing voters. In the end, I really do not feel this is going to have any lasting impact, but what it has done, I would guess, is allowed the parties a chance to (in many cases, rather cynically) reaffirm their values, which may speak to their more tribal voters.

    @Martin: Good post, and sorry, I have a weird learning disability, which this site’s layout seems to exacerbate. I was trying to ask whether it would be possible to find a completely unedited version of the transcript of what was said, instead of a media bias one.

  • Jedibeeftrix.
    Gove is doing God’s own work according to a few conservative commentators who want the olden days back.
    To most voters he’s known for looking a bit like Pob and trying to mark their kids GCSE results lower.
    It’s a huge miscalculation to mistake being told something or someone is popular for signs of actual popularity.

  • David Allen 7th Apr '13 - 11:59pm

    OK, so Oranjepan thinks Danny is to be praised for the way he handled Osborne’s error, and Simon Shaw thinks Danny is to be praised for saying something pretty much identical to Osborne.

    But they both agree that Danny won the argument, so they must be right, mustn’t they!

  • exactly the opposite, David. The point is that it wasn’t identical.

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