LBC Women’s Debate: Lynne Featherstone gets Harriet Harman to admit she’s “happy” with Rachel Reeves’ plans to be tougher than Tories on benefits claimants

Last night’s 90 minute LBC women’s debate was, on the whole, well-mannered, informative and a billion times better than anything Michael Fallon had had to say.

Lynne Featherstone was our representative,  Nicky Morgan represented the Tories, Diane James UKIP and Harriet Harman was there for Labour.

I liked the 5 minute “Ask me Anything” segments where each candidate had to ask questions of the others. If I’m going to criticise, some of the questions were too long. If you are going to ask an awkward question, make it brief and make your opponent squirm for longer. Harriet Harman did keep her question brief, though – she asked Lynne which thing that Labour did in government did she like most and which thing she’d voted for in the Coalition had made her feel most uncomfortable. Lynne praised Labour’s Equality Act and said the Bedroom Tax was the most difficult thing. She did remind Harriet that it was Labour who had introduced the principle into the benefit system. She added that Liberal Democrats had had to hold their nose and vote for things that they didn’t like, but we’d always made them better than they would have been.

When the tables were reversed, Lynne asked Harriet whether she agreed with Rachel Reeves’ comments  that Labour would be tougher than the Tories on benefits claimants. Iain Dale emphasised Lynne’s point by saying to Harman that she must have winced at that. But when reminded of Reeves’ comments, she said

If that’s what she said, I’m happy to go along with that. She’s absolutely excellent and she sees things as I do.

The subject of historic sex abuse came up. Lynne very passionately said that if people were found to have committed these sorts of crimes, she wanted it to be known publicly whatever party they came from. She said that everything fond should be published. She said that this seemed to be the tip of an iceberg in this country. She also disagreed with Nick Clegg on Simon Danczuk, saying that she praised him for exposing Cyril Smith:

I don’t care if they’re Liberal, Conservative or anything. If they’re a paedophile and they’ve done stuff, they deserve to be outed.

Lynne made a very good point to Diane James about immigration. She pointed out that in her constituency, there was lots of immigration, huge diversity and very low unemployment. Conversely, UKIP were popular in constituencies where there was low immigration and high unemployment so why did they go on about immigrants stealing British jobs when the evidence didn’t back it up.

Harriet Harman tackled Nicky Morgan, asking her to dissociate herself from Michael Fallon’s horribly personal attack on Ed Miliband. Unfortunately she didn’t, although she was in a very difficult position. Harman’s words about gutter politics rang true, but I’d have liked to have asked her whether she backed the horribly personal attacks made by Labour on Nick Clegg, like that awful broadcast they put out during the Euros.

We should actually take bits of Lynne’s closing statement and put them out on posters over the next wee while. Here’s a snippet:

If you vote for a Liberal Democrat, you get someone who’s going to fight for civil liberties and freedom, for fairness and the NHS, you’re going to get someone who cares about the planet you are going to get the sort of party you would want  to stand up for those who need to be fought for.

Lynne really shone in the debate and it’s worth watching the whole thing which you can do below. Enjoy:

And having seen Lynne in action, you might wish to donate to her campaign

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

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40 Comments

  • Stevan Rose 10th Apr '15 - 6:33pm

    I don’t understand the headline point. With most voters Harman’s confirmation is likely to reassure. Labour will get a boost. Labour need middle England votes to win, such a stance wins a few of them. Harriet will be happy.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 10th Apr '15 - 6:53pm

    It’s not something Liberal Democrats in Labour/Lib Dem marginals will like to hear, though.

  • Denis Mollison 10th Apr '15 - 7:06pm

    Sounds good. In that last Lynne quote, shouldn’t “tonight” be “to fight” ??

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 10th Apr '15 - 7:19pm

    Ta, Denis. Now sorted.

  • Did Rachel Reeves ever say Labour would be “tougher than the Tories”? The Observer once ran a headline to that effect, but half the quote (the “than the Tories” bit) appears to have been inserted in square brackets by the journalist. It appears Reeves did not actually utter the words herself.

    Just trying to introduce some of that pesky accuracy into Lib Dem Voice.

  • Philip Thomas 10th Apr '15 - 8:16pm

    Doesn’t matter, Harriet didn’t correct Lynne, she endorsed the version Lynne gave her. Rachel didn’t correct the observer for that matter. And Rachel’s “we are not the party of people on benefits” is the same line and is well known.

    Anyway, I very much doubt Labour will actually be tougher than people on benefits than the Tories (whose £12bn of cuts almost certainly include every cut Labour has announced and a few more). I suspect Harriet know this.

  • @Philip
    Do you know where in the video this exchange takes place? I tried to find it but it’s very long and I didn’t have time to sit through the whole thing. In the quotes given, Harriet seems not to know whether Rachel said it or not – which is understandable, since I don’t expect Harriet to memorise every quote given by a Labour spokesperson.

    Actually, if people are claiming Rachel Reeves said she wanted to be “tougher than the Tories” then I do actually think it matters whether she said it or not. If she did, I’d be the first to criticise.

    What Rachel actually said in the interview in question was that she wanted people to be given jobs instead of leaving them to a life on benefits. That’s not a bad aim in itself, in fact I’ve always believed that everybody should have the right to a job.

    I take it Nicky Morgan was uttering words of liberal benevolence during the debate since as usual the Tories get only a passing mention here.

  • Philip Thomas 10th Apr '15 - 10:09pm

    @stuart I’m listening to the debate now but we haven’t had the “ask Harriet Harman” bit yet.
    As for Rachel Reeves, she was very widely reported as saying “we are not the party of people on benefits”: most low-paid workers are on benefits- most parents are on benefits (unless they are rich)- all pensioners are on benefits.

    But you’re right, the Conservatives are worse, and Nicky Morgan says some pretty awful things about immigration in the course of the debate (although, actually, remembering your views on immigration, you might well agree with her!)

  • Philip Thomas 10th Apr '15 - 10:18pm

    It starts at 1:06:20 and perhaps Caron is spinning it a little, since Harriet takes quite a while before saying it and seems to be saying something different to start with.
    Harriet does however confirm that Labour will abolish housing benefit for under 25s, apparently because we need to get under 25s into jobs, as if not having a house is an aid to employment! (To be fair, I think she is referring to Labour’s compulsory work plans here…)

  • @Philip Thomas
    “although, actually, remembering your views on immigration, you might well agree with her!”

    Really? I think you have misremembered my views!

    As I’ve pointed out here many times, my views on immigration are far, far more liberal than the stuff being put out by Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne at the time of the last election…

  • Philip Thomas 10th Apr '15 - 10:36pm

    Sorry Stuart- I appear to have confused you with Stuart Moran.
    Yes, I can see looking back at previous posts that you do have more liberal views.

  • Philip, that’s fine, thanks.

  • “Lynne Featherstone gets Harriet Harman to admit she’s “happy” with Rachel Reeves’ plans to be tougher than Tories on benefits claimants”.

    So Labour still haven’t learned then. The last thing social democrats want is an arms race with the Tories on which party can be toughest on the poorest section of society. And Labour wonder why the SNP are going to squash them in Scotland. Same reasons the young (who used to vote Lib Dem on mass) are abandoning the Lib Dems. You p**s on your core supporters for long enough and they go else where. Politics is not just about appealing to the undecided middle and taking everyone else’s support for granted.

  • @David
    If you read what Rachel Reeves actually said, she was proposing to give people jobs rather than leave them festering on the dole. That doesn’t sound like p***ing on people as you suggest. We’ll have to wait and see, but if the jobs are real jobs paying proper wages, this plan has a lot going for it in my view.

    I believe that having a job should be a basic human right in a society such as ours where there is plenty of wealth to go around. I’d like to see progressive parties of all hues take on such an idea. Reeves’ policy is a step in that direction, though it’s very far from perfect.

    See :-

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/oct/12/labour-benefits-tories-labour-rachel-reeves-welfare

  • Stuart

    I followed your link to The Guardian article which quotes Ms Reeves.

    It reports that she says —
    “Nobody should be under any illusions that they are going to be able to live a life on benefits under a Labour government,”
    “If you can work you should be working, and under our compulsory jobs guarantee if you refuse that job you forgo your benefits, and that is really important.”

    She added: “It is not an either/or question. We would be tougher [than the Conservatives]. If they don’t take it [the offer of a job] they will forfeit their benefit. ”

    This does not sound very much like benevolent philanthropy. It sounds like a dog-whistle for those who want to demonise the poor, the unemployed and those on benefits.

    If Ms Reeves’ quote is an example of what passes for “thinking” on social security in today’s Labour Party then they are just as bad as Iain Duncan Smith.

  • JohnTilley 11th Apr ’15 – 2:31pm …… “If you can work you should be working, and under our compulsory jobs guarantee if you refuse that job you forgo your benefits, and that is really important.”……

    Why should that be controversial? After all, the vast majority of posters on LDV believed that “the bedroom tax is acceptable if those affected refuse to move when suitable alternative accommodation is offered”…..

    What’s the difference?

  • Philip Thomas 11th Apr '15 - 4:07pm

    Compulsory jobs. Work or starve. The 19th century is back in town…
    Even if you accept the idea, where does the money come from to pay people to do jobs they don’t want to do?
    If people act in such a way that, in an ordinary job, they would be fired, are they fired from the compulsory job and left to starve? What about their children?

    The bedroom tax isn’t a starvation issue- if you refused to move to the suitable accommodation, your rent would fall, you would (eventually) be evicted, and you would then be rehoused (either in suitable accommodation, or in too large accommodation not subject to the bedroom tax because you have now not refused an offer to move from that property.

  • Philip Thomas 11th Apr ’15 – 4:07pm
    The bedroom tax isn’t a starvation issue- if you refused to move to the suitable accommodation, your rent would fall, you would (eventually) be evicted, and you would then be rehoused (either in suitable accommodation, or in too large accommodation not subject to the bedroom tax because you have now not refused an offer to move from that property………

    Have you any idea what you’re talking about? A few years ago my daughter was forced to move from a property…Re-housed??????? She and two children were put into ‘accommodation’ in Southend….one room in a ‘hostel type’ building with needles from drug addicts at the bottom of the stairs……Repeated requests for (in your words) ‘suitable accommodation’ were met with, “When available”….Luckily I am in a position to help and so, through my son as a guarantor’ (living abroad I was not acceptable as a guarantor) I paid for the move to private rented accommodation.

  • Philip Thomas 11th Apr '15 - 4:53pm

    Sorry, perhaps I was too glib about eviction and homelessness- my apologies. The bedroom tax is indeed iniquitous and I cannot see it saves a great deal of money.

  • Philip Thomas 11th Apr '15 - 5:21pm

    Of course, when you lose your JSA, you lose Housing Benefit too. So the compulsory work plan also involves eviction and homelessness.

  • Philip Thomas 11th Apr ’15 – 4:53pm …….Sorry, perhaps I was too glib about eviction and homelessness- my apologies. The bedroom tax is indeed iniquitous and I cannot see it saves a great deal of money…….

    Thank you for your gracious response….I, too, agree that the BT has a minimal effect and is just punitive in most cases…

    Regards

  • Jane Ann Liston 11th Apr '15 - 5:45pm

    As for compulsory work, hitherto that has been confined to offenders, i.e. ‘community service/payback’ as a non-custodial sentence. Those advocating ‘working in the community’ i.e. workfare are equating being unemployed with committing a crime, and are in fact punishing us for not having a job.

  • Craig Brown 11th Apr '15 - 6:52pm

    I watched the whole thing, thoroughly enjoyed it and thought Lynne did us proud. Her final statement was spot on and it would be great if we had that 1-minute clip to share online. Summed up why I’ll be voting for her beautifully.

  • “You p**s on your core supporters for long enough and they go else where”

    Not sure Labour sees those benefit claimants as their core vote. At least not a core vote likely to actually vote and vote for Tory or Lib Dem candidates. Their strategy is electorally correct.

    I didn’t think the bedroom tax was designed to save money. If it does the job it was designed for it cannot possibly save any money. It is supposed to match social housing need to social housing stock. You have some people sitting on more bedrooms than they need and others overcrowded in temporary accommodation. But it should never have been applied to existing tenants.

    The benefits system exists as a safety net for those unable to work not for those who choose not to work. Why should those who do poorly paid work they hate, but still pay tax, subsidise those who decide they won’t work unless it is something they want to do. You can choose not to work but don’t expect others to pay your rent and bills if that’s your choice. That seems to be the Labour message and it’s difficult to argue with. I am sure they intend to show more common sense and compassion than the Tories would.

    What are we saying as Lib Dems? That I can decide that the only job I will accept is professional footballer with a Premiership team and while I’m waiting for a vacancy all the rest of you can pay for my beer, chips and curry sauce? If not where is the line drawn between the deserving claimant and the undeserving scrounger as no-one is saying anything constructive?

  • @ Steven Rose
    “The benefits system exists as a safety net for those unable to work not for those who choose not to work.”

    Once upon a time liberals were criticised for having too positive a view of the people. It seems that some liberals believe it is fine if people who decide that they don’t want a zero hours contract or a job that once they have taken into account the extra costs of working makes them worse off should be homeless and starve to death. Wouldn’t it be better if Jobcentres could give these people a pill or something so their death can be quick and painless?

    Wouldn’t we increase freedom and liberty if we gave everyone a Citizens Income and so reduced some of the economic need to work and ensured that everyone would always have this income above what they earn minus taxes etc. Wouldn’t this go a long way to abolishing the poverty trap?

    I know I would prefer to see a society that values everyone in it, that doesn’t think we should starve people into work; a society that increases freedom and liberty by paying everyone a Citizens Income.

  • @Michael BG

    “It seems that some liberals believe it is fine if people who decide that they don’t want a zero hours contract or a job that once they have taken into account the extra costs of working makes them worse off should be homeless and starve to death. ”

    Find me one genuine Liberal, or one Labour or Tory supporter come to that, who believes that. The odd lunatic fringe UKIP supporter maybe. And of course Green Party members, by accident, would make substantially more of us homeless and starving by pursuing negative economic growth.

    “Wouldn’t we increase freedom and liberty if we gave everyone a Citizens Income and so reduced some of the economic need to work and ensured that everyone would always have this income above what they earn minus taxes etc. Wouldn’t this go a long way to abolishing the poverty trap?”

    No of course not, it’s la-la land. What you would do is cause substantial inflation by injecting money into the economy that has no basis in production, devalue the currency, and reduce economic output to the extent that you would have to cut services dramatically. Pol Pot would have been proud of that one. But of course, negative economic growth is the stated objective of the Citizens Income according to the Green Party manifesto.

  • @ Steve Rose
    “Find me one genuine Liberal” that believes the “undeserving” shouldn’t receive benefits.
    Didn’t you say that those who didn’t take up offers of work should receive no benefit? Is that what you meant when you talk of “the undeserving scrounger” and those “who choose not to work”? If you don’t pay benefits to those who choose not to work are you not starving them into working?

    When a Citizens Income is paid even at a low level the freedom and liberty and choices of the individual are increased.

    If we set the Citizens Income at the Jobseekers Allowance level from April 2016 and made redundant all the civil servants who work in Jobcentres checking that the unemployed, and some of the long-term sick and some of the disabled are applying for enough jobs we would make savings in 2016-17? As the Citizens Income is expanded over the course of five years even more staff savings could be made. It has been estimated that the Citizens Income would be cost neutral and it wouldn’t cost billions extra to introduce.

    There is no evidence that paying people a Citizens Income would reduce productivity, in fact productivity per hour decreases the more hours a person works.

    We have given those in work a tax cut of £825 a year – £15.87 a week. Instead of this we could have given them a Citizens Income of £15.87 a week. Of course if we gave everyone a Citizens Income of £75 a week there would have to be changes to when people started to pay National Insurance and Income Tax but it could be revenue neutral.

    The Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats in the past both had a policy similar to this but not called Citizens Income.

  • Philip Thomas 12th Apr '15 - 9:00am

    I am puzzled by the policy of giving “everyone” a “Citizens” Income. Since only some people are citizens, there seems to be a rhetorical mismatch here….

  • Philip Thomas 12th Apr '15 - 9:55am

    The Labour message is “if you are unable to obtain an economically useful job, you must accept this compulsory job, which has no economic purpose, or we won’t pay your rent and bills. The pointless compulsory job is a waste of any skills you may have and also takes time away from job search*. But you still have to do it, so there!”
    This is an outdoor version of the 19th century workhouse.

    *NB the coalition policy is that job seekers should spend as much time looking for work as they would working if they could get a job.

  • We are constantly been told that the vast majority of the unemployed would prefer to work.
    I don’t disagree with this statement; having a grandson who, although well qualified, works in a wharehouse.

    Perhaps, those here who find such an attitude distasteful might explain why?

    The great intellectual leap that took us from “If you can work you should be working, and under our compulsory jobs guarantee if you refuse that job you forgo your benefits, and that is really important.”, to 19th century workhouses is mind boggling…..
    Workhouses existed mainly for the old and sick/disabled ( in the poorest section of society)and those who COULD NOT find work. Please explain which of those criteria are met by Labour’s statement?

    IMO. the sick/disabled have fared rather badly under the coalition’s watch.

  • It is hard not read that idea of compulsory work as punishing people. When I have heard people advocate it the very strong assumption/assertion is that anyone unemployed is lazy (much as I hear people talk in as if all people on benefits are scroungers — which is clearly not the case). My concern is that these attitudes stigmatise and demonise those who have fallen on hard times, and actually make it *harder*for them to get back on their feet.

  • Philip Thomas 12th Apr '15 - 10:34am

    @expats. Precisely: those who could not find work. If people can find work, they don’t need compulsory job offers, they would have jobs already*!
    In the workhouse, you had to do work (hence the name!): a “compulsory job offer”. To be fair, I think Labour is offering slightly more humane working conditions.

    *You may be thinking Labour is saying nothing more than “those who refuse job offers will be sanctioned” -but this is already government policy: Labour is saying they will create workfare jobs for everyone.

  • @Philip Thomas (plus John Tilley and some others)
    Your party – or at least, its leadership – supports the idea of forcing people to work for their dole :-

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/oct/03/nick-clegg-lib-dems-workfare (“Nick Clegg: Lib Dems agree unemployed should work for benefits”)

    See also :-

    http://www.boycottworkfare.org/

    Compared with this, Labour’s suggestion of giving the unemployed jobs seems like a big improvement.

    I don’t want to say too much about it because, unlike others here, I made it clear that I’d want to see the full details before passing judgment, and I also made it clear that I had reservations that would need to be satisfied, otherwise I’d be the first to complain.

    You talk about “starvation” and “homelessness” being the result, which is pure hyperbole. You know as well as I do that in reality what will happen is that people will be shunted on to other benefits, which will probably be only slightly less generous if at all, and no starvation will result. This pattern has been followed many times before.

  • Philip Thomas,

    I believe that those who earn vast sums of money should pay the tax that the “spirit” of the tax law demands and should not be able to avoid tax by “Playing the System” ….Few would disagree.
    However, the mere mention that, where a job exists, those who refuse to work (not because, they can’t work but because they won’t work) should somehow not be allowed to “Play the System”, brings howls of, “Workhouses” and 19th century values…..

  • Philip Thomas 12th Apr '15 - 12:40pm

    The jobs don’t exist- the Labour party is creating them out of deficit financing (because it costs more money to employ someone in an non-economically productive job, which involves paying for equipment and administration and so on than to pay them straightforward social security monies).
    But you’re right, we should see the full details of the scheme first.

  • Stevan Rose 12th Apr '15 - 1:09pm

    The evidence relating to the Citizens Income comes directly from the Green Party manifesto where they promote it precisely to achieve negative economic growth. In a few years time when my mortgage is paid off I could probably survive on a Citizen’s Income without working. Why shouldn’t I effectively retire early. Of course others reliant on my business for their income would also suffer economically but that doesn’t matter does it because they too will get the Citizens Income. Ironically it is a business model that strives for zero carbon impact. In the meantime, £75 a week isn’t going to pay my mortgage and I am forced to work or find myself homeless, and possibly starving. I am sure UKIP would go along with non-citizens taking over the shop doorways and feeding themselves from supermarket bins.

    So, compulsory job offers… at what point in my claim to be holding out for a footballing position in a Premiership club does someone say to me that at age 50+, unfit, and in any objective test lacking the necessary skills that in my head are indisputable, I am being unreasonable. On what basis and when does someone lose patience and tell me that the rest of society is no longer happy to be paying for me to sit studying my chosen profession in the nearest pub with Sky Sports. So I must take the job offered behind the bar in that same pub or some form of sanctions will apply. If I refuse I won’t be homeless because I will be offered basic hostel accommodation, and I will receive food coupons that will keep me from starvation.

    This is where I stand. First the absolute safety net of a heated room with a bed, and food coupons. More than is currently on offer to some sanctioned people. Secondly a capability assessment that determines what I am qualified and capable of doing at my age and with my education and experience, and taking into account physical restrictions – back issues prevent me labouring or standing for long periods. Thirdly the work must be genuine, and pay at least the value of the benefits it replaces after travel expenses. Fourthly retraining, genuine retraining, should be encouraged. Fifth, travel coupons that can be exchanged for bus passes or bike loans. And finally, 3 strikes before you’re out and left with the absolute safety net only.

    I don’t think we should be too concerned with the idea of a compulsory job offer. A large percentage of the working population do a job they would rather not do because they feel they have no choice if they are going to pay their rent and bills. It is a self-imposed compulsion arising from a belief that they should not be a burden on the state.

  • The Citizen Income is promoted by the Citizen’s Income Trust which is a charity (http://www.citizensincome.org/). They state every citizen should receive it. This would have to be resolved within EU rules. At present the EU rules state that an EU citizen can be barred from receiving benefits until they have lived in the country for five years.

    @ Steven Rose

    It appears that your position has changed from “The benefits system exists as a safety net for those unable to work not for those who choose not to work” to reforming the system so that those who choose not to accept the work the Jobcentre decides is suitable for them should be re-housed into purpose built “basic hostel accommodation” with I assume shared cooking facilities and the employment of some staff in this accommodation and instead of being given money they would receive vouchers which will need some bureaucracy to administer. I wonder what the cost of this system would be? One of the advantages would be that it would create more jobs financed by the government. However your solution reduces the freedom and liberty of the person and so I would say it is illiberal.

    (At the moment there are about 1.86 million unemployed [which is 5.7%] and of these about 790,000 receive Jobseekers Allowance.)

    It appears that now you do accept that once you have paid off your mortgage if you were paid £75 a week you would have more freedom and liberty to stop working. It is more likely that most people in your situation would try to reduce the hours they work.

    For a long time I have been calling for governments to return to the policies of the 1950’s and 1960’s and pursue policies to achieve full employment and I have revised the target upwards to only having 500,000 unemployed. However the OBR have stated that when there are still over 5% (1.63 million) of the working population unemployed there will be no output gap. This means there are no jobs for these people. Therefore wouldn’t it be a good idea if some of these 5% were people who wanted to be unemployed rather than people who would rather have a job? Wouldn’t it be better if some of the employed worked less hours so those unemployed who wanted to could work some hours? Wouldn’t this increase freedom and liberty for everyone?

  • Philip Thomas 12th Apr '15 - 4:24pm

    Digging a little deeper I find the proposal is to pay the Citizen’s income to “everyone legally resident in the UK”. http://www.citizensincome.org/resources/Newsletter20151.htm
    Which is a much better proposal than withdrawing all welfare benefits and paying the income only to citizens (unless there was an exception whereby refugees also received the money this would violate our obligations under the Refugee convention). It arguably has fairness advantages over the current system where many legal residents are excluded from benefits.

    I still have doubts about the Legal Resident’s income proposal from an economic perspective though- and there would be technical problems about proving legal residency, as there already are!

  • Stevan Rose 12th Apr '15 - 6:36pm

    @ Michael BG. My position hasn’t changed, I’ve just expanded on it in the face of nonsensical leaps of logic that everyone that doesn’t agree with you wishes to euthanise all benefits claimants. Under this ludicrous Citizens Income idea my choice not to work relies entirely on others to produce the income given to me. One man’s freedom is another man’s shackles. So no, it does not increase freedom and liberty for all, only for those who think scrounging off others is OK. I don’t so it would be detrimental to me.

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