Lord German writes… Welfare – don’t panic! – it’s Cameron being a Tory!

So David Cameron has made a speech laying out some welfare ideas for his party’s manifesto in 2015. Some parts of the media portray the ideas as government policy – they aren’t! I was very surprised to see Shelter’s press release saying this was Government policy as well. It isn’t!

Party leaders in a coalition will always want to outline their plans for the next general election. It’s part of being an independent and separate party, and as believers in an electoral system which produces coalitions we should not get anxious about it either. I want Nick Clegg to be able to demonstrate our vision as a party, and he has already done so. The emerging discussion on growth – see last week’s open letter from Jo Swinson, and Nick’s clear association with the youth employment issues are some examples.

The Welfare proposals in David Cameron’s Conservative party leader speech have some pretty unpalatable parts for Liberal Democrats, though there are things which we could certainly support – such as not paying very high earners to live in subsidised social housing.

Liberal Democrats have a different view of the purpose of the welfare state. We see the state providing a helping hand for people to be able to help themselves. Giving people the assistance they need to develop their place in society, and ensuring they are supported where there are no other options. For the Tories it is a safety net, meant to catch those who fall out of the system. The difference is that Liberal Democrats want to assist people on the journey to find a better place.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t crack down on those who abuse the system, or play it for their own ends, when the potential for that journey is present.

Liberal Democrats treat each person as an individual – for example by providing housing support to assist young people find a way into work. Being mobile is one way of increasing your chances of finding a job when starting out – so we wouldn’t see a blanket ban on housing benefit for young people as a helpful way to sort out youth unemployment or getting growth back into our economy.

We have just made the biggest shake-up of the Welfare system since its creation, with the introduction of Universal Credit – where you always get to keep more of what you earn than you would get on benefits alone. So it always pays to work. And it is a big first step on another Liberal Democrat principle – bringing together tax and benefits. Universal Credit has not yet been implemented – so it seems sensible to allow this huge new scheme to bed down before engaging upon another round of change.

I would expect both parties in the Coalition to lay out their respective stalls as we approach the next general election. In a coalition the way the other partner behaves is important. We have to demonstrate that we can make a coalition work and also be independent and distinctive. This week has been a test of that requirement. There will be much more to come.

* Mike German is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords. He was Party Treasurer from 2015-2021.

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16 Comments

  • Callum Leslie 26th Jun '12 - 12:54pm

    I’d accept this if:
    a) our senior MPs had come out attached this idea, because it’s evil.
    b) we were being allowed to do the same!

  • Michael James 26th Jun '12 - 1:14pm

    I suggest Lord German and the rest of his party go and read the LibDem handbook. Then stop keeping this Tory Government in power.

  • I’d have expected better from Shelter than portray this as a coalition pledge. Hope they amend that soon.

    I mentioned in a post yesterday that now would be the time for the LD Parliamentary Party to set out their own vision for welfare reform, showing that it’s neither as draconian as the Tories nor as neglectful as Labour. As these changes relate to Tory policy post-2015, I see nothing wrong with the LDs condemning this and it certainly won’t threaten the coalition. Show themselves as a party which supports a constructive welfare system which effectively empowers the individual.

  • So we don’t need to worry ‘cos it’s just a Tory idea? BUT, so was NHS reorganisation!

  • “we wouldn’t see a blanket ban on housing benefit for young people as a helpful way to sort out youth unemployment or getting growth back into our economy”

    Perhaps we should be thankful for small mercies.

    But the party I used to support wouldn’t have said this proposal wasn’t “helpful.” It would have condemned it unreservedly and campaigned against it at every opportunity.

  • “I mentioned in a post yesterday that now would be the time for the LD Parliamentary Party to set out their own vision for welfare reform, showing that it’s neither as draconian as the Tories nor as neglectful as Labour.”

    Blimey, what a way of putting it!

  • As a matter of fact, in that press release Shelter doesn’t describe these ideas as “government policy,” still less as a “coalition pledge.” Admittedly they should have said “the Prime Minister’s proposals” rather than “government proposals.” But I’m sure they won’t be alone in failing to appreciate the distinction. That’s exactly the problem.

    As for Lord German’s claim that these are just “welfare ideas for his [Cameron’s] party’s manifesto in 2015,” it’s simply not true. That is not said in the text of the speech, and Andrew Sparrow in the Guardian gives Cameron’s response to a question from Nick Robinson as:
    “He says he would like to take “many” of these steps before the election.”

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Jun '12 - 2:27pm

    Yes, the way I take this is that we may be getting attacked for having “betrayed our principles and accepted whatever the Tories say” or similar, but if you look at what the Tories say they would like to do in our absence, it’s clear the Conservative Party is now a party which is of the extreme right-wing in economic terms. That is, what the current government is doing looks like us “abandoning our principles” only if you don’t realise just how far to the right the Conservatives have moved, and therefore the extent to which what we have now is just a compromise between the limited brake we can apply and what they really want.

    Under these circumstances, we need to be pushing things so the next general election comes to be seen as us on the left versus the Conservatives in the right, with Labour an irrelevance. Labour IS an irrelevance because whereas we have been actively fighting the Conservatives within the government, they have been engaged in little more than “yah booh suck” politics, which when it suits them sides with the political right if they can get an opportunistic advantage from that. I am thinking particularly of the trashing of the two big progressive taxation measures in the last budget which Labour joined in the right-wing press in misrepresenting.

    Labour will also opportunistically pour scorn on us for our concern with constitutional reform, forgetting that this was also a manifesto commitment of theirs. It ought to be obvious that complaining about this unrepresentative extremist government we have now and yet stating constitutional reform is “irrelevant” is directly contradictory. If we don’t reform the constitution, sooner or later we WILL have a one-party government of the Conservative Party, and what we can see of what they are now saying means it will make the current government look like a mild social democratic government. A decent Labour Party which was really concerned for the well-being of the many would see why we need electoral reform and a democratic second chamber to prevent such extremism ever being given the unlimited power our present constitution generally gives to the biggest minority. Maybe underneath they really are all still Trots who want things to get worse and worse so then we will have The Revolution and it’ll all be wonderful like it was in USSR/China/Libya er … well where’s the next place where it hasn’t yet had chance to go wrong in the usual way.

  • jenny barnes 26th Jun '12 - 4:20pm

    Matthew “where’s the next place where it hasn’t yet had chance to go wrong in the usual way.”
    Somalia seems to be showing how successful the unfettered free market can be.

  • ”We have just made the biggest shake-up of the Welfare system since its creation, with the introduction of Universal Credit – where you always get to keep more of what you earn than you would get on benefits alone. So it always pays to work.”
    Universal Credit will reduce working families’ benefits with the in work conditionality attached to it. Those that have to claim tax credits/housing benefit due to low pay. One partner has to designated as the main carer and work 20 hours when youngest is 5 and full time when youngest is 12. Both will be expected to work. If either partner do not try to increase their income by getting second jobs, increasing their hours or asking for a rise then sanctions will be applied, the same as those on JSA.. This has been kept extremely quiet and not many know about it. No longer will the family be assessed as a unit but as individuals. How the axe will fall on those relying on tax credits. . Of course, the Lib Dems voted for this but have you actually explained it to anyone or explained the amount of latchkey kids there will be? Of course, as there are no jobs, then these people will be forced onto workfare along with the grandparents who have to work for years longer, again no doubt on workfare.

  • Toby MacDonnell 26th Jun '12 - 6:15pm

    Hear hear to Lord German, and to Matthew Huntbach (aside from that last fantastic muse about communism).

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Jun '12 - 10:04am

    Toby MacDonnell

    Hear hear to Lord German, and to Matthew Huntbach (aside from that last fantastic muse about communism).

    Er, just in case you and jenny barnes didn’t pick it up, it was intended to be sarcastic. I remember the time when socialism was the trendy ideology, and extremist types were always raising short-lived forms of it as examples of models and failing to answer the question “If it’s such a wonderful system, how come it always goes wrong?”. It wasn’t that long ago when Gaddafi’s Libya was raised by quite a few as an example of a successful revolution with his Libya a model worth following.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Jun '12 - 10:11am

    jenny barnes

    Matthew “where’s the next place where it hasn’t yet had chance to go wrong in the usual way.”
    Somalia seems to be showing how successful the unfettered free market can be

    But if you want an answer, it’s a sad one – pick almost any of the “Arab Spring” countries. I’m afraid I find it hard to share the optimism about what’s happening there. Sadly, these places do seem to lack the sense of liberalism which is needed to prevent the next boss becoming like the ones they’ve overthrown.

  • A keen sense of history, and / or a spell living and working in very different cultures tends to give you both a more optimistic and a more pessimistic approach. No culture changes radically in an underlying way very quickly – people remain with many assumptions they have grown up with. Violent revolutions usually have a superficial effect, and people carry on living in similar ways – if, eg Pol Pot in Cambodia, or Mao Tse Tung’s Cultural Revolution, force majeure is applied to change people, there is usually a counter revolution. What this experience teaches you is that you cannot continue to believe that your home culture is in all ways the best, or that others should start living the way you do, or they are “undemocratic” (“uncivilised” in less politically correct times). What it should teach is an assimilative, understanding liberalism, a tolerance which can be adapted to any culture. It should also teach that stereotypes are usually unhelpful, and individuals in different cultural contexts can be selfish, or selfless, liberal or conservative, or any of the many personality traits, but those attributes will be expressed within the particular context in which people live and work.

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