Sarah Teather blasts George Osborne’s “irresponsible” comments on Philpott case

George Osborne has said some crass things in his time, but his comments today, as reported by the BBC, that there should be a debate on whether “the state should subsidise lifestyles like that” were awful, giving a whiff of credibility to the demonising headlines in the Daily Mail that my co-editor Stephen Tall wrote about earlier. Does this make Osborne a “trollemicist?”

Stephen sensibly said:

The welfare state was no more to blame for their deaths than capitalism would be to blame if they’d done it to claim on insurance. The motive was greed; the result a tragedy.

I think, though, that there was more than greed to it. The Judge’s sentencing report is disturbing to read and makes clear that Philpott’s desire to exact revenge on his former girlfriend Lisa Willis was a factor. He had a lifelong history of controlling and abusive behaviour towards women. This was about power and control as well. If Osborne was looking for lessons for Government, then additional support for victims of domestic violence, which is committed across the social spectrum, should have been his first priority.

You wonder, though, what Osborne wants to happen. Does he want benefit claimants to go through some sort of character/lifestyle test before they get any money? And what does that mean for their children if they are found wanting? Are they supposed to suffer for their parents’ actions, or for the prejudices of a DWP employee?

I was very keen that a Liberal Democrat should take Osborne to task for his comments. Our silence would imply that we agreed with this nonsense. Sarah Teather has not disappointed. She said:

I am shocked and appalled that George Osborne has stooped so low as to make a crude political point out of the tragic deaths of six young children. It’s one thing for a tabloid newspaper to make unsophisticated, clumsy political arguments, quite another for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to join in.

It is deeply irresponsible for such a senior politician to seek to capitalise on public anger about this case, and in doing so demonise anybody who receives any kind of welfare support. Mr Philpott should be held fully accountable for his awful actions and it is reprehensible to seek to explain it away by blaming the welfare system which Osborne has been so happy to wage war on.

On Tuesday, when answering a question about living on £53 a week, Osborne said that it’s not sensible to reduce the debate to an argument about one individual’s set of circumstances. It makes you wonder what has changed in 48 hours.

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

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  • Why is Teather shocked? Did she not realise this is how Tories think. After all with the welfare state, we’re all a hairs breadth away from having a hatful of kids and killing half of them. You could just as well blame his army training.

  • Richard Harris 4th Apr '13 - 11:27pm

    @Alistair – couldn’t agree more. I don’t think anyone would be shocked by Osborne’s comments any more.

  • John Coburn 4th Apr '13 - 11:35pm

    Has the leadership said anything to distance themselves from these obscene insinuations by George Osborne? This is not the ideals and principles of our party. Or are we trying to outflank UKIP too?

  • Foregone Conclusion 4th Apr '13 - 11:39pm

    Thank you, Sarah Teather.

  • @Alistair,
    it is not just that she is personally shocked, but that she is making a political statement of her shock using the position she holds as a platform by which to express an alternative view.

    @John Coburn
    Sarah Teather is expressing the party position from the backbenches, as is wholly appropriate. Otherwise, why would she be the person to give an official comment?

    It was the opinion of a leading Conservative in Osborne, not the opinion of the Conservative party as a whole – therefore it is correct we oppose the words of the individual, and draw only personal conclusions about how widespread that view is among his affiliate tories.

    Had David Cameron endorsed Osborne’s view, then it would be correct for Clegg to respond, but as he did not yours’ is an unfounded criticism contradicted by the evidence of Teather’s comment – which is certainly approved by the LibDem press office, including higher members than her.

  • 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.

    The problem of subsidising ne’er-do-wells is tricky, which is why there has been a lot of noise about the benefits system recently. Many will have talked to people on deprived and sink housing estates and will know that there are many, though on benefits themselves are quick to point the finger at those who, at least in their imagination, are cocking a snook at the benefits system and when you listen to their complaints, which often cite aspects of anti-social behaviour, it is easy to sympathise.

    It is not easy to piece together a more functional welfare policy and although this is obviously a very extreme example there is a plethora of hard cases each of which point the way to ‘bad’ law.

    Rather than try to make it look as though Osbourne has said more than he did, I would prefer to see the leadership concentrate on a more positive response in which the principles and polices of welfare provision are laid out.

  • Simon Bamonte 5th Apr '13 - 1:18am

    @Eric Avebury: “It is despicable to insinuate without a shred of evidence that one family’s lifestyle was typical of benefit claimants as a whole. ”

    Indeed. In 2009, a businessman who lost everything killed his wife and daughter and then set fire to their home. He told friends before he did this that he and his family die before they suffer a loss of living standards and status. This is not an indictment of the capitalist system, nor is the Philpott case an indictment of the benefits system. Just because a son kills his family for his inheritance is not a valid argument for doing away with all inheritances. From top to bottom there are people playing the system. A few dodgy bankers at the top and a small number of benefits claimants at the bottom. No tax system, no welfare state will ever be 100% fraud-free, try as we might. It shows their true colours that the Tories are willing to insinuate that there are tens of thousands of potential Philpotts out there while insisting that the mistakes of the banking system is largely down to less than a handful of individuals. The Tories have always put privilege over merit and easy, convenient lies over complicated truths. It’s what they do.

  • Simon Bamonte 5th Apr '13 - 1:33am

    Err…”that he and his family die” should read “that he would rather he and his family die”

  • Jeremy Wright 5th Apr '13 - 8:16am

    Well said Sarah. Last month a guy was convicted for murdering his parents to get his inheritance. Nobody accused him of being a pro-Capitalist crook!

  • Roger Roberts/Wales 5th Apr '13 - 8:52am

    A Foreign Office-commissioned report has directly challenged claims by David Cameron and others that Britain faces a significant new wave of immigration from eastern Europe when labour movement restrictions on Bulgaria and Romania are lifted next January.

    The study by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research says that Britain is unlikely to be the preferred destination for Bulgarians and Romanians and says those who do come are not planning to exploit the benefits system and public services. The researchers say it is not possible to put an accurate or reliable figure on how many people will come to Britain but adds that those who do move are far more likely to go to Spain, Italy and to a lesser extent Germany.

    The report drew immediate criticism that it was a “bucket of whitewash” from anti-migration campaigner Sir Andrew Green, of Migration Watch UK, for failing to estimate the likely scale of migration after next year’s changes.

    Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, criticised the lack of any estimate of expected arrivals and demanded the government commission a full study into the impact of the move.

    The authors say that those who do come to the UK will do so to improve their job prospects and living standards and not as benefit or health “tourists”. They are likely to be young and without families, at least initially, and so their impact on public services is likely to be modest. Unlike the wave of Polish, Lithuanian and other east European migration since 2004, Romanians and Bulgarians are much more likely to head for London and south-east England rather than be dispersed across the country.

    The study commissioned by the British embassy in Bucharest in order to estimate the impact on British public services, was described by the minister for Europe, David Lidington, as a welcome contribution to the debate. “The report will help to shape this government’s work to build an immigration system that works in the national interest,” he said.

    The tone of the report is in sharp contrast to last week’s immigration speech by David Cameron, in which he promised tougher rules denying new migrants access to welfare benefits, housing and other public services. It also undermines the claims of some Tory MPs that as many as 350,000 to 450,000 Romanians and Bulgarians are poised to move to Britain from the end of this year.

    The NIESR report says that potential migration of families from Romania and Bulgaria could increase pressure on primary school places in some areas but says the scale will depend on whether they arrive with children or settle in Britain and start families. Some extra language help will be needed. There is also likely to be added pressure at the lower end of the privately-rented housing market, potentially driving up rents.

    The research says that as most of those who come will generally be younger, healthy and working, they are unlikely to make major demands on health services. Although they do say that the higher rates of TB in Romania and Bulgaria have implications for future NHS service planning.

    The assessment of only a modest impact on public services rests on the evidence that much existing east European migration to Britain is temporary. They say if that pattern changes and they come to settle long-term then it will have significant implications for British public services.

    The report says that any estimate of future numbers coming to Britain is likely to be inaccurate and misleading. The economic conditions in Bulgaria and Romania mean that the potential for emigration is significant, it adds, but Britain, it says, is unlikely to be the preferred destination.

    “The main destination countries for Romanian and Bulgarian (EU2) migrants are Spain and Italy, and to a lesser extent Germany. These choices reflect restrictions and freedoms on the right of Romanians and Bulgarians to work across the EU, employment opportunities and similarities in language. As time goes on, the presence of social and economic networks of existing migrants may mean that EU2 continue to migrate to Spain and Italy rather than other EU member states.” Rising unemployment in Spain could have an impact however.

    The report says that the numbers already living in Britain are relatively low, at 26,000 Bulgarians and 80,000 Romanians. They are overwhelmingly aged under 35 and tend to have slightly higher skill levels than similar migrants in the rest of Europe. They tend to work in hospitality, cleaning services and construction.

    The authors add that there are probably Bulgarians and Romanians also working in Britain in the “grey economy” with a spurious “self-employed” status: “It is possible that once restrictions are lifted, actual numbers of EU2 citizens working in the UK may not actually increase substantially,” they conclude.

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  • Nigel Jones 5th Apr '13 - 12:32pm

    I have found in the last few days that more and more active party members are getting fed up with our leadership. Why have they not condemned Osbourne for his remarks ?
    And why are they happy to not condemn the mistaken way in which he is dealing with welfare changes ?
    As Lord Avebury wrote a few days ago, how has our leadership has got us into the position we are now in about welfare ?

  • David Allen 5th Apr '13 - 1:40pm

    Oranjepan said:

    “Had David Cameron endorsed Osborne’s view, then it would be correct for Clegg to respond, but as he did not yours’ is an unfounded criticism contradicted by the evidence of Teather’s comment – which is certainly approved by the LibDem press office, including higher members than her.”

    No, this won’t wash. Leaving it to an independent-minded backbencher to respond is not leadership. As to the Lib Dem press office approving Sarah Teather’s forthright condemnation, imagine what hot water they could have landed themselves in if they had actively taken Osborne’s side and told Teather to keep quiet!

    Clegg didn’t have to race into a studio and mount a direct attack on his Cabinet colleague. It would have been quite good enough for Clegg to make a general statement, such as opining that we should develop a benefits policy based on general principles rather than getting into the details of individual cases. Clegg hasn’t even done that.

  • Osborne is the second most important Tory member of the government. A rebuttal by anyone less than the second most important LD member of the government is not convincing.

  • David Allen 5th Apr '13 - 1:50pm

    Ok – I see that Danny Alexander has now said something a bit like my suggestion above. That’s better.

  • OK, so we’ve now had Alexander. However, we’ve also now had Cameron backing Osborne. This requires Clegg to come out and state his opposition to this distasteful, childish nonsense.

  • That wouldn’t be the same Danny who was quite happy to crank up the rhetoric the other day in the Sun by any chance would it?

  • Cameron has now backed Osborne, just in case anyone else has an issue with how representative of the nasty party Osborne is.

  • Martin Caffrey 5th Apr '13 - 4:49pm

    I would like to ask a question. Why have I not seen or heard anything from Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander, Vince Cable or Ed Davey? Are you letting the Conservatives take all the flak, even though you support everything that is happening, benefit wise?

  • Tony Dawson 5th Apr '13 - 5:51pm

    You will not find me backing George Osborne on anything, even if he came out in favour of motherhood and apple pie, but there is a serious matter for concern underneath his dive for the populist try-line.

    This Philpott guy is clearly an evil sociopath and has been for many years. He has been allowed by the state and the society in which he has lived to re-inforce his evil traits for decades, probably racking up all sorts of massive public costs (financial and social) for the future even if he had never committed the awful arson case. And he is by no means alone. As individuals and as a society we know these people exist and we largely, individually and collectively, walk by on the other side.

    Hard cases make bad law, so I am not going to give any kind of knee-jerk solution to the problems of the thousands of Philpotts we have in this country, who milk the system for what it is worth and yet do not apply the payments which they receive to where it is meant to go. But problem it is and it is very sad that it is only care for our shrinking pockets in a crisis of austerity rather than care for the society in which we are living which is causing us to think of acting on these issues.

  • What the Philpotts did was horrendous.
    Six innocent young lives were viciously stolen.
    But the welfare state (argument) has no place in this at all.

    I was victim of childhood sex abuse that lasted for 12 years. But my abuser was not someone who was in receipt of *state benefits* in fact it was someone who was in a highly paid respected job.

    All the innocent victims of Jimmy Saville did not have their lives torn apart from someone who was on *welfare*

    There are evil doers who commit heinous crimes from all sections of society.

    The only debate to be had here is about society as a whole and the protection of vulnerable, innocent children.

    Leave “benefits” out of it. it’s crass and it is an insult to any person and or families whose lives have been ripped apart from evil doers.

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