Labour jumping into Osborne's benefits trap, warns former Worcestershire MP Jacqui Smith
Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, the former Labour MP for Redditch in Worcestershire, says her party is getting it wrong over benefit cuts.
George Osborne announced in last week's Autumn Statement that he was increasing most working-age benefits by just one per cent. This is a cut, in real terms, because it's below the level of inflation.
It's a political trap for Labour. Mr Osborne even announced he was planning to enshrine the cuts in a Bill, when there is no apparent need for legislation - except to force Labour to vote against it, allowing Tories to say Labour is on the side of benefit claimants.
And it's a trap Labour is blundering into, according to Ms Smith.
Labour points out that 60 per cent of people affected by the cuts actually work (see this report, in PDF format, by think tank the Resolution Foundation).
But it's not supporting a benefits cut for anyone, working or not. Some activists might applaud this stance, but it's a recipe for electoral failure, according to Ms Smith.
Writing for Labour activist website Progress Online, she said: "His proposal to cap benefit payment increases has set a potential trap for Labour. We need a much more sophisticated response than that suggested by the headline in Sunday's Observer - 'Ed Miliband to wage war on Osborne over benefit cuts'.
"Within the article a 'senior Labour figure' suggested that there was a 'caucus of "new Labour" figures believing it will be politically suicidal to leave the party open to charges that it sides with 'scroungers' and is in denial over the need to cut the benefits bill'. I'm sure this wasn't meant as a good thing by the 'senior Labour figure', but frankly you can count me into this 'caucus'.
"And incidentally I'm pretty sure it would include a large number of people who've knocked on doors recently and been told that the problem for Labour is that they think we caused the deficit and they're not yet convinced we know how we'll solve it."
She added: "The Tories want to paint us as a party which cares more about those unwilling to work than those struggling in work and who are careless with taxpayers' money. This is a nasty way of pitting one set of poor people against another set, but the Tories' polling will tell them that this is a strong message with voters.
"In the medium term, then, our ability to be able to get into government and to put right the unfairness and economic incompetence of this government depends on being able to change this view in the short term. This requires a more sophisticated approach to the trap set by Osborne than simply to jump into it even if this is accompanied by cheering from church and voluntary sector groups."