Tom Richmond: Let Duncan Smith set tone for welfare debate

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THERE is only one reason why the latest tranche of David Cameron’s welfare reforms are proving to be so divisive ahead of the general election – and it is the Prime Minister’s tone.

Here is a Conservative leader who, certainly on paper, is far more ambitious and radical than his Labour opponents when it comes to social mobility.

He is committed to abolishing youth unemployment, which rose to record levels under the last Labour administration, and the Tories were the first major party to recognise the importance of apprenticeships to help those who are less academically-inclined than their peers..

Mr Cameron’s latest wheeze is to compel those aged 18 to 21, and who have been out of work, education or training for six months, to take on unpaid community work if they want to claim benefits. There was just one problem – Mr Cameron, a supposedly compassionate Conservative, made this policy sound like a punishment when it should be nothing of the sort.

It needs to be portrayed as an opportunity if it is to command wider confidence and respect – a chance for those concerned to acquire some civic and community values while getting used to the routine of working the equivalent of 35 hours a week or thereabouts.

The Prime Minister, in his quest to end the costly ‘something for nothing’ culture, also needs to show that charities and other organisations have the scope to handle this new intake of recruits – should volunteers be expected to supervise and manage those being forced undertake such duties against their will?

Perhaps he should have first sought the counsel of Iain Duncan Smith – the Work and Pensions Secretary who has been presiding over Britain’s welfare revolution.

This week has seen the rolling out of his Universal Credit reform which sees benefit payments linked to any wages accrued by claimants.

The principle could not be more simple: Mr Duncan Smith wants claimants to be weaned off benefits when they begin work so they have a better chance of getting their household finances into order. He also insists welfare recipients learn how to budget so they do not blow their earnings on alcohol, cigarettes or any other vices.

He might still be regarded as “the quiet man” of British politics following his unsuccessful leadership of the Conservative Party just over a decade ago when the Tories were at their most mutinous, but he is far more convincing on welfare reform than the Prime Minister.

It is time that Iain Duncan Smith was heard and that he started setting the tone for the policy debate now under way – especially if the Conservatives want to be respected as a party of compassion.

CAN someone advise? I pay Dave the window cleaner a fiver a month in cash – and have done so for a decade. I’ve never asked for a receipt because I trust his honesty. And nor would I dream of asking for one. Will this make me a criminal if Ed Balls becomes Chancellor – or is this early evidence that one-man enterprises will be strangled by Labour’s regulatory zeal?

After all, it is reported that the Morley and Outwood MP did not submit any receipts, despite claiming that he always asked for such documentation, when he claimed £1,610 in Parliamentary expenses for use of a cleaner.

I AGREE with Britain’s Archbishops when they state that the time has come to move beyond mere “retail politics” and trading of statistics.

They hit the nail on the head with their assessment that contemporary politics is “adversarial” politics and that it “ceases to be about wisdom, balance or humility” when it descends into the “tribalism” seen this week over apprenticeships and youth unemployment.

However, I would have even more time for this argument if the Church of England recognised that Britain does not have a bottomless pit of money – tough choices will still have to be made if they get their way and see Ed Miliband elected to Downing Street – and that the best way of tackling poverty and inequality is by the creation of a new generation of jobs which, in turn, reduces the country’s welfare dependency culture.

ALASTAIR Campbell, the Keighley-born journalist and political spin doctor who became Tony Blair’s right-hand man, may still be persona non grata over his role in the so-called ‘dodgy dossiers’ that preceded the Iraq war, but his new book – Winners and How They Succeed – provides a fascinating insight into the work of the Queen.

Campbell was a diehard republican before he came into closer contact with the Royal family. He notes that the word ‘strategy’ is banned by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace after the latter once complained to an official that “the only two people who talked more about strategy and planning than you were Hitler and Stalin”.

But it is this nugget that a Royal aide passed to Campbell which is one of the most revealing: “The Queen refuses to accept she needs a strategy; but she does have a vision. It is to do with values, familiarity, certainty, continuity and leadership; much stronger forces than thought or strategy.”

They are five themes that today’s electioneering political leaders might well reflect upon. After all, they are all qualities lacking in a toxic cycle of debate that is already insulting the intelligence of the country.

I WAS delighted to see that Helen Grant, the Sports Minister, is now throwing her weight behind May’s inaugural Tour de Yorkshire by backing the £800,000 that the Government is making available to promote the event and to enhance this county’s reputation as one of the cycling destinations of Europe. What I cannot understand is her obstinacy prior to last year’s Tour de France – and her reluctance to work with Welcome to Yorkshire. I can only assume that her agenda is being driven by the forthcoming election – or any dressing down that she might have received 
from David Cameron and George Osborne.

JAMIE Hanley, Labour’s candidate in the marginal Tory-held seat of Pudsey, looks like he’s getting wobbly. His latest election letter contains seven David Cameron name-checks - and not one of Ed Miliband. I wonder why...

NOW Morrisons has finally dispensed with the services of chief executive Dalton Philips after a disastrous stint in charge of the Yorkshire-based supermarket chain, I assume there will be no more excuses for my local store’s inability to stock skimmed milk on a regular basis. To me, that’s the test facing the new management team headed by chairman Andrew Higginson – the store needs to start stocking the basic products that shoppers expect from their supermarket.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk