Bill Carmichael: Labour’s two faces on welfare and work

THE Twitter mob, armed with metaphorical pitchforks and flaming torches, was out in force this week after the blood of Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves for the crime of being insufficiently fawning towards people claiming welfare.

Ms Reeves, the shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, had bristled when a journalist suggested that Labour was the “Welfare Party” and she delivered both barrels.

“We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work,” she said.

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Cue Twitter meltdown by the army of left wingers who sit on social media all day desperate to be offended by something so they can manufacture a bit of synthetic outrage.

If you are wondering “don’t they have any jobs to go to?” the answer is no.

Ms Reeves was forced to issue a soothing statement saying Labour 
was committed to the welfare state and that her remarks had been misinterpreted.

Some commentators have suggested this was a “gaffe” by one of the rising stars of the Shadow Cabinet. Don’t believe a word of it. Ms Reeves is far too astute a political operator.

The trouble for Labour is that it has to deliver two entirely contradictory messages to two different audiences.

To the bien-pensant lefties of the metropolitan elite it has to say it would be far kinder to benefit claimants than the nasty Tories, abolishing the “bedroom tax” and reducing the sanctions against the unemployed.

But on the council estates in places like Leeds West the message has to be completely different, because – whisper it quietly – the coalition’s welfare reforms have proved popular amongst the working classes.

This is because their knowledge of the welfare system is gleaned not from sob stories in the Guardian and on the BBC, but from direct personal experience – and everyone knows someone in their community who is working the system or on the fiddle.

The Conservative mantra on welfare and benefits – that reform is needed to make work pay – has struck a chord among Labour’s traditional supporters.

Take, for example, the benefits cap. If you are slaving away in a poorly-paid job at say £14,000 a year and paying tax on your earnings, the idea of getting £26,000 a year tax-free for doing nothing seems absurdly generous.

I suspect if you asked working people in the terraced houses of Armley and Stanningley they would be happy to see the benefits cap reduced substantially.

The idea that Labour is the “Welfare Party” is absolutely toxic in these working class areas.

Rachel Reeves understands this – that is why she occasionally surfaces with promises to get tough on welfare. Whether she could deliver meaningful reforms in the teeth of opposition from the Labour Left is another matter.

But her instincts are spot on. Welfare doesn’t alleviate poverty – it perpetuates it. No one has the right to choose a lifetime of indolence paid for by their harder working neighbours. The only way out of poverty is through work.

Perhaps, with more people leading the party like Rachel Reeves, Labour wouldn’t be in quite the mess it is in now.

Naked hypocrisy

The female half of Britain has gone Poldark mad – largely thanks to the undoubtedly handsome figure of 
Irish actor Aidan Turner in the new 
BBC series.

If you chaps were wondering where your womenfolk were last Sunday evening the most likely answer is they were glued to the sofa watching the episode where Ross Poldark stripped off for a skinny dip off the Cornish coast. Phwoar!

This is all harmless fun and I don’t begrudge anyone a bit of eye candy, but isn’t the silence from feminist campaigners curious?

Isn’t the “objectification” of the naked body supposed to be such a bad thing that it is akin to rape? Or does that only apply if the watcher is male?

So a man admiring a pretty woman is positively evil, but a woman ogling a handsome man is perfectly fine?

I am confused – I thought we were all supposed to be equal? Perhaps I’ll have to wait for Demelza to get her kit off before someone explains it to me.