Deconstructing Labour’s tax credit counter-offensive

12th December, 2012 3:10 pm

It will never be out of fashion to write stories about divisions between a Leader and a Chancellor or the disorganisation of party HQ. Which is why it’s all the more important when things do go right to step back a moment and appraise what’s actually going on.

Today’s coverage of Labour’s anti-tax credit cuts attack is a superb example of an integrated strategy* that unites the compassionate values of Ed Miliband’s Labour Party with the steely resolve of the Shadow Chancellor, the data of the Party’s number crunchers and the cut-through of clear and successful press briefings.

What was particularly pleasing for this inside baseball watcher was the crafting of an attack rooted in Ed’s understanding of Labour values – that this cut is simply a cut too far and on some issues, at certain times, no amount of poll numbers can justify acting so immorally – combined with Ed Balls’ determination to defend a key aspect of the social justice legacy of Gordon Brown’s tenure.**

Moving from the gamble of opposing welfare cuts represents to the attack itself, it is telling that the Party chose to play offense with briefings to traditionally Tory papers like The Times and did so not with the high minded moral language that Fabians like me might feel on the matter but rather with a cold and calculated critique of the electoral pounding on marginal seats these cuts could augur. This integration of field data on Tory at risk seats and policy shop research on the impact of tax credit cuts translated into a press saleable message is a classic example of how to do politics right: values, teamwork and sharp attack.

At the risk of going too deep into the Kremlinology of the matter, this is precisely what Ed Miliband and Iain McNicol’s hard won management changes at One Brewer’s Green were always meant to bring about. In the place of a fractured, silo’d Labour Party in which communications, field and policy were separate fiefdoms and the Leader’s Office and Party HQ were all too often in direct conflict with one and other, today’s joint operation between Shadow Cabinet and Party Directorates prove what this Labour Party is capable of. The top rank unity of economic message with its pivot from statistics to stories (“everyone knows the next election will be a living standards election”) is also to be welcomed.

And for those that think this kind of thing is easy or should be taken for granted let me assure you it isn’t: there are a lot of competing power centres in a political party, a range of strong personalities and a plethora of potential policy positions to choose from to boot. To align them all with one and other and sing as one from the same hymn sheet is anything but easy.

That said, it should be the norm. The voters that Labour seeks to serve desperately need a Party with this level of ruthless efficiency across a range of issues and causes. From the all too common scandal of poverty pay to the great climate change crisis of our time Britian needs a Labour Party that can campaign effectively at both local and national levels alike. The Labour Party that is defying conventional wisdom by opposing welfare cuts with success and élan can be that Party. To do so it must now make success stories like this not the exception but the rule.

* = technically, in strategic jargon this would count as a “combined arms operation” but even my sophistry of strategic nomenclature has its limits

** = oh, and that my old friend Mr Hodges thinks this is all a fool’s errand in the first place is just the icing on the cake of my delight

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  • Amber_Star

    Dan Hodges saying that Ed is “politically immature” is LOL funny. I have been pleasantly surprised by the way Labour have managed to run rings around the Tories on a number of issues. The weaker Labour’s hand appears to be, the better they play it!

    • AlanGiles

      Dan Hodges and his business partner Hutwal dressed up in gas masks like warmongers on their little PR business website are the last people to talk about immaturity. I suppose surrounded in his early life by his mum ‘s theatrical clique has inspired his play-acting streak.

  • girlguide

    My daughters don’t qualify for any tax credits, but they have gained significant income through the Coalition’s policy of increasing the tax threshold ( a policy on which Labour remains silent). They lost income when Gordon Brown took away the 10p tax rate, and Labour never made up that loss in any way. Since every working person has gained from the higher tax threshold, why the big deal about tax credits, especially for those who don’t even get them?

    • Dave Postles

      Have you looked at the IFS report?

    • Dave Postles

      The IFS modelled effects of tax and benefits in the autumn statement.

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    Yes, this is odd.

    I do not like the concept of those wholly dependent on benefits having their finances squeezed tighter by the 1% cap. That is not right. They have nothing else to offset this against.

    But Labour’s positioning is about protecting the “strivers”, those who work and pay taxes, and also receive benefits. If you add in the additional income retained as a result of the rise in the personal tax threshold, workers are gaining money in real terms even after allowing for inflation. Extra money kept in their pockets from the tax threshold raise (8.4%), and a 1% rise in any benefits beats inflation for any income of work+benefits up to £42,500.

    I do not believe this to be a master-stroke by Ed Miliband, as the mathematics is easily proven. And on the wider argument as to why so many people with significant incomes receive benefits at all, at the expense of those who really need benefits, he has nothing to say.

    • “Workers are gaining money in real terms” You obviously haven’t been on a two plus year wage freeze then?! Usual right wing troll crap from Mr Candelas.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        Please try to work it out with your calculator. If the tax threshold is raised, you pay less tax. If the tax threshold is raised sufficiently, then even allowing for inflation, you may have something extra to spend. It is a ratio between the amount the threshold is raised, the tax percentage applied, and the rate of inflation. Currently, it results in a slight increase in effective earning power.

        This is a progressive measure, as the tax threshold has proportionately greater impact on those who earn least above it.

        As far as your last sentence is concerned, I will accept your thinking when the usual socialist ignorance of basic arithmetic is acknowledged.

  • robertcp

    I have just read Dan Hodge’s piece. Labour is 10% ahead in the polls because Ed Miliband does not listen to fools like him.

  • I’ll be watching with interest whether this “ruthless efficiency” in communication and dissolution of silos means a return to the New Labour grid strategy where politics came first, and policy second. While everyone welcomes a politically savvy Labour Party, it should not come at the expense of pussy footing on social justice

  • Good article, well argued. Thank you for the links to related articles.

  • The missing element in this integrated strategy, though, is any element of local campaigning support. Why isn’t there a briefing to Labour council leaders on a line to take? Or some artwork for a risographed leaflet, with advice in which areas are best to target? Two and half marks, then, but our local campaigners are the most cost effective local resource we have

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