Rachel Reeves got very heated in the chamber at the end of DWP questions, storming out after IDS after he refused to apologise for pointing out that she failed to turn up to vote last week. Reeves rather cryptically warned him: “The Secretary of State knows nothing for why I was not able to attend last week”. Could it be another expertly executed Labour ambush?
Regular readers will remember that Rachel Reeves told a meeting of ‘Christians on the Left’ that:
‘It will be much better if we can say that all of the changes that the Government have introduced we can reverse and all benefits can be universal.’
After Guido reported the comment back in March, Reeves went out of her way not to deny the quote when it was raised in the Commons by Mark Harper. Yesterday, during an exchange with IDS, she changed tact and flatly denied ever saying it:
IDS: A little while ago, in March, she is recorded as having said that, left to her, “all the changes that the Government has introduced” in welfare reform would be reversed “and all benefits” could be and should be “universal”. She has been asked this question before. It was a quote. I will give way to her if she wants to deny it.
Rachel Reeves indicated dissent.
IDS: There we have it—we now know what the policy is.
RR: The right hon. Gentleman did not read out a quote and I deny what he said.
IDS: I have to say to the hon. Lady that it is reported that she said that “all changes that the Government has introduced” in welfare could be reversed and “all benefits can be universal”. That is what she is quoted as saying. I will send her the quote if she likes. This is important.
RR: As I said, what the right hon. Gentleman read out is not a quote of what I said and I deny that that is my view.
Well guess what? There’s a tape, Rachel. Watch the video above to hear Rachel say the exact quote. She told the house she did not say it would be better if all benefits were universal, when she clearly did. Labour should realise there is always a tape these days.
As IDS and Trigger go head to head at DWP questions this afternoon, Guido hears word of a peace offering. Having spent the last year tearing strips off each other in the Commons chamber and on the airwaves, when Rachel Reeves and the Labour shadow DWP team came to the department for a briefing, IDS thought he would ease the tension with a gift. He jollily presented her with personalised ‘Iain’ and ‘Rachel’ Coke bottles. No such gift for Chris Bryant who tagged along, and grumpily tells Guido: “The meeting had been cancelled by them three times already. Not exactly on time and on budget…” And to think they say “Things go better with Coke”.
Have Labour taken Dan Hodges’ advice and given up on fighting on welfare? This morning IDS took a sawn off shotgun to the opposition for their welfare record and a legacy that ‘let these problems be ghettoised as though they were a different country. Even now, for the most part they remain out of sight – meaning people are shocked when they are confronted with a TV programme such as Benefits Street.’ The speech was packed with ideas for reform and the moral case for it, yet the increasingly underwhelming Rachel Reeves is trying to suggest that it showed IDS has ‘no answers’. Which is rich coming from someone whose contribution to the benefits debate so far could fit on the back of small Post It note.
As Trigger’s speech on Monday proved, it is Labour who are devoid of any real contribution to the welfare reform debate. As Hodges said:
“It’s time for Labour to just shut up about welfare. It’s clear that Miliband does not feel comfortable advocating genuine cuts in the social security budget, and has no real intention of making the case for them.”
IDS sums up the problem rather well:
“Met with the problem of social breakdown, the Left would have it that a sympathetic approach is to sustain these people on slightly better incomes – the accepted wisdom of the last Government being that poverty is about money, and more state money should solve it. As a result, Labour ratcheted up welfare bills by an enormous 60%. Yet rarely did they stop to ask what impact that money was having, no matter if it kept individuals from the labour market, if it labelled them ‘incapable’, if it placed them in housing that they could never have afforded if they took a job. Where for most people, their life’s direction of travel is dictated by the informed decisions they make: can they afford a large family? Should they move in order to take up a better-paid job? Can they risk a mortgage to get a bigger home? Yet, too often for those locked in the benefits system, that process of making responsible and positive choices has been skewed – money paid out to pacify them regardless, with no incentive to aspire for a better life.”
Labour have no answers because they want to ignore the question.
Osborne’s hypothetical £12 billion in future welfare cuts has had the desired effect in roughing up Balls and irritating Clegg, but it’s also re-opened old cabinet wounds. Sources closes to IDS have been very chatty, telling the Guardian that he is “alarmed” and the Times that: “You can’t keep hacking at the same people.” The speed at which this row has hit the front page two national papers would suggest to Guido that DWP were not completely in the loop in regard to yesterday’s announcement. They’ll be pleased though with news that the minimum wage is set to go up in yet another stunt designed to unsettle the opposition.
The Work and Pensions secretary’s reaction to Balls’ “IDS – In Deep Shambles” line today.
The warning signs were there when IDS said on 14 October: “Universal credit will roll out very well and it will be on time and within budget”. Or four days later, when he said : “Universal credit will roll out and deliver exactly as we said it would”. Well today the inevitable has happened, IDS says the roll out “may take a little longer” and the project might still be 700,000 shy of the target by 2017. If only there were some other major political event on today to deflect attention away. Still, at least Osborne will be chipper…
More than one debutante appeared in the Commons at question time for the glamour department that Work and Pensions has become.
Tory TV star Esther McVey moved into a new spotlight. Confident, fluent, blonde. Did I say blonde? I meant attra- I meant professional.
Mike Penning, the person more responsible than anyone for IDS’ disastrous election as Tory leader is now his disability minister. That needs no comment, at least.
For Labour, Chris Bryant, something of a cult, has been reprogrammed and is promoting the opposite of devoutly-held pieties he previously professed. He is steadily on course to be one of the Commons’ Nearly Men.
And then Rachel Reeves, cruelly characterised by the BBC-left as “boring-snoring”, set out to put new life into her career.
She is often “tipped to be the next leader of the Labour party”. But the tipsters are Tory optimists looking for someone less inspirational, engaging, in-touch, life-enhancing than the toothsome incumbent. She is a rare candidate.
Hair and makeup – a success. The voice – yet to succeed. Personality – platform announcement.
“We apologise for the delayed arrival of the policy on platform 1. This was due to delays. The policy is in reverse formation. Tory coaches are at the back of the train. We apologise for any inconvenience to your voting intentions.”
IDS suggests that Labour’s new approach to welfare is a horlicks of false intentions and bad faith. Reeves and Bryant say they will out-tough the Tories but have voted against every measure to save a cent.
Frank Field asked how many permanent secretaries IDS would get through before his insane computer program finally crashes/burns/turns into a black hole and sucks the universe in. “It will be on time and within budget,” IDS claimed, heroically. And then demanded an apology for £26bn of failed Labour IT projects.
There is a lesson in there, truth to tell.
It is absolutely inconceivable that he or anyone else can deliver a real-time computer system to track Britain’s beneficiaries. Luckily it’s due in 2017, beyond the political event horizon.
Dangerous statistic: “600,000 unemployed eastern Europeans”. IDS refused to endorse the figure saying it included non-working-age migrants.