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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Labour omnishambles on benefits and anthems

In my opinion Jeremy Corbyn acquitted himself reasonably well at Prime Minister's Question Time today. As others have said it was a defensive performance that partly resembled a radio phone in but he touched on some key issues and raised some valid points.

His performance outside the chamber however, still has the air of that political satire 'The Thick of it' about it, in which his team overreacts to criticism and where front bench spokespeople contradict him on key policies.

The so-called affair of the Labour leader not singing the UK National Anthem is a good case in point. Frankly, I am comfortable if Corbyn chooses not to sing the UK anthem. That is his choice and the fact that he stood in respectful silence should be enough.

I was less comfortable about him not doing up his top button. If you are going to wear a tie then do so properly or don't wear one at all. The halfway house Corbyn presented just made him come across as indecisive.

But, having failed to sing the anthem and taken all the heat for it, his team then put out a statement saying that he will sing it in future. Apparently, this decision was taken after five of his own shadow cabinet ministers attacked his refusal to sing the UK national anthem.

Immediately, this makes the Labour leader look weak and indecisive, at the mercy of his own party, buffeted by forces he cannot control and even admitting that his actions on Tuesday were disrespectful. It is not a good start.

More serious is the fundamental disagreement between the Labour Leader and his own spokesperson on key policy issues. The BBC report that the shadow work and pensions secretary and Pontypridd MP, Owen Smith has contradicted Corbyn on the issue of capping benefits:

Jeremy Corbyn told the TUC conference on Tuesday that he wanted to "remove the whole idea of the benefit cap".

But Mr Smith told the BBC the party was "very clear" that it was only opposing UK government plans to reduce the cap from £26,000 to £23,000.

He said Labour was "in favour of limits on what individuals can draw down".

Speaking to BBC Two's Newsnight programme, Mr Smith said it would be "foolhardy" to oppose a policy that had wide public support.

After being told Mr Corbyn had said the cap should be scrapped altogether, Mr Smith responded:

"No, our policy is to review that aspect of it - we are very clear.

"We are in favour of an overall reduction in the amount of money we spend on benefits in this country and we are in favour of limits on what individual families can draw down.

"Because I don't think the country would support us saying we were in favour of unfettered spending."

The Prime Minister of course, preferred to cite Jeremy Corbyn's version as official Labour policy this afternoon but you cannot help but wonder which one will prevail. Does anybody now know what Labour stands for? Even its leader?
Jeremy Corbyn is a London MP. Owen Smith is not. The £26,000 cap hardly bites outside the high-rental areas of the big cities.
A cap makes no sense whatsoever if the levels of benefits are assessed according to need.

Obviously, in that case, what a cap means is that a family's needs have been assessed at a certain amount, but for political reasons it has been decided to pay the family less than the amount it needs.

If you think the formulae used to calculate benefits are too generous, then make that case. Don't impose an arbitrary cap for political reasons.

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