Behind in the polls, rebellious backbenchers, a stagnant economy – it is fair to say that No.10 might not be all David Cameron thought it would be. Desperate to regain momentum but without any kind of grand plan for jobs or growth he has decided to take the Tories back to where they are most comfortable – being the Nasty Party.
After last weeks moral outrage at Jimmy Carr, this week he has chosen to focus on that bête noir of Daily Mail readers – Benefit Scroungers. You know the ones, heroin addicts, dozens of adorable but violent children, never done a good days work in their life. What do you do? Give the money to the scroungers or let ‘hard-working’ families keep a little more of theirs. It’s a no-brainer.
The problem is it is a false choice. Less than 1 in 20 of those who claim benefits have any form of substance addiction whilst 7 out of 8 are in work – that’s right, those hard-working families Cameron says he speaks for are the very same people who are going to see their household income plummet should Cameron’s ideas ever come to fruition.
The policy ideas come thick and fast however – from time-limited benefits linked to average earnings (after all if the middle-classes see their wages stagnate why shouldn’t the poorest?) to zero housing benefit for the under-25’s. Under-25s you see should be living at home with their parents – fine of course if you live in Chipping Norton and your parents can afford to keep you rent free whilst you plan out your future career, not so fine if your parents live in rural Cornwall or inner-city Bermondsey and are already struggling to pay the bills (thanks in large part to their benefits being cut). It also directly punishes those young people who want to move away from their childhood home in order to look for work – exactly the type of thing we should be encouraging.
But despite the evidence in front of him – 2.4m unemployed, an economy in recession, the increase in low-paid part-time jobs in place of full-time ones, Cameron cannot quite shake that most Tory of thoughts – they are unemployed because they are lazy. How do you deal with laziness? By beating it out of them.
The real crime is there are positive things he could be doing to help. By reinvesting in sure-start centres he could ensure that young mothers and children get the support and guidance when and where they need it most. A major housebuilding plan that would not only help first-time buyers but also the construction industry. Rather than looking at benefits rising with average earnings, how about doing something about private rents (which have rocketed in the last 5 years)? Finally he could introduce the living wage – putting money exactly where he says he wants it, in the pockets of hard-working families.
He won’t of course, because of none of this will play well to the Daily Mail and, at this point, Cameron is thinking more about his short-term survival rather than the long-term future of the country he purports to run.