As a card-carrying member of the Labour party I am rather disappointed that Harriet Harman has expressed support for George Osborne’s plans for welfare reform, in particular the proposal to restrict Child Tax Credits to the first two children. The sole reason she gave for this was public opinion.
This is not leadership. If Labour is to regain power in either Westminster or Holyrood, it cannot be achieved by following opinion polls and focus groups. Yes, Labour needs to win more support for its social justice agenda. However, this must be achieved by informing public opinion and winning arguments, not the short-term gains associated with slavishly following newspaper headlines.
It is in all our interests to close the attainment gap and to end inherited inequality. This can’t be a battle of left versus right or working class versus middle class, but about convincing everyone in the UK that social justice is in their interest. Winning this argument is how Labour will return to power.
The good news is that Labour’s leadership candidates in Scotland and the UK have distanced themselves from Harriet Harman’s comments. Indeed, on Sunday Kezia Dugdale tweeted “I can’t and won’t support cuts to Child Tax Credits. I came into politics to tackle child poverty, not add to it.” This is leadership.
Opposing Mr Osborne and Ms Harman does not mean that the welfare system is perfect and could not be targeted more to meet the needs of the vulnerable. However, any changes must be focussed on supporting the vulnerable, getting people into work and ensuring those on low pay have access to training which enables them to reach their full potential.