Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Scaremongering and slanging - the new generation Labour approach to Parliamentary Debate

Of all the welfare elements cut by the Government, the one which troubles me the least is the abolition of the Health in Pregnancy Grant. This one of payment of £190 was paid to every single pregnant woman in the last 3 months of her pregnancy, with the aim of ensuring that she was able to provide herself with nutritious food as she approached the birth.

All women would have received that - including Coleen Rooney, married to someone who earns £60 a minute (barely adequate compensation for putting up with him, but that's another story) and who has her own highly lucrative media and fashion career. At a time when public finances are tight, it strikes me that there are better ways of making sure that those who need help most get it.

Now, I have absolutely no objection whatsoever to the Government's measures being properly scrutinised. In fact, a good Government listens to debate and where possible takes on board points which expose a flaw in their plans. That's what an opposition is for. The Liberal Democrats in opposition always acted with a degree of seriousness and responsibility.

Unfortunately, this isn't what we're seeing from the Labour Party. I wrote the other day about their seeming inability to take responsibility for anything. In a way, that's ok, because it shows themselves up and nobody else, but what we're seeing from Labour's arguments in the Commons and elsewhere is nasty, unprincipled scaremongering.

I saw this before in Fife when the Council introduced charges for Home Care for those who were able to afford it. The poorest were never ever going to have to pay. That's now how the Labour Party portrayed it, though. I spoke to streams of people who, even before the changes were approved, were petrified. We were able to reassure them that they weren't going to have to pay, but it made me furious that the Labour Party had put them through such anxiety.

I found some of the arguments advanced by Labour in defence of the Health in Pregnancy grant and the Child Trust Fund yesterday highly insulting to people's intelligence. One suggested that Folic Acid supplement cost £10 a throw. That wouldn't be helped by the HiP Grant, as you are supposed to take Folic Acid prior to conception and for the first 3 months of pregnancy, and this money isn't paid until the last three months. In fact, by the time women receive the money, all their baby really has to do is to grow. The most critical stage of development is the first three months.

Another MP suggested that this money should continue because women used it to boost their local economies. I mean, seriously, this was advanced as an argument. No wonder this lot drove the country to financial ruin.

The Health in Pregnancy Grant is not the only benefit paid in pregnancy - those who need it get the Sure Start Maternity Grant to help them buy things for their baby.

There was no argument so despicable, though, as the one advanced by Thomas Docherty, the Labour MP for Dunfermline and West Fife. In defence of the Child Trust Fund, he said:
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the crucial reasons the child trust fund is so important is that if a parent can save the maximum amount, the £18,000 or so would probably pay for one year's tuition fees under the Liberal Democrats' new plans?
Where do we start with that one?

Firstly, he represents a Scottish constituency, and not one teenager up here going to do a first degree at a Scottish university pays one penny in tuition fees. That's because of the Liberal Democrats who insisted on that as part of the first Coalition with Labour in the Scottish Parliament. Scottish Liberal Democrats reaffirmed their commitment to that policy just 2 weeks ago in Dunfermline.

Secondly, remind me, who was it who introduced tuition fees in England? Not the Liberal Democrats, who voted against them at every turn. Not the Tories, because they were in opposition. It was Mr Docherty's Labour Party who introduced the ridiculous system they have in England which is currently leaving students with tens of thousands of debts. It was Mr Docherty's Labour Party which was so enthusiastic about top up fees, too.

I'm the first to admit that I'm not a fan of Vince Cable's willingness to accept the principles of the Browne Report and I want to see our MPs keep the pledges they signed during the election. However, I'm willing to accept that whatever system comes out of that, it'll be a darned sight more progressive than anything the Labour Party put in place. And it'll be, as sure as eggs is eggs, better than anything the Tories would have put in place on their own.

Associating the maximum amount of £18,000 which could be saved in a Child Trust Fund with a year's fees is just plain wrong and could mislead people.

I tend to agree with the Government that the half a billion or so that the Child Trust Fund costs could be much more effectively spent elsewhere. Indeed, Nick Clegg argued for its abolition during the General Election campaign.

The Pupil Premium, which will help kids from the poorest backgrounds to get on in school, will do so much to give the next generation the chances and choices this one hasn't had. Never forget that the rich grew richer and the poor grew poorer under Labour - and challenge them on that the next time they spin their scaremongering nonsense on your doorstep.  The raising of the tax threshold, taking 900,000 people out of tax, is a huge help for people and a real incentive to work. More needs to be done, but both of these elements are brought to this Government by the Liberal Democrats. That's something we can be very proud of.

In contrast, we have an opposition which is accusing the Coalition of ethnic cleaning because of changes to housing benefit, a claim which is incredibly offensive. I don't care if the Labour Party ruins its own, already tattered, reputation, but it needs to be a lot less hysterical in the manner it conducts itself for the sake of proper scrutiny of legislation.There are reasonable arguments to be had on some of the Government's policies. By failing to find them, Labour fails in opposition as it did in Government.

1 comment:

KelvinKid said...

I do hope Labour is not going to be your excuse for the next 5 years Caron. You are rapidly gaining a reputation as the Polyanna of politics.

A couple of points suffice. Something called the Pupil Premium remains but it is not what was in the Lib Dem election manifesto, most crucially it does not represent new money, it is simply a reallocation of existing resources.

Sure there were tax cuts in the budget but those cuts did nothing for the poorest on benefits and the overall impact of the budget was regressive anyway.

The latest package of welfare cuts come with a series of homilies about making people less reliant on benefits but makes no serous provisions to get them work. The cuts in DLA and ESA are particularly iniquitous, reversing the capacity of the long-term sick to be self-reliant. This is the worse kind of economic liberalism and nothing to do with the social liberalism I know you support.

There is litte evidence that Liberal Democrats in government are making a difference, although there is some evidence that the coalition is trying to spin it that way.

We have tied ourself to the stinking corpse of Toryism and all you can do is blame the Labour Party. Not only Pollyanna but a victim of Stockholm Syndrome too...


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