It should be a no brainer. The government is unpopular, the economy stutters along teetering between recovery and continuing recession, the Conservative Party’s core vote is seeping away due to its obsession with homosexuality and Europe, and anyone who believes a word David Cameron says is gullible enough to believe waterboarding is a popular Middle Eastern recreational activity.
The Conservative Party should by rights be heading for oblivion at the 2015 general election. However, they have a secret weapon which may yet save their bacon – the Labour Party front bench.
Yesterday Mick Philpott was jailed for life, and got off lightly. He was convicted of the killing of six of his seventeen children in an arson attack designed to frame his ex-mistress, make him a hero, and get the return of six slices of child benefit. It a healthier time he would be described as an evil man, a suitable description of someone who willingly endangered the lives of six children for ego and personal gain. As the judge said he is without a moral compass.
Philpott led what the BBC coyly describes as an “unconventional lifestyle”. After serving a jail sentence of seven years for the attempted murder of a girlfriend whom he stabbed 27 times, he should have been a social outcast. Instead, he traded on his notoriety to become a minor TV personality, which further fed his outsize ego. Philpott also attacked another driver in a road rage incident, clearly a man unable to handle any challenge to his ego.
The bridesmaid at his wedding to Mairead was his then 19-year-old mistress. Both women were installed as cash cows in his taxpayer supplied house which Mick complained wasn’t big enough. Mick proceeded to milk both women for the child benefit each new baby brought, he also pocketed their wages from their cleaning jobs. Not only did Philpott father seventeen children at the state’s expense he was shrewd enough to play the system for all he could get. Although physically able to hold down a job Philpott lived a life of ease and idleness paid for by ordinary people who worked for their own living, and his.
This would have appalled the Labour Party which instituted the welfare state. At a time of very real austerity they created a system through which ordinary people who were confronted with the harsh realities of unemployment or illness could be supported until they got back on their feet and could look after themselves. It was not created to subsidise “alternative lifestyles”.
George Osborne was asked if this case raised questions about the welfare system which paid for Philpott’s “unconventional lifestyle”. He reasonably replied that the only one responsible for Philpott’s crimes was Philpott himself. A reply with which even the most fanatical progressive could agree. Osborne went on, however, and remarked, “There is a question for government and society about the welfare state and the taxpayers, subsidising lifestyles like that. That debate needs to be had.”
Osborne did not suggest that Philpott was typical of those on benefit, he did not stigmatise all those on welfare as idle scroungers, he did not say that our welfare system caused Philpott to kill six children.
Nevertheless, cue outrage. Ed Milliband immediately issued a press statement condemning Osborne. Ed Balls, poster boy for playground bullies, blustered that this was “cynical” and a “desperate” act which demeaned the office of Chancellor.
Labour can be as out of touch with their core constituency as Conservatives. According to recent opinion polls, 64% of us think the benefits system “doesn’t work”; 78% think that if an unemployed person turns down a job, his benefits should be adjusted accordingly; and 84% believe there should be tougher work-capability tests for disabled people. Unsurprisingly such views are more entrenched among the poor than among the comfortable.
Unsurprising that is except to Guardianistas and other middle class progressives. Disconnected from those for whom they love to speak they are unable to recognise the simple fact, with the welfare state the more you have to do with it the less you like it.
The vulnerable know too well the soul-deadening and community-dividing impact that patronising welfarism can have. Unlike the Ed Millibands and Ed Balls of this world they know the reality of being sustained by the state, and it is miserable for ordinary decent people who want to be busy, independent and self-reliant. The only people who love the welfare state are represented by the Mick Philpotts and Polly Toynbees of this world; one group milks it for cash the other for political and emotional capital.
Yes, the Treasury loses much more through tax avoidance than it does through benefit cheats. The poor, however, do not live next door to people with offshore accounts in the Caymans, they are more likely to live near someone who is fiddling the system at their expense. They are the people who know that they may well need the welfare system and therefore want it reformed so that it can survive.
The poor know that offering “incapacity” benefits to the long-term unemployed encourages people to see themselves as sick and therefore quiescent, rather than as having been let down by an incompetent governing class. If the financial and therapeutic needs of individuals or families is being met, however inadequately, by distant untouchable faceless bureaucrats, why should they take action to better themselves or their communities? If you subsidise a certain type of behaviour, guess what, you get more of it.
By cocooning the poor in the all-encompassing embrace of the state, they are rendered unlikely to exercise their own initiative, in effect they are politically neutered. Who could love such a system, save those cushioned sections of society lucky enough never to have been mangled by it and who can make political profit from it?