Concede and Move On? One Nation Labour and the Welfare State



The idea that Labour has already lost the argument on welfare with the Conservatives, and with it the general election, is probably overplayed. If truth be told, Labour's construction and subsequent defence of the welfare state has always been something of a double-edged sword for the Party, earning it brickbats as well as support, and sometimes as stranding it in the past, committing it to promises that were undeliverable and ultimately self-defeating. The political response by Ed Miliband and Ed Balls to the welfare trap set for them by David Cameron and George Osborne owes as much to New Labour as it does to ‘One Nation Labour’. That said, the latter does seem to be informing the Party's policy response, in particular its emphasis on restoring the contributory principle. Whether, however, this is practical politics given the inherently hybrid nature of Britain's welfare state and its heavy skew toward help for the elderly is a moot point. And whether ‘One Nation’ actually helps or hinders the Party in its quest for workable policies and a winning electoral formula is similarly debateable. Certainly, however much it is tempted to do so, Labour shouldn't waste too much valuable time trying to counter widespread myths about welfare. Nor should it overreact and obsess about the issue—or, indeed, pour out detailed policy too soon, if at all. Obviously, Labour needs to provide a direction of travel. However, that should focus not so much on welfare itself but on what the Party is proposing on the economy, on housing and on wages.