Keir Starmer pledged on Sunday to maintain the benefit cap for two children in a move that has sparked consternation among factions in Labor ranks.
The Labor leader said on Sunday he would “not change (the) policy” which prevents parents from claiming the child tax credit or universal credit for any third child born after April 2017.
One wonders if Starmer anticipated the backlash, as Labor MPs and senior party figures from across the UK take aim at the controversial approach.
Scottish Labor leader Anas Sarwar, a figure who is an increasingly integral part of Starmer’s operation in the wake of the SNP’s troubles north of the border, has openly distanced himself from the Westminster Labor leadership. He called the two-child benefit cap “appalling”, saying he will pressure Sir Keir Starmer to remove it.
Humanists UK celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Same-Sex Marriage Act
The Princess Royal visits BASC headquarters in Rossett
Other critics include MPs Meg Hillier and Stephen Timms, chairmen of the public accounts committee and the jobs and pensions committee respectively. “As time goes on, it’s going to be harder and harder to defend the two-child limit,” Timms told the Yo newspaper.
These unlikely rebels join MPs Rosie Duffield, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Stella Creasy and Clive Efford, as well as four of Labour’s directly-elected mayors, including Sadiq Khan, in speaking out against the move.
Then there is the reaction of the extra-parliamentary institutional elements of the labor movement. Labor party funder Unison, for example, called the two-child benefit cap “cruel” and the Fabian Society, an affiliate often sympathetic to Sir Keir, criticized it as “nasty” policy.
What’s more, ahead of today’s shadow cabinet meeting, the Times reported that at least one member of Sir Keir’s top team has threatened to leave the front bench. A party official told the newspaper: “It is a concern… The danger will not be over until we have gone through a shadow cabinet meeting.”
Taking a step back, there are a number of reasons why the Labor leadership moved on Sunday to outline its commitment to the cap. First, and most obviously, the policy is believed to be widely popular with voters. TO YouGov Last week’s poll found 60 percent of Britons want to keep the cap, as do a plurality of Labor voters 47 percent to 35 percent.
But second, and more profoundly, the party wants to double down on its message on fiscal restraint, signaling once again that Labor is the party of sound finance. It marks a coherent strategy pursued under Starmer’s leadership in an attempt to assume the mantle of economic credibility following the implosion of Liz Truss’ “mini-budget” last year. Accepting the framework that Truss-style fiscal easing rattles markets, Starmer signals that Labor is ready and willing to steal the mantle of economic responsibility from the Conservatives.
In the wake of the Trussonomics-induced market nosedive in September, the party has become more accomplished in emphasizing its “fiscal rules,” the most authoritarian of which commits the party to debt falling as part of national income within a first term in government. So Sir Keir’s updated position on the two-child benefit cap could be seen as an attempt to show that the party is taking its self-imposed tax shackles seriously, avoiding the Tories’ attacks on waste.
Economic stability must come first, as Starmer wrote in an article for the Observer last week: “That will mean making tough decisions and having tough fiscal rules.”
Coinciding with Rishi Sunak’s rhetoric about “hard decisions”, Starmer increasingly sees book balancing as a political virtue. The two-child benefit cap position is simply another means by which Labor can signal its affinity for a ruthless tax regime.
Furthermore, Starmer’s message about a rigid fiscal framework is so all-consuming that it only takes one slip, one maverick infraction to undermine all the party’s work after Truss. As a party member told the guardian in the wake of the two-child benefit cap row: “You can’t on the one hand say you want fiscal responsibility and on the other say there are all these things you want to do, but not how you’re going to pay for them.”
Just as Labor undertook clear rearguard action to water down the party’s £28bn climate pledge, leaders clearly think there are areas where Labor is still open to attack over waste charges. He has decided to act.
But doubts remain as to whether the message about the benefit cap of two children has been correct, or too direct, more specifically. Indeed, when Sir Keir vowed on Sunday that he would “not change” government policy, there was clearly room for the Labor leader to be more equivocal.
Notably, he did not suggest that policy was “not a priority” or that “having assessed the state of British finances, Labor needs to readjust its proposals now and review policy when public finances improve.” Instead, Starmer washed his hands of plans to abolish the cap with ruthless intent. The unambiguous nature of the U-turn surely explains some of the political furor that has arisen from it.
But Keir Starmer has honed his pitch as a Labor leader by deliberately antagonizing aspects of his parliamentary party. He builds on the strategic assumption that the more kicking and screaming Labor’s left wing has, the faster Labor’s previous flirtation with tax waste is exorcised from the minds of the electorate.
And judging by the polls, this has been a remarkably successful electoral maneuver.
One wonders, therefore, whether Starmer’s messages are deliberately sliding to the right, targeting the “soft left” elements of Corbyn’s right in the party.
There is also a cumulative quality to Starmer’s strategy on fiscal restraint. Abandoning the commitment to abolish tuition fees, weakening the party’s £28bn green energy stance and now the decision to retain the two-child benefit cap – it all adds up. At each interval in the news cycle, Starmer picks a new policy to sacrifice on the altar of fiscal stolidity. This ruthless pursuit of fiscal prudence begins to build a picture of what a government led by Sir Keir would look like. Ultimately, the Labor leadership hopes that undecided voters can be left behind.
So, by neutralizing the Conservative attacks on “tax and spending”, the Labor leadership performs its fiscal virtues with increasing severity. Starmer’s political track record suggests more economic contortions to come, with the Labor leadership moving as close as possible to Conservative spending plans.
Another point is that Westminster is currently abuzz with rumors of an upcoming shadow cabinet reshuffle. With Starmer willing to reshape his main team, therefore, the two-child benefit cap row could be used as a litmus test of a parliamentarian’s allegiance to the ruling regime. Ultimately, concerned shadow cabinet ministers could be rewarded for their activism with a demotion, as Labor leaders rally the right and point fingers at their “soft left”.
In the end, whether Starmer predicted the scale of the backlash over his commitment to the two-child benefits cap is not the question, because party pundits will now likely use the spat as an opportunity to let Starmer’s top team win. form in its fiscally prudent policy. image.
Over time, we might expect Labor’s rhetoric on the position to soften, with the party’s updated focus reshaped along lines of political ‘priorities’ and the restraints applied by Conservative waste. (This is how Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves got the party to fall apart from its climate commitments, after all.)
But as the party re-emphasizes its progressive credentials and the structures that contain its activist instincts, imposed by the conservatives’ emptying of Treasury coffers, the basic tenet informing Starmer’s political strategy has not changed. . Labor’s platform, in Starmer’s view, must be fully in line with his vision of ruthless, rigid fiscal restraint.