Liam Byrne is right about Labour’s pains

May 11, 2012

Rumours swirl around Westminster that Liam Byrne is to be replaced as the head of Labour’s policy review.

According to The Guardian:

Byrne is seen as a Blairite, and there have been tensions in the party about how tough a line to take on welfare. Labour supported a regional welfare cap after it opposed a blanket national welfare cap. It has also supported introducing a duty to work for people who have been claiming unemployment benefits for a year. Byrne, one of the more energetic and intellectual minds on the frontbench, has also been pushing Labour towards support for a return to the contributory principle in welfare. But there have been difficulties between Byrne and parts of the leader’s office over consulting on major policy announcements, including ensuring Labour MPs are told in advance about key policy changes.

Now I don’t know the guy, and someone like me saying this is almost certainly unhelpful to his career prospects… but as it happens Mr Byrne is absolutely right about what Labour needs to do.

Don’t take my word for it. Look at the poll numbers.

In our recent report Northern Lights we looked at the main problems facing the parties. For the Conseratives it was being percieved as the party of the rich, not ordinary people. For Labour it was economic competence. How could Labour address this problem?

When we asked people, the number one answer was that the Labour needed to be seen to be tough on welfare dependency.

Which of the following things would most convince you that the Labour party would be good at running the economy if it returned to Government? Please tick up to three

To his credit Mr Byrne has been quick to get all this. He immediately saw how the economic squeeze has sharpened people’s anger at welfarism, which they saw Labour as soft on. In a May 2010 report entitled “Why did Labour Lose – and How Do We Win Again?” He argued that:

“The 2010 election has punched a serious hole in the bedrock of our coalition – those ‘blue-collar’ workers employed in a range of modern jobs from retail and logistics to routine manufacturing… My research shows workers on between £20-30,000 a year have now faced huge forces in our economy squeezing pay packets and the cost of living for at least five years. That’s why so many are so frustrated with welfare reform and immigration.”


Mr Byrne has been making the case for a more contributory welfare system in which what you get out more reflects what you paid in. All the research I’ve seen suggests this is something people really want.

As Mr Byrne said in a recent report “The New Centre Ground”

“People expect everyone in Britain to work as hard as them in finding a job – and they expect government to do more to make that opportunity real. No one should be able to choose a life on benefits over a life in work. Everyone should feel the system is based on what you put in as well as what you take out.”

It seems to me that Mr Byrne has been making some important policy points, and probably giving Labour good political advice. Perhaps the old Russian proverb is right: “no good deed goes unpunished.”

This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegraph’s website

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