Stories don’t have to be completely true to take hold in politics. The public gets a feeling about something and it can stick. The government is in real danger on Universal Credit of this being their fate; the uncaring, dogmatic bullies who show no compassion for claimants and – as we saw last night – a total disregard for the views of parliament.
For issues to get beyond the usual media coverage, emerge from the Westminster bubble and land in the laps of people up and down and the country there needs to be a symbol – a totem – something that defines the policy. Think about about the ‘dementia tax’ and that excruciating press conference; think about Mrs Thatcher’s stubbornness over the poll tax and the unrest in Trafalgar Square, charging horses and all. Now think about Universal Credit and the disgraceful situation in which those who are calling up a helpline to get advice and support – bearing in mind that these folk will be facing a six week wait from applying to getting their benefits – being charged to call this phone line.
The way this issue was raised – in the full glare of PMQs by Jeremy Corbyn – exposed the Prime Minister who looked as surprised – and I would hope as horrified – as the next person. This was the public definition of being out of touch and caught out. The political tragedy for the government is that the principle of simplifying the system has wide appeal – just like replacing the Rates in the late 1980’s had received widespread support. The problem is not the idea or the philosophy it is how it is being done.
Now the government is being asked to slow down their headlong rush to implement Universal Credit – to pause – not to stop completely, not to scrap the new system – but to pause. And yet once agin we see the tone deafness of this prime minister and this government. If they are not careful, this issue will become a symbol of its heartlessness, it’s out of touch-ness.
On its current trajectory, it could very easily become Mrs May’s Poll Tax. Just like Mrs Thatcher, it may be her Poll Tax and not Europe which will eventually bring about her downfall.
Photo taken from BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-politics-41670435/pmqs-corbyn-and-may-on-universal-credit-rollout