The Saviours of the Welfare State?
What will the long-term legacy of Boris Johnson be? The American philosopher William James once said: “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” You would think that when Conservative cheerleaders like Daily Telegraph columnist Allister Health and The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson turn against you then your Barbour jacket might be on a shoogly peg. In unusually scathing form, Nelson wrote: “The lack of critical thinking and rigorous questioning [among Johnson allies] is widespread.”
There is a succinct summation for the legacies of Johnson’s predecessors over the last two decades and it is a litany of failure. Tony Blair is remembered for the war on terror, Gordon Brown for the financial crash, David Cameron for Brexit and Theresa May for being lousy. The word expected to define Boris Johnson is ‘sleaze’ but, contrary to growing pessimism from supporters like Heath and Nelson and polls tilting towards Labour, his party will stride to another comfortable majority when the pitiful alternatives are publicly realised.
However, one legacy which has come under scrutiny again is the premiership of David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Less of a crescendo and more of a whimper, the 2010 General Election brought to an abrupt end 13 years of fresh-faced governance under New Labour. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition promised fiscal prudence and radical reform. What the country encountered was austerity and, indeed, the most severe reforms to welfare in a generation, pioneered by Lord Freud.
David Freud, great grandson of Sigmund, was appointed by David Cameron as Minister of State for Welfare Reform in 2010 and served until 2016. He worked closely with Iain Duncan Smith, who has since been knighted for his contribution. Regarded by many as the chief architect of Universal Credit, which is a cornerstone of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, other pillars included a spare room subsidy and increased number of sanctions – a term we used to apply to foreign dictators but now instead to benefit claimants.
Once described by political commentator Peter Oborne as a saviour of the welfare state, Freud broke rank last week in the House of Lords. In a stunning admission, he said the principal reason for introducing the benefit cap was not to save money as publicised, but because it was a policy which “polled off the charts”. He then went further by recommending Chancellor Rishi Sunak extend additional resources to “our very poorest citizens” and “to start getting rid of the excrescences like the two-child policy and benefit cap.”
As Lord Freud dismantled the entire foundation upon which his policies were erected before suggesting they be exhumed, I was reminded of the Prophet Isaiah, who in the seventh century BC, wrote: “Does the axe raise itself above the person who swings it?” His comments were virtually irreconcilable with Lord Freud of 2012 who claimed many use benefits as a “lifestyle choice” or Lord Freud of 2013 who said during a House of Lords speech that increasing foodbank use was due to the provision of “free food”.
David Cameron used to wax lyrical about his long-term economic plan to unravel damage done by Labour but his measures doubled the national debt in less than a decade from £958 billion to £1.7 trillion when he left office having also lost a referendum. And many Liberal Democrats claim they restrained the excesses of their coalition partners but where? Neither on university tuition fees, electoral reform nor public expenditure. This legacy resulted in electoral oblivion when, in 2015, they shrunk from 57 to 11 Members of Parliament
There was a reason these shysters earned the moniker of the ConDem coalition. You simply cannot entrust the fortunes of poor people with the aspirations of a rich and insulated elite.