By Tim Montgomerie
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The graph above comes from YouGov's Joe Twyman. It shows how supporters of ALL three parties agree that the benefit system needs "some significant" or "major" reforms. Overall, 70% of voters want changes. Five other YouGov findings (PDF) included:
- 63% thought the benefit system wasn't strict enough and is open to abuse and fraud – just 22% disagreed;
- 78% thought the £26,000 benefits cap was fair – just 10% thought it was unfair;
- 59% supported the 1% cap on benefits uprating – 28% did not;
- 78% thought there are at least a minority of cases who are abusing the benefits system;
- 61% thought child benefit should be limited to two children – 29% did not.
For the first time for some time the Coalition appears on the front foot. It is making changes to the welfare system that enjoy the broad support of the British people. You wouldn't know it, however, if you listened to the BBC. Iain Duncan Smith goes on the offensive today, describing the Corporation's coverage of his welfare reforms as "ridiculous". George Osborne, meanwhile, accused the BBC of "lazy journalism", arguing that its coverage was being dictated by pressure groups and that it wasn't listening to the concerns of ordinary working people.
The last week has shown what is possible when the Conservative Party gets its act together and acts in concert with the centre right press. The consistency of message may be a first sign that Lynton Crosby is delivering the kind of message discipline that he was recruited for. It has also been interesting to see George Osborne adopt such a prominent role. The Tories' General Election Co-ordinator, and architect of the welfare cap, clearly sees welfare as as important as immigration in his determination to drive a wedge between Ed Miliband and Labour's heartland vote.
Time will tell if welfare is a vote-changing issue. At the moment opinion polls suggest no tightening in the overall opinion poll position of the main parties but persistence and breadth of message will determine the long-term position:
- Persistence requires all Tory MPs to stay on the welfare message over the next two years.
- Breadth requires Tory spokespeople to ensure that the tough messages on welfare reform are balanced by reassuring messages for pensioners and other groups that society is honour-bound to provide for. Breadth also means that the Tory machine focuses on safeguarding the NHS and cutting working families' cost of living. I was in Washington DC all of last week and was struck by the near consensus among the best people I know in the GOP that the formulation of an economic offering for the low-paid is the Republicans' primary task (and not gay marriage or immigration or any of the other hot button issues that attracts most media chatter). It's true here, too. A Tory agenda on housebuilding, energy prices, the cost of childcare, council tax and petrol duty will do more than a few glottal stops to rid the party of any toffish image.