Lib Dem rift over Osborne “playing politics” with Philpott tragedy
The Lib Dems have strongly condemned the Chancellor, George Osborne, for remarks he made connecting the case of Mick Philpott with welfare reform, accusing him of “playing politics”.
The unease amongst Lib Dems extends to the most senior levels of the party.
Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “George Osborne is right that there needs to be a wide debate about the future of our welfare system, but the Philpott case is an individual tragedy.
“I think that is where we should let that case lie. I would not want to connect that to the much wider need to reform our welfare system.”
Lib Dem MP, Sarah Teather, accused the Chancellor of making a “crude political point out of the tragic deaths of six young children”.
The MP for Brent Central went on to call the chancellor “deeply irresponsible” and labelled his attempt to blame the welfare system as “reprehensible”.
Further condemnation came from Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, former Lib Dem Treasury spokesman, who had the strongest remarks on the Chancellor’s behaviour.
Oakeshott, who is known for being outspoken, described Osborne’s comments as “calculating, callous cruelty”, adding: “If he can’t see it is wrong to play politics with the death of six children, he is not fit to be chancellor.”
The Lib Dem outcry came after the Prime Minister endorsed Mr Osborne’s remarks, saying that asking wider questions about the welfare system is “entirely legitimate”.
Philpott, who was convicted of killing his children in a house fire in Derby, was said to be receiving £54,253 a year in benefits with his partners and children.
Mr Osborne made the controversial remarks on Thursday.
Speaking in Derby, the chancellor said: “Philpott is responsible for these absolutely horrendous crimes… The courts are responsible for sentencing him, but I think there is a question for government and for society about the welfare state … subsidising lifestyles like that, and I think that debate needs to be had.”
Labour have also criticised the chancellor.
Writing on his blog, the shadow chancellor Ed Balls called Osborne’s remarks a “cynical act of a desperate chancellor” adding that linking Philpott’s case with the welfare debate is “nasty and divisive”.
Labour’s condemnation will put pressure on the party to make their own welfare policy clear and suggests that welfare reform is going to be a fundamental issue for all parties in the next general election.