Cheery bye, David Freud
Government welfare adviser David Freud has announced that he is going to be joining the Tories, for a transfer fee which appears to amount to one peerage and appointment as a minister in a future Tory government.
The Observer reports that:
"The move is a coup for the Tories, harnessing not only Freud's expertise on the welfare system, but also his knowledge of the City - as a former investment banker - to beef up policy-making on the recession."
Let's get this right. The Tories have signed up an adviser on welfare who 'knew nothing about welfare', whose ideas don't work, and who doesn't even understand his own policies (see the comment at 11.43). And for a special bonus, it is extra good for them because he'll be able to advise on sorting out the recession, because he used to be an investment banker?! Because we all know that investment bankers make for super awesome policy advisers and are really, really popular at the moment.
Clearly it is a very short term blow for the government in that having his adviser goes off and joins the main opposition makes James Purnell look like a bit of a nob. And it reinforces the idea that the Tories are seen as a government-in-waiting when rich and powerful establishment figures want to join up with them.
But Freud's defection is not going to sway a single vote at the next election. And if the Tories were to win, the combination of Theresa May and David Freud would be comfortably the least competent ministerial team ever to grace the Department of Work and Pensions. The sight of this gruesome twosome trying to introduce complex welfare reforms will be good for all opponents of the Conservative Party (though very bad indeed for unemployed workers). There's definitely a strand of the Cameron Project which is about taking all the very worst ideas of New Labour and championing them.
And Freud's departure offers the chance, even at this late hour, to junk his failed policies and instead design a modern welfare system, free from the prejudices of investment bankers, which genuinely helps people to find work where possible, and enables everyone to live with dignity, whether in work or not. The Tories are very welcome to the advice of an investment banker who wants to let private companies make a fortune out of the unemployed - that's a political dividing line that Labour should relish.
In a news story with so much to celebrate, the only sadness comes from seeing Labour's response:
"Labour will, however, try to exploit differences between Freud and the Tories, such as the former's support for requiring single parents to seek work when their children reach seven, an idea opposed by the Tories."
Note to special advisers: I know that the political class think that welfare policy is a game which is about who can catch the other side out for not being 'tough' enough, but out here in the real world, this just sounds pathetic.