Wednesday, 7 January 2015

The Labour Party are trying to have it both ways and it will be to their detriment.

Even some conservative voters want to see a change in the way our economy is handled. I would hope that a few of the people who voted conservative in 2010 will realise they made a mistake, but just for argument's sake, let's assume that the conservatives get the same amount of the vote as they did last time: 36.1% from a turnout of 65.1%. That leaves 76.5% of registered voters who might want something different. Again, for the avoidance of doubt, let's assume that some people are happy with kicking the poor and dining with the rich but want something more bloke-with-a-pint-and-a-fag-outside-the-pub-being-racist-when-he's-tired. UKIP are only aiming for 25 seats at the next election but let's be really, really generous and imagine they might get 30% of the vote. That still leaves a whopping 46.5% of registered voters for Labour to target.

That imaginary 46.5% - and probably more - are tired of spin. They're sick of lies. Most people can't see through the bullshit and non-answers and smoke and mirrors to get at what the parties might really do if they won a majority. If Labour had a clear message and honest, soundbite-free policies that set out what they will do differently in order to improve the lives of the majority of people in the UK without harming our already-stretched public services, they would surely be on to a winner.

It's astonishing, then, that they seem unable or unwilling to use this tactic. Instead, Ed Balls and the rest of the party are answering the other parties' and media's claims about Labour's poor economic record with a tough-sounding message of more austerity. Labour say they would reduce the deficit with cuts but also say that the conservatives have an ideological crusade against the state and would take us back to the 1930s before the NHS and welfare were created. People are understandably wondering what exactly Labour would do differently if their overall message is broadly the same.

The devil may be in the detail. The last Labour government used spending to stimulate growth, and it worked. The problem was that they hadn't planned for anything to go wrong and when it did, there was only just enough slack in the economy to get through it without total collapse, and if they'd stayed in power they might have had to change their methods to reduce the debt (although in fact, Brown and Darling had already returned the UK economy to growth in the months prior to the election in 2010). Perhaps Labour are hoping that if they pick and choose certain areas to make less, or no further cuts, it may be enough to bring sufficient growth for them to spend a little on ideas to bring in bigger growth and start reduce the deficit a little that way. But they daren't say it because the guffawing from the press and the other main parties will ruin them.

Labour need a clear message to counter the austerity mantra. The current government have managed to amass more debt in four years than Labour did in thirteen and that is a powerful counter-argument. In December, the former governor of the Bank of England said that Labour were not to blame for the economic crash. He said that pretty much everyone across the political spectrum shared the same view of how to run the economy and that it would have happened whoever was in power at the time. Is this not a perfect time then, for Labour to change the message? They need to shout this at every opportunity and convince the public that they won't let it happen again. It will require tight financial regulation  - which very few people will be against - and a more steady growth of the economy that would allow for an emergency fund to be put away should anything catastrophic happen again. That fund could gain interest whilst it's not being used, and the interest could pay for additional government spending. It would take a while but the alternative is massive and permanent reduction to public services we all (mostly) rely on. And that is a key point: the people who don't rely so much on public services are in the Tory or UKIP voting bracket that Labour shouldn't be trying to target anyway.

Labour are unlikely to win over many people to their alternative if the differences are marginal. And given the public's opinion of their leader and their economic credentials, they need more than a narrow margin to work with.

I should also add that the Lib Dems are trying to squeeze themselves between Labour and Conservatives by "cutting less than the Conservatives and borrowing less than Labour." Good luck with that one, Cleggy.

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