Saturday, June 19, 2010

Labour's would-be leaders must not stand for this

And so at last the real cutting begins. A new hospital in Hartlepool. A business loan that would have guaranteed hundreds of jobs in Sheffield. A huge modernisation programme for libraries.

All gone in a flash, along with another £2bn worth of projects apparently approved by Labour in its last few months in office, though in the case of the hospital, it seems to have been in the pipeline for rather longer than that.

And at last, too, some real passion from Labour in opposing the Con-Lib coalition's programme of cutbacks - both from Liam Byrne on the floor of the House on Thursday, and later from David Miliband in the BBC studios.

The defeated party finally found its voice as Mr Byrne, the man who came close to making it a laughing stock with his 'sorry, there's no more money' note to his successor, managed to redeem his own somewhat battered reputation.
The shadow chief secretary told Lib Dem opposite number Danny Alexander: "The country....will be aghast at your attack on jobs, your attack on construction workers, your attack on the industries of the future and the cancellation of a hospital.

"In five minutes this afternoon you have reversed three years of Liberal Democratic policy of which you were the principal author. What a moment of abject humiliation."

Mr Miliband went even further, when invited onto the BBC's Newsnight that evening to discuss the cuts - in particular the cancellation of the £80m loan to Sheffield Forgemasters.

"We were looking to facilitate a genuine industrial revolution in the North of England. It's been thrown away by an act of gratuitous economic vandalism," he said.

The sense of outrage that finally welled-up from senior Labour politicians this week has been long brewing.

As I wrote last week, the government is making a very determined effort to construct a political narrative in which "irresponsible" Labour is blamed for wrecking the economy and leaving a mess for the coalition to clear up.

It is, however, in danger of gilding the lily - just as New Labour's own 'repeat messaging' of its achievements ultimately caused people to disbelieve everything it said.

Indeed, the new Office for Budget Responsibility this week found that, far from being irresponsible, previous Chancellor Alistair Darling had been too cautious in his borrowing forecasts, and that it will actually be £22bn lower over the next five years.


Some of Labour's leadership contenders have appeared reluctant to defend the previous government's record, two of them even claiming they were against the Iraq War even though they were government advisers at the time.

But rather than let the coalition traduce its economic legacy and use that as a justification for cuts, Labour needs to take the fight to its opponents.

Sure, the Brown government was not perfect. But it was doing no more than following classic Keynesian economic theory - that you stimulate spending to achieve recovery, then wait for tax revenues to eat into the deficit before making cuts.

I for one am pleased that at least one of the contenders is prepared to defend that perfectly respectable position.

One of the main criticisms against David Miliband as a leadership candidate has been that he is simply too cerebral, that he lacks the moral passion to energise a movement which Harold Wilson rightly termed "a moral crusade or nothing."

Well, on Thursday night, we saw the South Shields MP try to answer some of those criticisms.

Some called his Newsnight performance a "rant." Some even questioned his fitness for office. But for me, it was no more than a recognition of one of the iron laws of politics.

Namely, that before you can be Prime Minister, you have first to make a success of being Leader of the Opposition.

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11 comments:

Anonymous said...

So what would YOU cut?

In their last budget Labour told us they planned to cut billions, but didnt tell us what they would cut. You cant really be asking them to pretend that no cuts are needed now can you?

Anonymous said...

Anon - of course Paul can- he's a political analyst - he doesn't have to create solutions, only complain about other people hard choices.

Let's hope the BBC is next.

Stephen Rouse said...

Another brilliant column Paul. Pace our bold anonymous friends, it's nice to hear a still, small voice of conscience as others smack their lips at the horrors to come.

The Daily Mail outraged this week at the Policy Exchange Report that private sector workers spend nine years longer at their desks for less pay than their public sector counterparts. An argument, you might think, for improving things in the private sector. But no, we are to have an equality of misery.

Matthew Parris in The Times today calls for "lower employment costs" and a "more flexible labour market" to compete with the Asian economies. The right has a wonderful way with euphemisms, so let's spell out exactly what Matthew means. Football factories in Malaysia where, on average, one woman loses a finger every month and they work with plastic bags under their seats as they are not allowed toilet breaks. The iPad factory in China where workers do 15-hour shifts and dorm in compounds where some are driven to suicide. This is the future Matthew Parris promises us. And Matthew is a Tory moderate.

I hate to sound apocalyptic, but I wonder if we are about to suffer the systematic dismantling of many of the social gains of the 20th century
(in which the Tories and the Liberals both played a distinguished part). Could we find ourselves looking back at the the post-war UK consensus as a high point in human happiness?

doctorhuw said...

""We were looking to facilitate a genuine industrial revolution in the North of England. It's been thrown away by an act of gratuitous economic vandalism," he said."

Reality check Paul. They had 13 years to do that and did precisely sweet something all. This loan to Sheffield Forgemasters was a crude act of electioneering to buy themselves seats in Sheffield that they would almost certainly have cut themselves had they got back into power.

Forgive me if, as somebody who is genuinely affected by thirteen years of chaos, incompetence, mismanagement, corruption and hubris under Labour to the extent I have no job and no prospect of one, I find the faux concern and breathtaking hypocrisy over the question of employment and cuts of a load of posh stuck up idiots like Balls, the Milibands and Liam Byrne very difficult to stomach.

Four and a half million unemployed and unable to find work, only one-third able to claim benefits and half not actually counted in the figures in an act of statistical massaging even Thatcher would have blenched at - that's the legacy of Labour and that's what I will judge the success, or quite possibly failure, of the coalition against. Every time Labour talk about the vulnerable, remember those millions they abandoned and betrayed - because we certainly will.

jay mason said...

Surely you need to put money to put money to one side if you are using Keynesian policies, don't think Gordon ever did that.

Anonymous said...

'And so at last the real cutting begins. A new hospital in Hartlepool. A business loan that would have guaranteed hundreds of jobs in Sheffield. A huge modernisation programme for libraries.'

Get real,stop pretending you don't know the difference between an electoral bribe announced weeks before an election and a cut.

How can you cut a new hospital that isn't even at the planning stage?

The Sheffield project announcement worked,it resulted in Labour winning a seat by 167 votes,the project is meant to create new jobs for new products used by the nuclear industry and is not connected with existing jobs at Forgemasters,so please stop the dissinformation.
If it's such a great project then no doubt it will get easily funded in the normal way,if not,why should the taxpayer have to fund a no-hope crap project?

I think the nation will manage to survive not having it's libraries modernised,of course New Labour had the past 13 years to undertake this task.

By the way you forgot to mention the £ 25 million 'cut' to the non existent Stonehenge visitor centre.

You either have or pretend to have been duped by the usual New Labour spin,I thought you were a bit smarter than that.

Anonymous said...

"Sure, the Brown government was not perfect. But it was doing no more than following classic Keynesian economic theory - that you stimulate spending to achieve recovery, then wait for tax revenues to eat into the deficit before making cuts."

I thought Keynesian ecomonic theory involved running up budget surpluses during booms so that the government could spend this creating demand during a bust. Unfortunately, Labour didn't do that, due to the fact that their economic policy was being created by a hubristic fool who believed that he had abolished boom and bust.

Paul Linford said...

Thanks for all the comments but like Stephen I find it interesting that most of the critical ones are anonymous. Come on, folks, heads above the parapet. I don't bite.

G Eagle Esq said...

Sehr geEhrter Paul

I flatter mysen that I agree on so many things with the sagacious Mr Rouse

* APART of course on whether the Isle of Wight should be towed into the Gulf of Louisiana and sunk to cap BP's most infelicitous oil leak

BUT before I return to the Port, PLEASE forgive my vulgar curiosity but I have to ask

?? How far, if at all, to you or the incisive Mr Rouse accept any responsibility for supporting the high-spending policies of the lately-departed Government which have :

1. saddled the Beloved Country with such massive levels of debt

2. thus occasioning the current Spending Cuts

3. which are going to hurt so many folk

I have the honour to remain your (currently) sober and obedient servant

Yours ever

G Eagle

Anonymous said...

Even during the alledged boom years 2003-07 Labour averaged £32 billion per year in borrowing.

Until the New Labour architects of the buy now,let somebody else pay later glasshouse,tell what and where they would cut,nobody will take them seriously.

John Zims

Stephen Rouse said...

I wasn't aware I was being blamed.

Yes, New Labour should take some responsibility - for failing to repair the structural harm done to the economy in the Thatcher years, leaving many regions and sectors weak as new-born kittens in the face of the down-turn. The right's visceral loathing of New Labour has always struck me as the rage of Caliban on seeing his face in the glass.

Unfortunately, Caliban remains in control of the island. As Paul predicted, this was an ideological budget - ideological to the point of impracticality. A recovery driven by exports (to whom, one wonders?) and 25 per cent cuts in most spending departments. I suspect neither is remotely achievable and George will be returning to the well for more tax rises in a couple of years' time