Despite the successes of Labour in recent local elections and the continuous unpopularity of the coalition government, I fear that it is still true to say that a large percentage of the population believes the coalition’s narrative on the economy. This narrative reads that Labour overspent in government building up a massive deficit and is directly responsible for the economic collapse in Britain and the mess left for the coalition government to admirably clear up.
Whilst it is true that the UK (and much of the developed world), built up irresponsible amounts of debt, it is doubtful that a Tory government would have done any different. After all, up until 2008 the Tories very rarely disagreed with the amount Labour was spending in government. Furthermore, the basis of the economic crisis in Britain was the worldwide crash instigated by the collapse of American banks, which caused tremors across the developed world. Labour then took some very hard decisions and Gordon Brown called it right, pleading for the bailout of the banks and leading Europe away from the crisis. Labour then began to deliver stability and small amounts of growth before inevitably losing power at the 2010 election, largely due to the public’s decision to not trust Labour with the economy.
However, since 2010, the UK economy has consistently stalled and stagnated and has now returned to recession, despite the implementation of Tory economic plans. Despite the fact that the economy has slid backwards over the past two quarters, the Tory party continues with their damaging fiscal ideas and the country continues to allow ideological cuts to ruin the economy due to their distrust of Labour. As well as denying the UK economy growth, the prime minister has today claimed that the Eurozone must replicate the coalition’s “pro-growth” agenda, a laughable gesture considering that the UK has returned to recession.
It has been clear for a long time that the economy will be the defining factor of the next election, probably in 2015. It is key for Labour’s election prospects therefore that the party regains economic credibility and destroys that of the Tories. You would expect the return to a double-dip recession would make this job easy but the sheer level of distrust between voters and Labour has made this a difficult task. However, I believe that David Cameron’s speech today, urging the Eurozone to replicate his policies, and continued stuttering growth allows Labour a golden opportunity, one they cannot afford to miss, in destroying Tory credibility going into the next election. As for restoring respectability to Labour’s economic plans, the party must recognise the faults of Labour before the 2008 crash, and ensure that they produce spending plans that are realistic and accounted for. Furthermore, I believe that Labour can gain a stranglehold on the election by presenting their economic vision as one of equality and fairness.
In attacking the coalition’s economic plans, Labour have already been presented a massive opportunity by the UK’s return to recession, and faltering voter confidence in the coalition policies was shown by Labour’s massive local election victories. Furthermore, Cameron called today for the adoption of UK economic policies throughout the Eurozone, and who in their right mind espouses an economic policy so consistently failing. Labour can surely use Cameron’s speech today to present the prime minister as hellbent on austerity due to his ideological interests, as surely any pragmatic leader would look to change course so as to restore growth.
To restore faith in Labour’s ability to handle the economy the two Eds must acknowledge first and foremost that Labour under Gordon Brown made mistakes and they must accept that voters still have not forgiven these mistakes. They must use this opportunity to distance themselves from the old Labour regime and stamp their own authority on the Labour party. One question always asked of me regarding Ed Miliband is “what does he stand for?”, and it is a question I struggle to answer and usually I respond with vague murmurings about fairness and equality. I believe that, even if voters do not trust Labour to deliver economic excellence, they are currently seen as the party of fairness, and I believe Ed should make fairness central to his agenda as a whole, and his economic policy. Tory cuts are ideological and ruthless and must be attacked as so, whilst Labour must produce a correctly costed economic policy which restores growth and jobs to the working-class and squeezed middle, regaining voters lost to the Tories in 2010. Whilst I believe Labour has been right to keep its cards close to its chest up to this point regarding a potential spending plan post-2015, now the two Eds must deliver a credible alternative.
Therefore, it is key now that Labour takes advantage of what may be the best opening they get regarding economic policy in this government’s term in office. To take full advantage Labour has to produce a credible alternative, correctly costed, which produces a narrative for Labour’s route back to power, one of equality of opportunity, fairness and growth.