To win back voters we must question the Coalition’s action, says Sunny Hundal

Just when the Labour party was starting to turn the tables on the Coalition, especially on education, up pops Pat McFadden  to say that Labour needs to re-think its approach against the Coalition cuts.

The key line is this:

“Fight the cuts” is a tempting slogan in Opposition, and there are indeed some that must be fought. But if that is all we are saying the conclusion will be drawn that we are wishing the problem away.

I’m not going to disagree completely – saying the cuts aren’t necessary is not a position that chimes with the public (we lost the debate on that). Neither is it a position that will be electorally popular (voters aren’t as protective of the state as Labourites are).

But it’s unclear what line he would want the party to take instead. And here is where the speech falls down, because it fails to take into account the multiple problems Labour currently faces.

1. Pre-emption is dangerous.
Duncan Weldon, very recently an economist working for the Labour party, points out here why it’s not necessary for Labour ministers to explain in detail their economic plan. The short summary: neither did the Tories but they still won the public narrative. Why? Because rather than focus on the potential for rising unemployment, they focused on UK debt and successfully created the narrative that without tackling our deficit and debt, the country was heading for economic meltdown.

Labour can’t make ‘fight the cuts’ its main narrative, but going around saying that the Tories were half-right would not win friends either. The party would still be waging war on Tory turf: a sure-fire way to lose.

2. Clear blue water
To follow on from that – Labour needs a clear message that is identifiably different from the Coalition. A narrative that gets bogged down by minutae detail of what proportion of taxes versus cuts Labour would employ isn’t going to work. If your message is a matter of percentages then people’s eyes will glaze over.

Labour needs a message that is clearly different from the Coalition message. Without that clear blue water, voters won’t hear alternative visions and will simply go along with the government. This isn’t to say Labour should adopt a completely oppositional message: it needs a sufficiently different message.

3. Keep repeating that message
Once a narrative has been adopted, the party needs to unite around it and repeat it continuously so that it becomes embedded. Labour is no longer in power, which means that voters are even less likely to hear what they have to say.

As it is, most people don’t pay much attention to Westminster. Hoping that a subtle debate about the proportion of cuts will be heard and understood is simply naive. So is running with five different alternative ways to frame the debate.

What is the message?
This is the point Pat McFadden rather obviously declines to expand on. My view is simply this: the message most likely to win back voters is one that says the Coalition’s actions will make things worse.

That requires a focus on shifting the debate back to unemployment and economic recovery by simply stating: The Cuts Won’t Work (they will make things worse). The recent Guardian front-page that said up to 1.6 million jobs could be lost was perhaps the best embodiment of that message.

Lastly, an element of strident oppositionalism and anger isn’t necessarily a liability for Labour. It forces the media to challenge the Coalition’s narrative and wakes voters up to the fact that something serious is happening in Westminster. No wonder Cameron would prefer Labour did less of that.

Sunny Hundal is the editor of Liberal Conspiracy.

Tags: , , ,

10 Responses to “To win back voters we must question the Coalition’s action, says Sunny Hundal”

  1. paul barker says:

    Surely Labour biggest problems are that, firstly half of the defecit is the direct result of your decision to combine high spending with low taxation. Secondly, you applied the same policy internally with the result that you face opposition with massive debts & no obvious way to pay them off.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by William French, Labour Uncut. Labour Uncut said: UNCUT: To win back voters we must question the Coalition’s action, says @sunny_hundal […]

  3. Samuel says:

    I agree – ‘fight the cuts’ smacks of an opportunistic opposition not ready to face the problems of governing. We must be a plausible alternative government with a different economic agenda and not just an opposition.

    The deficit must be reduced but the extent and speed of the cuts could lead to a double dip recession or at best very low growth. The narrative has to be that the coalition is cutting to such an extent for ideological reasons and not because it is economically the right course of action. They are making things worse and i agree that this is the message to drum home rather than just fighting cuts, important as that is.

  4. Marcos says:

    I’m going to disagree with your assertion that we lost the debate against deficit reduction when no alternative was seriously posed – slightly fewer cuts over a longer period of time is not exactly inspiring stuff. The coalition may be more brutal but it is merely the same narrative Labour had bought into brought to its cold, logical conclusion.

  5. “saying the cuts aren’t necessary is not a position that chimes with the public (we lost the debate on that)”

    Well, maybe the Press are pushing the line that the cuts have to be deep an punitive but I am not sure the majority of the public are so sure – most do not want **their** services cut. So we didn’t lose the debate. We just didn’t have one.

    Anyway what has debate got to do with it? Lansley is about to dismantle the NHS so that it will be a mere husk of a brand with no healthcare provision, and tell me, did he win the debate on that? Did we have a debate there? No.

    I agree with your points, but unfortunately the leadership election is delayinmg any opposition to the government and the Tories are acting fast. While I agree that unemployment is a key point I think that the wide point that “The Cuts Won’t Work (they will make things worse)” is more important. The reason is that it allows us to talk about another area: services.

    As I mentioned above, when people find their services are cut they will say that they are against cuts. The Tory line is that “it is all Labour’s fault” but this can only last so long. What we must do is campaign for all services, show that these cuts are ideological and are easily avoidable.

    The NHS is the best place to start. The service is performing far better now than it did a decade ago (ONS says that its outputs are 52% greater) so there is no need to make Lansley’s changes other than for ideological reasons. In fact, these changes are estimated to cost £1.6bn (yes they will not save money). most people want publicly provision of health services but Lansley intends to privatise ALL hospitals. (Oh sorry, I forgot to say that in the section, 4.21, they say this is not privatisation, but changing publicly owned hospitals into “social enterprises” – which are not-for-profit businesses – is privatisation because it moves health provision from being a public responsibility to being a private responsibility).

    If you want to get a wide cross-section of society to fight the government, the key is to focus on the NHS. cameron knows this. This is the reason why the Department of Health has more spin doctors than any other department.

  6. The public has overwhelmingly said that they’re OK with the cuts in the budget, Richard. Yes, they’re wrong and will realise this in a few months time, but for now they’ve accepted this and in any case it’ll mostly be the cuts affecting them that they’ll dislike. Cuts for other people are perennially popular.

    Good article, Sunny. I definitely agree that differentiating ourselves from the coalition is key. Employment seems to be the key bit there – it’s an alternative way out and when our leaders are asked, “What would you have cut?” saying “Not the Future Jobs Fund” is a reply that will last us for at least six months.

  7. Henrik says:

    Heh. Blaming the last lot was your lot’s get out of jail free card for 13 years, so I think the Coalition can probably look to stay with slagging off the comrades’ record in office for a while yet. I know it’s hard and it seems unfair to many of the comrades, but folk do blame you for the mess we’re in and at the moment, you’re still despised. Sorry about that.

    Again, as an interested observer who’s keen on the Coalition (which I personally like and approve) having an Opposition, can you people please choose a leader and then go away and have some ideas which are optimistic, inspirational and sensible, which you can then put to the electorate? Does that sound like a plan?

    I know that’s not going to happen and that you’ll end up doing the knee jerk tribal thing and opposing anything the Coalition does, as per usual – in fact, you’ll probably lurch to the Left and end up unelectable for another generation, which will be good for the party but arguably not so great for the nation. The LibDems will keep the real Tory nutters at bay for at least this Parliament, but unless the comrades sort their ideas out and construct a positive narrative, you’re stuffed at the next GE and probably the one after that.

  8. Sunny H says:

    cheers Samuel and Paul.

    Marcos: “I’m going to disagree with your assertion that we lost the debate against deficit reduction when no alternative was seriously posed”

    I’m going by the polls. The public believes, in majority, that the deficit is more of a priority than say reducing unemployment and continuing spending. That is when I accept we lost the debate.

    That doesn’t mean Labour did not have a narrative in response – it just means the public did not buy it.

    RichardBlogger: “but I am not sure the majority of the public are so sure – most do not want **their** services cut

    again, look at the polls:

    People, we hope, don’t want their services cut. But they will also buy the narrative that services had to be cut to save the economy. We have to find a way to challenge that second narrative.

    I do agree with the NHS point though.

    Thanks Edward – agree completely. There is a danger of only focusing on a few areas like the FJF.

  9. […] Yesterday a small group of us met in central London to discuss where we could take this, and I’m reporting from the meeting as well as inviting you to get involved. 1. We need a narrative in response. I don’t think “no cuts at all” works simply because it won’t resonate with the public. Sure, it will resonate with the Labour base (some of them) but if we want to turn public opinion against the Coalition’s cuts then we have to start with a proposition they won’t be immediately sceptical of. I wrote about this yesterday for Labour Uncut. […]

  10. Michael says:

    The problem with banging on about the future jobs fund is that not many people know what it is.

    I’m unemployed, I’ve got A levels and a 2.1 degree, and for Labour to only talk about the future jobs fund doesn’t do me any favours as I’ve got no idea what it is, how it would help me, what it does. I presume it creates jobs somehow? Probably unstable short term public sector jobs?

    Maybe I’d know what it was if my jobcentre hadn’t shut down 2 years ago and the nearest one being a fiver’s train fare away…

    If you want to build a narrative to help the unemployed, start talking about banks lending to small businesses. Start talking about how the planned NI increase was wrong (and why the tories got so much positive coverage stopping “the jobs tax”) and move the focus away from just uni and towards skills and diplomas and vocational education.

    If I could get some vocational training and if local companies could afford to grow and employ more people, I might stand the chance of getting a long-lasting job. At the moment I don’t take any comfort from Labour just carping on about the future jobs fund – hardly any unemployed people know what it is!

Leave a Reply