And so we charge on into the new landscape. It is cold and bleak. And it is dominated by the comprehensive spending review.
While I am not as pessimistic as some Uncut contributors (you, Dan Hodges) about how the announcement played out last week, we shouldn’t for a moment think it was a good week for the Labour party, or, more importantly, for the country.
Even accounting for a little slanting of questions and selective reporting of the answers, the YouGov poll in last week’s Sun was sobering. Taken after the CSR announcement, it suggested that 47 per cent of respondents blamed the last Labour government for the programme of cuts compared to 17 per cent who blamed the Tory-Lib Dem coalition that is making them, and 20 per cent who cast a plague on both our houses. Sure, respondents didn’t get the option to blame the bankers – but even accounting for that bias, the figures suggest that the Tory message machine is having some considerable success.
Michael Dugher is right, of course, that we must not let ministers cement the idea that the Conservative prescription is as inevitable and necessary in 2010 as people have come to believe it was in 1979.
Alan Johnson’s manner of countering this relentless propaganda was one of the causes for optimism among the gloom last week.
There was nothing strikingly new in Alan’s two basic points that: a) this financial situation was not simply caused by a spendthrift Labour government; and b) cutting on this scale will make things worse, not better. But the message was communicated in a way that gave hope, for the first time in a long time, that some of it might actually sink in.
That is not to denigrate Alistair Darling, whose presence in the top team is going to be very sorely missed. But the guy who was in the economic hot seat when we lost an election is always going to struggle to break through, particularly in a period when all focus was on contrasting the then economic visions of the leadership candidates.
Coming from the home office, Alan simply does not have that baggage, and his charismatic ability to tell it straight and simple is unparalleled. He is exactly what we need right now.
Another cause for hope is the exposure of flaws in the man who is doing so much to drive forward this period of Conservative hegemony. One of George Osborne’s colleagues told me last week that he was concerned that the chancellor might run into trouble because he looks to have absorbed some of the dubious arts of presentation that he used to deride, fairly or otherwise, when he faced Gordon Brown at the despatch box.
There was the crude expectations management played out in the press: some groups who got a terrible deal last week were actually fairly upbeat because they believed they had been spared even greater carnage predicted in the newspapers. Then there were the claims about protected budgets in certain areas that look highly dubious under scrutiny.
We shouldn’t get carried away – the manner in which a 30 per cent budget cut is presented to the nation is somewhat less important than the effect it has on the ground. But it does matter. The relatively easy ride in the media for Messrs Osborne and Cameron is likely to continue for some time. But a public and press who have come to believe, fairly or unfairly again, that they were occasionally taken for a ride by Labour will ultimately take a dim view of someone who routinely tries to manipulate them.
The manner in which we stand up for people who are going to suffer terribly in the years to come is going to be critically important. As will be our success in setting out the economic folly of cuts on a scale that will damage our growth rate, needlessly hurt people trying to get on, and irrevocably damage key national capabilities.
But even more important will be the vision we set out when the cuts have happened. If the new government has its way, we will be going into the election with a balanced budget and the state withdrawn from many areas that taxpayers currently support.
We can point out that the country and public finances would have been in better shape had we cut more carefully, prioritising jobs and growth instead of allowing the UK economy to bump along the bottom.
But once the damage has been done, that will be part of our analysis of the Tories’ record. It won’t answer the question of what we would do to put it right.
At that point, the British people are going to ask us what route we would take to make the country better, and listen seriously to the directions we give them. We can’t simply tell them that we shouldn’t be starting from here.
John Woodcock is Labour and Cooperative MP for Barrow and Furness.