Time to get out of our cosy anti-cuts bed

by Mike Blakeney

Opposition is warm and fluffy. It is great to be liked.

I joined the Labour party when times were at their toughest. Tony had left, we had Gordon, and the public were increasingly upset with the party. My joining could only be described as a crazed act of masochism.

Yet we soldiered on through adversity, safe in the knowledge that we were making a difference.

Now we are doing better in the polls, comedians tease our opponents and Question Time audiences cheer our MPs. Surely we should be happy again? But, rightly, we’re miserable.

Miserable because we see the devastation that is happening to our public services and we are powerless to stop it. That is what happens in opposition. It’s warm, it’s fluffy and people agree with you. But ultimately it’s soul-destroying.

Not long after joining the party I was told that, “The greatest leaders are liked and respected, but if you have to make a choice, be respected”.

There are no panaceas for electoral malaise, but Labour’s problem in opposition is that we like being liked. We like being popular; it’s in our DNA. The problem is that when people come to the serious business of electing a government, we don’t choose the leader we like. We choose the one we respect.

The Tories should have walked the last election, but they didn’t. Lots of people liked David Cameron and the polling bears this out. It could not be said that people liked Gordon Brown, but people respected Gordon for spending a decade at the highest points in government. And they saw Cameron as a lightweight. It may seem to undermine my own argument, given the result, but after 13 years in government, an unpopular leader, the worst financial crisis in 80 years and a campaign devoid of resources it should have been a walkover. Yet it wasn’t, and the reason was simple: for all Cameron’s likeability, he simply wasn’t respected.

Labour is struggling at the moment; not in the polls, which show us doing well, but in the minds of the general public. Our problem is not the lack of support, but the flimsiness. We are the party of resentment at the government, but we cannot rest on our laurels. Because it will not remain that way once the economy starts to recover.

If Labour wants to gain the respect of the public, we might just need to learn that respect is not the same as being liked.

Labour should be stepping toe-to-toe with the Tories on cuts. It’s a brave move, but it is ultimately the right one. Too often Labour’s position is caricatured as being “anti-cuts”, which we know we’re not. But, unfortunately for us, we cannot just be seen as an anti-cuts party because there won’t always be cuts for us to be so.

If we really want to respected, we need to begin shaping this debate. If we match the Tories and outline our alternatives we snuff out the flame. The debate manifestly shifts overnight from “should there be cuts” to “how quickly should they be”? And that is ground on which Labour’s arguments will win.

This is not left versus right or Brown versus Blair. It is simply about being honest about what we would be doing in government. And by being honest, we become credible, we become electable.

We might lose a segment of the population which is anti-cuts, but once the economy recovers we will lose them regardless. Instead of focusing on the polls now or next week, let us think about the long-term. We need to leave this difficult economic period with our credibility intact.

We risk losing the indecisive centre by staying where we are. Those who care enough to hate the cuts but know they are necessary read the news. They know our position at the moment is untenable and they find it hard to support us because they don’t trust it.

I supported Ed Miliband for the leadership and I know he is the right man for the job. But we need to remember that credibility trumps likeability. You may lose some support with this strategy. But by gaining respect you become a force to be reckoned with whom the press cannot mock nor the Tories ridicule.

Opposition is a comfortable spot in a nice warm bed but the alarm is now sounding. It is time to get up, get dressed and face the world.

Mike Blakeney tweets here.

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9 Responses to “Time to get out of our cosy anti-cuts bed”

  1. doreen ogden says:

    But the economy will not recover while these cuts are being implemented in this way . We have to oppose, but we need to shout louder what our alternative is. Cutting too much and too fast is wearing a bit thin and it needs to be explained more fully that growth is actually more important than cutting the deficit quickly.

  2. Graham Day says:

    Labour now occupies the territory that was occupied by the Lib Dems and Labour.
    Labour party goings on these days have the look and feel of the time just after the Liberals and SDP combined. All a bit inchoate, fluid. Unformed. (Personally happy with Ed. You wait and see. Going to be a giant.)

  3. AmberStar says:

    I haven’t heard Ed M make an anti-cuts speech since…….. I can’t remember when. Labour have made it clear, we are against the Tory cuts. Now either they’ll happen or they won’t.

    Labour have no need to do a volte face, mea culpa on this issue. We can just move on… & oppose front-line job losses & the dismantling of specific public services i.e. oppose specific policies (don’t even call them ‘cuts’) that the public clearly do not support.

    Labour should also change narrative on the economy by moving on – to lack of growth & employment, if that is the way it goes. And, on the economy, Labour should cease saying that it’s the too fast, too deep cuts which are causing it. Labour should simply hammer home the message that the Tory economic strategy isn’t working… that the Tories have failed to create the conditions which are needed for growth.

    In short, don’t change position – simply stop using the ‘c’ word & start calling it ‘Tory Policy’ or ‘Tory Plan’ or ‘Tory Strategy’ instead.

  4. iain ker says:

    it should have been a walkover. Yet it wasn’t, and the reason was simple: for all Cameron’s likeability, he simply wasn’t respected.


    Nothing whatsoever then to do with the bought and paid for votes of TUCLabour’s client state?

    Nothing whatsoever to do with the stacked boundaries whereby in the 2005 general election the Tories polled 41,983 votes for every seat they took, compared with 28,111 for Labour?

    And everything to do with Cameron?

    You’re kidding yourselves I suppose, but you’re not kidding anyone else.

  5. AmberStar says:

    Ed has my support too.

    Perhaps it’s time that Uncut had the view of an ordinary Labour member/ supporter. So here it is:

    David Miliband is a pain in @ss. He caused problems for the Party in the run up to the last election by undermining Gordon, now he’s doing the same to his own brother. He needs to get over himself. He had his chance(s) & failed to seal the deal.

    He should either:
    1. Persuade Ed to stand down – & the Party probably still wouldn’t elect David (he’d look really stupid, then); or
    2. Leave the Party & form a new one (Gang of 4 style); or
    3. Endorse his brother as the best leader the Party could have.

    But he will do none of these things because he is gutless & prefers to be the prince over the water; an icon for those wallowing nostalgically in the New labour years.

    As things stand, David Miliband is nothing but a drain on the Party & he should be ashamed of himself.

  6. william says:

    @AmberStar. Your stuff is laughable.Remember Lliam Byrne’s little note on the desk?Go to John Redwood’s website, who correctly points out that this government is increasing both public expenditure and government borrowing.Cuts? From the fantasy plans of GB.13 months in to a new government is 2 years premature to a judgement’the Tories economic strategy is not working’.Just accept the fact that less than 1 in 3 of those that voted chose Brown’s post 2002 BIG PUBLIC SECTOR,paid for by the taxpayer.The next election will be won or lost on more subtle issues,private sector growth(that is where the money comes from),taxation of the working poor,and immigration.The cuts that count, in the electorate’s eyes, will be, in 2014,TAX CUTS.Never underestimate your opponents.

  7. AmberStar says:

    @ William

    Go to John Redwood’s website…..
    I’ve been there, he makes me LOL. 🙂

  8. Merseymike says:

    If the electorate want low public spending and tax cuts, then they will vote Tory

    It is not the role of a Labour , left-of-centre party, to put forward such policies.

  9. Brian says:

    I started off writing about the piss poor performance of the PLP in the house and their platicine spines but then I thought “why bother”.

    So why bother, when the Party I loved is too busy calculating how to sound “right” in different ways on different issues, to notice a huge elephant in the room.

    I still care but I realise that posturing and analysing won’t mean anything to the people whose lives are being shredded in SloMo.

    You have to make a stand and take the fight to the enemy – you have to demonstrate you have integrity and the courage to defend principles – but maybe that’s the problem – the ConDems arn’t different enough from what Blair started and maybe that’s why opposition is so crap – New Labour, Blue Labour Poo Labour.

    You have lost me and thousands of others – all we want is for some one BELIEVABLE to say ” No! this will stop, it is wrong, we will defend what you believe in”

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