“Same old Tories” trumps “same old Labour”

by Peter Watt

Politically, life suddenly seems a little easier at the moment. Well from a tribal Labour perspective anyway. The last few weeks have been dominated, domestically, by stories and events that are, on the face of it, very bad for the government, and therefore good for Labour’s electoral prospects.

The economy is flat lining at best and possibly dipping into a downturn. Unemployment is rising and the private sector isn’t creating jobs as fast as the Tories hoped. And all of that before our friends in France and Germany finally decide, or more worryingly don’t decide, how to save the Euro and at who knows what cost to the rest of us.  Then there is the NHS which the Government seems intent on screwing up.

I actually don’t buy into the line that says the NHS is about to implode, but what is in little doubt is that the Lansley “reforms” have been a right cock-up from the start, unnecessary at best and gratuitously stupid at worst. And then there are rising crime levels, increased levels of public and business pessimism and Liam Fox reminding people of the impression of corruption that dogged the Tories in the past.

All that and an outbreak of traditional Tory disunity. And the Government’s best asset, David Cameron, appears to have lost his mojo. A few months ago he looked very much the master of all he surveyed. He was the arch communicator beating up Miliband and schmoozing the electorate in equal measure. His internal enemies knew that they couldn’t rock the boat and so they didn’t. The last few days of Euro passion have re-kindled fond memories on Labour’s benches of the dying days of the Major government.  On government benches all of the pent-up anger at an election that many in his party blame Cameron for not winning is bubbling over. Promotions over looked, personal slights and a sense that number Ten is arrogant and aloof add to the simmering resentment. It’s a toxic cocktail for a PM who didn’t actually secure a majority.

So from a Labour perspective the goal is so open that they can’t fail but score a shedload of goals. It’s not a case of what to attack them on, it’s where to start. You can feel the swagger on Labour’s side as they taunt the Tories and ignore the Lib Dems. It’s like the good old days when life was simple. A time when the Tories were just plain bad, rabid about Europe, closed hospitals and Yosser Hughes was desperate for a job in the ravaged North. It all feels very familiar, as the Tories detoxification strategy becomes infected.

And yet stop, take a big deep breath and think. What has actually changed in the last month? In fact what has changed in the last six months or even year?

A year ago the Tories had very successfully blamed Labour for all of the country’s economic woes. The public had grown tired of Labour, and the Tories blame game resonated. The voters were assisted by the Tory spin machine to see Labour as economically illiterate and worse. Labour had overseen a bloating of the public sector, all at the expense of taxpayers. They had used a growing deficit to fund their pet projects and levels of national debt were rising dangerously. Worse, they had tried to deny this was the case before the election and wouldn’t take any blame after.

The result was that the national bank account was empty and so, while Labour didn’t cause the recession, their ineptitude meant that the country was ill-prepared to deal with it. Of course the fact that there was some truth in the government’s lines on Labour did not help Labour’s cause. And every time Eric Pickles revealed another piece of excessive spending on posh hotels and fancy pot plants for civil servants it undermined Labour’s case further.

The problem for Labour is that the impressions reinforced in the minds of the electorate in the first few months of the Government have stuck. It doesn’t matter to what extent you think that the impression is fair or unfair. Much of the public believed it – and critically still do. Nothing has happened to change that impression. When push comes to shove who will the public trust? Those that spent all of the money or those that are trying, under difficult circumstances, to clear the mess up? Yes, the Tories are rowing over Europe, screwing up the NHS and so on. But as long as the public feel that Labour is not to be trusted with the economy then it won’t much matter. The shine may be coming off of David Cameron, but he is still significantly more popular than Ed Miliband.  Certainly more trusted in a crisis.

So right about now politics may feel very familiar to Labour again. The Tories are bastards and frothing at the mouth Euro nutters to boot. But Labour shouldn’t get too cosy. The uncomfortable truth is that right now, in the battle of the political brands “same old Tories” trumps “same old Labour”. In other words, while the fact that the economy is still struggling isn’t great news for George and Dave, it is catastrophically worse for Labour. Oh, and it isn’t great for the unemployed or squeezed middle either.

Peter Watt is a former general secretary of the Labour party.

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12 Responses to ““Same old Tories” trumps “same old Labour””

  1. Ralph Baldwin says:


    Good article but again it always sounds as though you guys are talking a bout a social club on another planet. I appreciate with this one you are deliberately referring to the views of those within said club, but in referring to the stories in the press and their impact, the reaction of the people and potential electoral success, well that is only relevant to people in that club and not in the real world.

    Independence is great (I am not was not a career politician and was going to stand down anyway), I have something to do now.

    I want to formally thank London Labour Party I really could not have done it without them lol. I suggest in future they focus their “investigations” to plausable sins rather than ones that are not actually possible. Like I said different worlds 😉

  2. swatantra says:

    Peter has got his head screwed on the rigt way. More perhaps than the Party heirarchy; its going to be a long long long haul back to power. The Coalition may be making a mess of things but take a look around Europe, every country is in trouble and likely to fall like dominoes or collapse like a pack of cards like Italy and Greece.
    There is something fundamentally wrong with capitalism. It doesn’t raise every ciitizen to a higher level and give them a rewarding life. Its too aquisitive it breeds greed and selfishness. We need a better system.

  3. Nick says:

    NHS – 20-80,000 deaths a year where the NHS contributes to the death, or outright kills people.

    Bar Shipman (600+) there have been no prosecutions. None for killing people with filthy hospitals. Yep, that’s Labour for you. You were in charge.

    Ah yes – the NHS – best in the world.

    A year ago the Tories had very successfully blamed Labour for all of the country’s economic woes.

    Given you are still blaming Thatcher, they will carry on for quite some time.

  4. Nick says:

    Those that spent all of the money or those that are trying, under difficult circumstances, to clear the mess up?


    That will be the mess you left the country in?

    7,000 bn of debt.
    165 bn of deficit.

  5. John P Reid says:

    Nick, So the World ecenomic downfall in the mid 80’s was repronsible for the destruction of the NHS, and not Thatchher’s fault then?

  6. The Future says:

    Peter I’m confused.

    If the economy does well. No doubt you are others on this site will be arguing that Labour are doomed and the Cameron is going to win.

    I’m afraid it’s just the case that people like yourself just want to see how things could be bad for Labour. I say what I have said before. The argument of hushing up the deficit by agreeing with the Tories and supporting the cuts would not just have left us in a position where we had nothing unique to say. But It would have left us in a position where we had called the big economic decisions wrong.

    I’m afraid those who attack the leadership really need to come up with some alternatives. Not just constantly try to spin how things are bad for Labour.

    How about a few articles from Labour Uncut praising Ed Balls. Things are looking rosy because he was right. I mean, after all he had the courage of his convictions to go against the presses established (and incorrect) view of how to manage the economy. Indeed he has had to battle against many in the party including this site.

    Ed Balls called it right. And we in the party owe a big debt to him electorally.

  7. Perhaps one of the problems for Labour is former General Secretaries putting the boot in and bad mouthing Labour party policies a mere four months before the last general election.
    In his hurriedly written memoirs, “Inside Out: My Story Of Betrayal And Cowardice At The Heart Of New Labour”, Peter Watt helpfully reveals:

    “Downing Street was a shambles. There was no vision, no strategy, no co-ordination,”

    Possibly this could have contributed to a lack of trust, but just to make sure he continues:

    “I imagined there was some grand plan, tucked away in a drawer. But if any such document existed, nobody seemed to know about it. Gordon was simply making it up as he went along.”

    With friends like these……

  8. Peter Watt says:

    John Wyman White how right you are! When the history of the last election is written historians will rank my book as a key factor in Labour’s defeat.

  9. Henrik says:

    @The Future:

    How about (and I know I keep beating this particular drum) Labour actually produce some solid, concrete and constructive reasons, we could call them ‘policies’, perhaps, why folk should choose a. to trust them and b. to vote for them? Just saying, like.

  10. John P Reid says:

    john wyman, labour were on 22% in the polls in June 2009, and despite bigot gate, still got 29%

  11. swatantra says:

    29% is just about the core vote that’ll always turn out whatever the weather.
    We lost a lot of the middle class vote though.

  12. Mike Homfray says:

    No, Peter, you have just stopped being Labour. That’s why you sympathise with the Tories so much. If it wasn’t for sentimental and tribal reasons, you would have joined the tories a while ago – because your views are Tory.

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