by Atul Hatwal
Third speech as leader, maybe it will be third time lucky. The task remains the same as in 2010: tackle voter concerns about Labour on spending. Note the focus here: spending. It’s not the deficit, nor debt, though both ideas are clearly very closely linked. It’s spending.
Too often when issues such as fiscal credibility or deficit reduction are raised, the Labour leadership’s immediate response is to talk about growth.
It’s understandable, our leaders are most comfortable describing ways to grow the cake rather than shrink it. No-one joins the Labour party to slash services. But just talking about how to boost the economy completely ignores the reason Labour lost the last election: voters don’t trust Labour on spending.
We could have the best plans for successfully stimulating the economy, reducing unemployment and supporting businesses and it would all matter not a jot.
That spurious charge, “Labour maxed the credit card” has stuck. For many, debt and the deficit are the consequences of our reckless spending. No matter how effective Labour’s plans for growth, voters think we would simply spend our way back into trouble.
Until this perception – and it is just a perception – is effectively rebutted, the party does not have voters’ permission to be heard on the economy.
The latest Ipsos Mori poll, released last Friday, has some stark figures that illustrate the depth of the hole in which the party finds itself.
In terms of the party with the best policies for managing the economy, Labour has fallen back since May. Immediately after Osborne’s bodged budget, the party had pulled level. Now, we are 5 points behind with 30% saying the Tories have the best policies and 25% opting for Labour.
Lest we forget, this slide on economic competence has happened during the worst of the double dip recession. If and when growth does return to the economy, what will happen to Labour’s economic ratings?
In his speech, Ed Miliband needs to directly address our problems on spending. He needs to acknowledge it as a real concern for many and show why voters can trust Labour again.
Simply mouthing the standard platitudes and telling voters that Labour will be parsimonious will not cut it. At the last election voters ejected the Labour government because they did not believe what we said about spending. So far we have given them no evidence to demonstrate their fears were unfounded.
Ed has to do what he has been loathe to so far: commit to actual policies. Back some specific cuts, repeat the commitment to maintain public sector pay restraint and show how Labour would ensure spending would remain on a tight leash.
For example , the Labour leader could do a lot worse than pick up Anthony Painter’s suggestion in Uncut yesterday that the IFS will audit Labour’s economic programme to ensure budgetary sustainability.
Clear and measurable commitments to control spending that are independently validated would go a long way to reassuring worried voters.
This does not mean the party would have to be bound by Tory spending plans; just that our alternative approach would have to be clearly costed, based on defined revenue raising measures and re-prioritised spending.
It would mean though that Labour could finally get a fair hearing from voters on our policies to boost growth and resuscitate the economy.
Regardless of the style of delivery, the sharpness of the jokes and the emotion of the rhetoric, unless Ed Miliband tackles concerns on spending, the speech will ultimately have a minimal impact.
Labour will remain tuned out of the economic debate by the electorate and marginalised on the most important issues facing voters.
Over to you Ed.
Atul Hatwal is editor at Uncut