Labour needs evidence as well as emotion to make its case effectively

by Alan Donnelly

Being in opposition is difficult. You can’t change anything, for starters. And if things appear to be going the government’s way, the chance of getting the message through seems to evaporate. However, I do believe Labour will be more effective if we develop a mantra that is entirely fact-based.

The response to last Wednesday’s Budget has allowed a bounce for the government such that they are neck-and-neck in national polls. It is true that employment and growth are improving, and we should welcome that. With the massive resource of the civil service available for the government, the chancellor is able to rattle off the numbers that make the situation sound good. Intuitively members, MPs and councillors know their communities are not feeling the recovery. And many fundamentals are actually in our favour. How to translate this into political victory is the big question.

Labour’s response to the autumn statement was slow and inadequate. Wednesday’s response was better as theatre, but equally lacked a lot. Of course it’s important to have go to lines and simple communicative devices. But it’s a mismatch to face off a stat-heavy barrage with politicking rhetoric. There were numbers, but these were tied to the banker-based “out of touch” line. Fine, but does it actually do any damage? Or when we say Osborne wants a race to the bottom, what do we have to back that up?

Yesterday’s letter to the Guardian underlined the problem of effectiveness. In warning of waiting for the Tories to lose the election, rather than going out to win it, the signatories are of course correct. But while it might be bolder, it’s hard to see how a strategy of taking on board the devolution agenda wholesale would make labour more likely active winners.

On a day when the chancellor can point to falling unemployment, Labour needed to ask him about the quality of jobs. Earlier this month, the Resolution Foundation published its audit of living standards. It was damning, noting an “unparalleled collapse in real wages”, and that 21% or workers are earning below £7.50 an hour. This matters because the recovery is based on consumer spending and using up savings.

A major Budget announcement was the increase in personal tax allowance. But the IFS’s Green Budget this week examined it and found it to be an inefficient way of helping the low-paid. I think that makes for a good soundbite in the chamber.

In post-Budget interviews Balls pointed out that the Chancellor did not mention the young once. But let’s bring up the facts: the age group 22-29 is earning 10.5% less than it was in 2008. That’s massive!

Osborne looked to America as an example of a country doing well in rebalancing for manufacturing. He’s right to. And he’s right it has a lot to do with energy prices. But investment was also unlocking by America turning away from austerity orthodoxy early on, and so they saw a recovery much earlier than we did. They are richer than they were before the crash while we still lag behind. Drawing a direct comparison would have been a nifty way of undermining the point the chancellor thought he had made, and with quick-thinking it would not have required prior knowledge of the Budget speech.

Fact-based opposition cuts both ways. It’s obvious we have to hold ourselves to high standards too. Ed Balls’s idea of OBR vetting for spending plans is still alive and gained the support of Robert Chote. I’m afraid our spending plans do have to make sense, to be credible, and be presented to the electorate

We don’t have the civil service, but there are other great independent resources out there. The Tories clearly feel on solid ground with the economic facts, and with an evidence-free immigration debate. Let’s test that a little more, because I think the fact-based approach yields more from the electorate than constraining ourselves to the “out-of-touch” emotional appeal.

Alan Donnelly is a former leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party and chair of South Shields CLP

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3 Responses to “Labour needs evidence as well as emotion to make its case effectively”

  1. john problem says:

    All this counting of the angels on the head of a pin don’t mean a thing to the public. They believe that whatever is promised today may never see the light of day. Instead of lots of intellectual chopping of various possible policies, Labour should simply beat up on every single thing that Cameron and Co. do or say. Ridicule it. Take the mickey. Make them look stupid (not too difficult, but you have to be determined about it…). Slag off every thing they say and short of calling them liars make them look very shifty. Toffs rattle easily if you give them the vocal elbow. Labour needs more sting like a bee and less float like a butterfly. Particularly as Ed hasn’t come across as a fighter, so far. The public loves a fighter, not a philosopher…..

  2. Ex-labour says:

    @ john problem

    You’ve clearly not seen any of the Labour leadership and front bench.

    You sound more like Primentalist Brown ………is that you Gordon ?

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