Labour’s wants to triangulate on the deficit but has forgotten how

by Atul Hatwal

Today, Labour remembered the deficit. Good, it’s long over-due. The party senses an opportunity, one last chance to reduce the Tories’ double digit lead on the economy.

The theory is clear. George Osborne’s draconian spending plans are just too apocalyptic for the public. He’s opened up political space for a middle way, for Labour to triangulate and offer a deficit reduction path that does not necessitate taking a meat cleaver to the welfare state but does show a clear route back to a balanced budget.

The polls seem to back this approach. In yesterday’s ComRes poll,  52% agreed with the proposition that “it would be better to slow the rate of spending cuts even if it makes it take longer to get the country’s finances back on track” while just 25% disagreed.

Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are both on our screens today promising this middle way, hoping for a route back into the economic debate.

Unfortunately for Labour, and the country’s future, Miliband and Balls are going to be disappointed.

There is a strategic flaw at the heart of the party’s approach: Labour strategists have forgotten how to triangulate.

For triangulation to be effective, three conditions need to be met: there must be defined positions to the left and right on a topic which opens space in the middle, the public need to be dissatisfied with the polarised positions on offer and to trust the party or politician that is triangulating, to deliver on their centrist commitment.

It’s certainly true that George Osborne’s vision of austerity-max has shifted the Conservatives further to the right on the economy than their previous positioning. The much publicised IFS judgement that the cuts would take spending back to 1930s’ levels has resonated, with Osborne’s personal ratings taking a palpable hit – in the aftermath of the Autumn statement, YouGov found his net approval rate dropped from -8 to -11.

But the problem for Ed Miliband is that the left flank is occupied by Unite, most of the union movement and a fair proportion of the PLP, including some shadow cabinet members.

Having spent the past four years endorsing the left’s critique of Osborne’s austerity and repeating blood curdling predictions of the imminent demise of the welfare state, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls need to demonstrate to the public that they have shifted their position; now, not only are they at odds with Unite and the left, but prepared to publicly face them down.

They need to be specific about some cuts to bring these general commitments to life, and resolute in confronting criticism from the left, that these will be implemented.

It’s simply not enough to soft soap the new position as an evolution or continuation of past policy. But for a multitude of reasons  – from Ed Miliband’s parlous grip on the leadership to the future leadership ambitions of Ed Balls wife, Yvette Cooper – this is exactly what is going to happen.

Because Labour’s leaders are not prepared to show the public that they will be equally forceful in withstanding pressure from the left, as well as the right, it should be little surprise, in the coming weeks, when Labour’s economic ratings continue to flatline and the Tory lead remains in the high double digits.

The ComRes poll might have accurately highlighted that the public want a more measured approach to reducing the deficit, but all of the polling on trust in Ed Miliband and Ed Balls shows that voters do not believe these two men will deliver it.

Today, Labour tried to triangulate, but failed. Speeches and manifesto pledges are fine and necessary, but words without the political actions to back them up are pointless.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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15 Responses to “Labour’s wants to triangulate on the deficit but has forgotten how”

  1. Landless Peasant says:

    I won’t vote Labour until they move to far Left. I won’t vote for Tory Lite.

  2. swatantra says:

    I agree with Atul. The Public are not gullible, and won’t trust a used car salesman that fleeced them the last time.

  3. Tafia says:

    ComRes Poll? Their poll for ITV yesterday showed that when asked ‘Do you support cutting public spending to 1930’s levels?’ 33% said Yes whereas only 26% said No.

    Classic Miliband drivel: “We’ve now decided after all that we do need to tackle the deficit. And we promise to do it, honestly we do. But we’re not prepared to tell you any of the spending cuts or tax rises that this would require so you could decide whether our promise to reduce the deficit is actually plausible and deliverable. Please take it on trust, though, that they’ll be nice Labour cuts rather than horrible Tory cuts”.

    What spending is Labour going to cut? What taxes will they increase? Simply saying that they will reduce the deficit each year, with no clear plans to show how they would do so will not inspire any confidence

    1. Labour ran up huge borrowing to help out their banker chums with huge profits in interest. (The interest is huge and amounts to about half of the annual running costs of the NHS.)

    2. Labour bailed out their banker chums with huge amounts of public cash. (They also flogged off half of the public’s gold bullion in order to give the City a dig out.)
    It’s worth noting that Ed Balls is a Goldman Sachs banker.

    It doesn’t matter who you vote for the National Debt is £1.3 trillion(at least) and climbing and has to be cut, substantially, and fast before interest rates start to rise or we will be in serious trouble.

    Now the truth:
    a. Whoever is in charge after the Election will have to make pretty much the same cuts and will struggle to make them.
    b Whatever cuts are made, and they will be on a massive scale as ‘ there is no money’ so the difference will have to come through taxation. There are actually very few tax increases that make much of a difference; it’s really only three; income tax, national insurance and VAT. Any income tax increase would have to hit the “squeezed middle” very hard indeed. That’s the largely Labour voting public so forget it. With inflation low the obvious “get out of jail card” is VAT going to 25% bringing in between £20 and £30 billion extra and that is serious money. Whoever wins in May, it’s going to have to be in the first budget – there simply is no other way to raise that amount of money extra per year.

    So the choice in England (which is where most of the seats are) is largely either neo-liberal Tory or neo-liberal Labour. The deficit is a smoke screen to transfer the remaining public wealth into private hands – the state wont get any smaller, rather it will just be run by private companies that will look to make as much money out of you as possible. The only way to curb the excesses of either the Tories or Labour is to vote in a minority government and force them into Coalition.
    Take Miliband’s pledge today to protect health spending. Health spending by the tories – whether Labour like it or not, has risen every year since 2010. That is a cold, hard, fact.

    2010 116bn (actual)
    2011 119bn (actual)
    2012 121bn (actual)
    2013 124bn (actual)
    2014 129bn (Treasury estimate)
    2015 133bn (already programmed in)
    2016 135bn (already programmed in)
    (sources HM Treasury/PESA)

    As a percentage share of GDP it has consistantly risen faster than GDP has since the tories took Office and is actually. Miliband’s pledge to ‘protect’ health spending means what exactly? Freezing it protects it from cuts does it not?

    At the end there will be a small difference, Labour will have better priorities but have to make rushed cuts (which are damaging) and the tories will try to cut the uncuttable (which will be just as damaging).

    As for dropping the voting age to 16, would be Labour’s suicide if they did. According to recent YouGov polling ( ), the Greens are on 19% among the under-25s. Labour traditionally lead the Tories comfortably in this age group, but it’s dropped from 44% ‘intending to vote Labour’ this week last year to only 30% now.

  4. John reid says:

    I’ll get my coat

  5. Michael says:

    Labour was quite happy with the former broad church of the Conservative party more or less split over the EU giving rise to UKIP but now Labour will have difficulties holding the incompatible Blue Labour and Socialist wings together. The disgruntled are shifting to UKIP, SNP and the greens who are reddening their policies by the day.

    Whatever the outcome Labour will never be the mass movement party is was. There are many route causes but when I look at the Labour politicians I see few of the former working men and women with passion who went into Labour as politicians mid-way in their career to right the injustice of the world. This is because their places have been replaced by a professional political (and increasing dynastic) middle-upper class running labour with insincerity who get parachuted by weak leaders in order to get control of the party.

  6. Ralph says:

    Yes, they are trying to “nuance”, problem is they do not know how or when. They simply have no grasp of how the majority of us think. They lack the subtle as well as the blatently obvious.

    This is where Incestuous nepotism and weirdness take you…away from being able to perform your role either in opposition or in Government. North korea has the same problems with its leaders but they can do it over there because they kill anyone who finds it weird and says anything about it.

    The Rotheram Martyrs stand testimony as to why this weirdness needs addressing as does the final conclusion to the Labour Party story. That they failed to do anything beyond blatently lie about an economy, convince nobody of anything with performances little children could emulate and better.

  7. Landless Peasant says:

    I’ll only vote for a far Left Labour Party, anything less is a cop-out. Because Labour are nowhere near Left enough I am voting Green, and so are most other Socialists I know. Labour have abandoned the poor.

  8. Michael Worcester says:

    The people who support these sort of cuts most strongly are the people who work on low pay but get less money that their workshy neighbour, formerly Labours base of support. This is because successive Labour governments destroyed the working classes support for welfare by

    1. a policy of mass immigration (and dismissing concerns as bigoted)
    2. changing housing policy based on need in the 70s (which created sink estates) not as a support for the working poor
    3. Creating poverty traps though poor policy which encourages the benefit culture
    4. Removing the sanctions to welfare for the feckless which were originally part of the Beverage set up of the welfare state

    Blue labour is moving towards support for the working poor and addresses some of the concerns above but it is doing without enthusiasm (which is why UKIP is popular amongst former Labour voter). Socialist red Labour is the tax and spend wing of the party which politically the greens (and SNP) are trying to camp on. Inspiring leadership and good ideas might have been able to hold the party together but frankly I see the party as permanently diminished as the political landscape has changed

  9. Dan says:

    “I’ll only vote for a far Left Labour Party”

    Well, good luck with that I guess. Labour have never been, and will never be, far-left. For the very good reason that it’d be electoral suicide.

  10. John Reid says:

    Landless peasant, labour is never gonna be the party you want, as most of the public don’t want it either, the greens what do they know about helping the poor, in Brighton they’ve just voted against allowing the working class to buy their council homes

  11. Tafia says:

    the greens what do they know about helping the poor, in Brighton they’ve just voted against allowing the working class to buy their council homes

    Not withstanding that many Labour councils have done likewise and that allowing tenants to buy their council houses was in fact a benchmark Thatcher policy, I would suggest that allowing tenants to buy their council houses is most definately NOT helping the poor – quite the opposite.

  12. Tafia says:

    Michael Worcester – The people who support these sort of cuts most strongly are the people who work on low pay but get less money that their workshy neighbour

    Jackpot. That is bang on the nail. People at the bottom of the work ladder are totally pissed off with perfectly capable people on benefits living a life better than theirs. I can give you several examples and I’m sure nearly everyone reading on here knows examples as well.

    The one I know (and I know her and her parents personally) is in her early 20;’s, has a toddler, did work about 16 hours a week to get tax credits but found it ‘tiresome’ and so for the last 2 years has been on benefits. her parents pretended to kick her out so that the council had to house her, she kicked off about the flat she was given and now has a brand new 2 bedroom housing association house with front and back garden. She has just spent over £600 on presents for the child. She CLEARS – after rent allowance and council tax rebate just over £1100 a month and has the usual trappings – including a car and the full Sky package. (and no there is no disability involved).

    Out trots the excuse -‘there are no jobs’ to which UKIP clean up with the counter argument ‘there would be if we stopped taking low skill/no skill immigrants’. And in an area like this where there used to be a lot of them (Until the major employers went bust) – and still are a fair few knocking about (now mostly on benefits), that makes perfect sense to the people living in it.

    Quite rightly, they believe what they see in their every day lives – not what politicians say.

  13. John P Reid says:

    Council homes were sold dirt cheap, and it was labour in both 1959 and 1974 that came up with the policy, after simwines paid off thir mortgage they then have the money to spend how they line instead of having to pay rent the rest of their lives, I know those who didn’t buy their council homes under Thatcher suffered as they were the ones still paying rent to subsidise council homes being built, but that’s not due to those who bought theirs,

  14. Tafia says:

    John, Labour allowed councils to in turn allow their tenants to purchase their home – but it was tightly controlled and wasn’t a right. Thatcher reversed that and changed to to an absolute right of the tenant no matter what the council thought.

    And I must also take issue with your line allowing the working class to buy their council homes. So any middle class, self-employed or retired people living in council homes can still buy theirs can they?

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