by Samuel Dale
It’s working. On Sunday, Labour took a seven point lead in an Opinium and Observer poll with 36% to the Tories’ 29%.
Sure, it could be a rogue poll, a one-off that misleads us all. Or maybe it is an example of what Damian McBride has called the rope a dope economic strategy while Labour Uncut editor Atul Hatwal said is Miliband’s attempt at triangulation.
With less than six months to election day Miliband has finally awoken from his deficit slumber.
Cut spending every year until the deficit is gone. Prepare shadow ministers for big cuts. Get debt falling by 2020.
Miliband’s speech on the deficit after the autumn statement was substantive. He finally admitted the next parliament would once again be dominated by cuts; deeper, more difficult cuts than this parliament.
It’s a far cry from his conference nightmare when he didn’t even mention it as part of his 10 year vision for Britain.
It is a huge relief for those of us calling for Labour to present a clear deficit reduction plan instead of burying its head in the sands.
Why has Miliband seemingly changed his mind? Firstly, Labour has been forced to change. It lost the debate on whether to spend your way out of recession. Then living standards started to rise, only just but leaving the cost of living campaign with less potency.
Secondly, George Osborne messed up. He outlined huge spending cuts and tax cuts that would reduce the state to 1930s levels.
It is scaring people and Miliband took his chance. Osborne opened up the space for Labour to seem seriously tough on spending cuts without being deranged.
Labour MPs now have genuine answers when asked how they will close the deficit: we’ll scrap it in five years without taking us back an Orwellian Wigan Pier.
But let’s not get carried away. Labour is still planning to borrow for investment and cut current spending slower – it is not matching Tory spending plans.
And we’ve been here before, of course. Miliband makes a small gesture on the deficit before losing interest and falling back to his comfort zone of higher taxes and business attacks. That can’t happen this time.
I wrote recently that Miliband’s lack of economic credibility was allowing Osborne to recklessly offer tax cuts to favoured voting groups.
To stop that happening, Labour must seize this moment and hammer home it’s deficit message next year.
Spell out some serious, specific cuts to spending. Something creative that saves billions, gets noticed and puts the cat among the pigeons.
Scrap the department of culture, media and sport saving around £1bn? Or cut tax relief for buy to let landlords, up to £5bn? Or freeze some in-work tax credits for years saving billions? Or totally reform pensions tax relief – again saving billions?
Osborne’s mistake and Miliband’s quick reaction have created a chance. A chance to close the 16 point gap on economic credibility.
Unfortunately there are signs Miliband feels he has now dealt with tough issues like the deficit and immigration and is ready to move back to the NHS in the new year.
But there is still much more to do on setting out his deficit plan; It’s the economy, stupid. Don’t lose interest this time, use this opportunity and seize the initiative on fiscal sanity. Carpe Defict!
Sam Dale is a financial and political journalist