What has changed on the deficit since general election 2010?

by Jonathan Todd

This is the first of a series of pieces from Uncut on what has changed in respect of key political issues since the last general election. Looking over this timescale, we hope to distinguish the signal from the noise; what really matters from the day-to-day froth.

Liverpool played Burnley away on Boxing Day. The last time that happened was just before the 2010 general election when Rafa Benitez managed Liverpool. Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish both did so between Benitez and the current reign of Brendan Rodgers. Hodgson’s tenure coincided with the near bankruptcy of one of the world’s great sporting institutions. Enter John Henry, deus ex machina. This American has invested in the club stadium and playing squad, including in Luis Suarez, who brought both disgrace and nearly a Premier League title. Life is easier off the pitch and harder on the pitch sans Suarez. Fans yearn to be made to dream again. And will soon have to hope to do so without talisman Steven Gerrard.

In summary, much has happened at Liverpool since the last general election. Soon after which, I wrote my first piece for Uncut on ‘the emerging politics of deficit reduction’. Since when, as much as politics feels like a rollercoaster, these politics have changed remarkably little. Around the time that piece was published, Peter Mandelson was fighting for airtime by launching his memoirs.

We would not convince the country, Mandelson conceded on the deficit, that the Tories were going too far unless we convinced them that we would go far enough. That reflection on the 2010 election exactly parallels the advice that both myself and Samuel Dale have recently given Labour’s current campaign. I called for ‘Don Miliband’ to show himself, Sam for a ‘carpe deficit’ moment. The terminology doesn’t matter, the point is the same. Mandelson returned to the debate before Christmas to make a similar point in a speech to a Progress and Policy Network conference. Labour, Mandelson advised, will only get a hearing on ‘what will the effect be on society and the economy?’ if we are clear on ‘how much must we cut public spending?’

David Bowie’s latest compilation album, nothing has changed, may have had the politics of the deficit in mind. Reality, as ever, has moved on. To the sad actuality that George Osborne’s spectacular failure to keep his promises means that the deficit and the need for further fiscal consolidation remain. But the politics have not. Neither has the polling.

9 per cent of voters think Labour leaders will take tough and unpopular decisions. 19 per cent thought as much at the start of the parliament. There has been no change in the proportion of the electorate that think cuts are necessary: 55 per cent at the start of the parliament, 54 per cent now. As at this parliament’s outset, the last Labour government is thought more responsible for these cuts than the incumbent government. Only 4 per cent more voters than at the start of the parliament, a puny 16 per cent, think Labour has successfully moved on from its past.

Maybe voters think Labour won’t take tough and unpopular decisions because Labour rarely takes tough and unpopular decisions? There was a skirmish around public sector pay but nowhere near enough savings have been identified to make good Labour’s pledge to balance current spending by 2020. So long as Labour fails to come forward with such savings, maybe Labour will be perceived as a party that created the necessity for cuts, while failing to specify what these cuts should be and therefore, not moving on from its high spending past?

This is one interpretation of reality, a reality that Ed Miliband might have done more to change by doing what Mandelson advised in 2010: showing that Labour would go far enough to recover the fiscal position. The whole point of Miliband’s leadership, however, was to move Labour on from Mandelson’s politics, which recognised the deficit as the central reality of this parliament and asked Labour to adapt. Miliband preferred a different reality. One that took the cost of living, not the deficit, as this parliament’s defining feature. Differing Labour strategies follow from different readings of the world.

Miliband’s recent deficit speech, however, achieved something of a synergy. Osborne is failing to close the deficit, Miliband rightly argued, because tax receipts are not meeting expectations, which is happening because wages are lagging. Get wages rising and not only would pressure on the cost of living ease but tax receipts would grow and the deficit will fall.

While Mandelson and Miliband are in this sense united, Osborne is gambling that Miliband will move insufficiently in Mandelson’s direction – by, say, going further to show how Labour will balance current spending by 2020 – to overcome the charge of dangerous Labour profligacy that the Autumn Statement was intended, like much of what Osborne has done in Downing Street, to drive home.

In a saner world, we’d have a chancellor more focused on the economic role of the state in an age of secular stagnation and its social role in an ageing society. Such a chancellor might come to be more relaxed about the deficit in the short-term and more agitated about UK growth prospects and the affordability of public services over the longer-term. Sanity will, though, have to wait for Labour government. Which depends upon more Labour success in the mad game of deficit brinksmanship over the next half a year than has been secured over the past four and a half.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut  

Tags: , , , , , , ,

7 Responses to “What has changed on the deficit since general election 2010?”

  1. swatantra says:

    I really do dispair when people keep bringing up Blair Mandelsohn and Jowell.
    This is not 1997. This 2015. This 18 years on for goodness sake. Its like talking ancient history, about reliving the Elections of 1964 or ’71 or ’83 again. The World in fact has moved on. These are Yesterdays Men and Women.
    In todays world we have PR Spads and Career Politicians running things who get their inspiration from textbooks and business consultants and advertising bods … not from the common people, the voices on the street. We live in a new world of soundbites and one minute responses, not answers, as we see on PMQs.
    This Big Conversation with the 4m is not going to work. Its been tried before and failed; people are too busy getting on with things to even spend 5 mins talking, because they know their Agenda has already been set by Westminster.
    Balls will stick to Tory spending plans; the Coalition of the Left will struggle against the forces of the Right. I imagine a similar situation to Greece developing in Britain.
    Basically its a question of cutting your coat according to the cloth.
    Britain has to adapt to the changing times; we no longer live in silos; the bell tolls for all of us, and what happens in faraway countries really does affect us here like the price of fuel and a pint of milk. Are todays leaders up to deal with it? Not really.

  2. 07052015 says:

    For those who pursue political economy the key issue is indeed what the public thinks is sensible about deficit reduction.There are signs that the electorate has had enough and therefore the eds are correct and osborne wrong.

    For those who are interested in the economics the idea of setting a balanced budget as a target for economic policy is drivel and nonsense.Up there with no more (tory) boom and bust.

    As Martin Wolff points out endlessly in the FT at current interest rates the deficit is very sustainable.The main domestic problem is the size of the uk financial sector and its political reach..The problem for 2015 is getting sucked in to eurozone deflation which like japan could stall us for a decade.I dont expect the voters to get that but really labour activists have a responsibilty to at least try.

  3. Tafia says:

    Osborne may well be failing to close the deficit. But what should also be taken into consideration is Labour’s guarantee – reiterated again by Balls yesterday and the day before – that an incoming Labour government will eliminate it within one Parliament.

    How without even heavier cuts? To eliminate it requires an extra 25Bn in tax receipts every year – a tad more than the 1.4 bn at max mansion tax, in what will be an era of rising interest rates.

    Which then raises the question is Balls a liar?

  4. Tafia says:

    07052015 – The problem for 2015 is getting sucked in to eurozone deflation which like japan could stall us for a decade.I dont expect the voters to get that but really labour activists have a responsibilty to at least try.

    Labour activists have got to support and sell what Ed Balls has said over the last few days whether they want to or not, amongst other things – “‘Because I’ve said very clearly the 2015-16 plans are our starting point and we will only spend more if we can find cuts elsewhere.“, more cuts to council spending, deficit to be eliminated in the first Parliamnent, Tory spending plans to continue etc etc etc.

  5. Landless Peasant says:

    @ swatantra

    “This 18 years on for goodness sake. Its like talking ancient history”

    I’m still fighting against the Inclosures.

  6. John.P Reid says:

    Quite right landless peasant ,one day you’ll accept ,that labour LOST the 1983 election as it was too left wing and I’m still fighting th 1992 election arguing then we hadn’t doen enough to distance ourselves from, the far left of the 80’s

  7. Landless Peasant says:

    @ John P. Reid


    On the deficit and austerity….

    Why doesn’t Labour make a HUGE noise about the untold BILLIONS £££s IDS and Lord Fraud have chucked down the drain on developing Universal Credit and the Universal Jobmatch website, neither of which are fit for purpose. How the hell can they let the Tory scum get away with such blatant hypocrisy? They’re wasting public money hand over fist whislt simultaneously telling us the country’s skint and we’re all in it together. It truly beggars belief.

Leave a Reply