by Atul Hatwal
Labour has achieved something remarkable this year. In the space of eight weeks the party has managed to focus the national debate on some of its strongest issues – the NHS, equalities and tax avoidance – and yet still failed to land a blow. The average of this week’s YouGov polls is a very small Conservative lead.
The NHS should be a campaign winner, every time for Labour. But when Andy Burnham decided to use the rise in NHS spending outsourced to the private sector, as his key evidence to prove the Tories’ privatising intent, he turned political gold to base metal.
Given two-thirds of the rise in outsourcing happened under Labour, with the rate of increase actually slowing under the Tories, it doesn’t take David Axelrod to work out why Labour was on the back foot almost immediately.
Then there was Harriet Harman’s pink battlebus. There’s nothing wrong with the bus being pink and the issues raised by the women’s tour are important, but when Labour frontbenchers have been campaigning vociferously that equating the colour pink with girls is sexist then, once again, who couldn’t have predicted disastrous headlines?
Most recently there has been Ed Miliband’s offensive on tax avoidance. It’s difficult to think of territory more uncomfortable for David Cameron. Yet by broadening the Labour attack onto the principle of tax avoidance, rather than the narrow specifics of the jaw-dropping appointment of HSBC’s Stephen Green as a Minister, even when government officials knew all about HSBC’s illicit activities, Ed Miliband blew it.
Cue embarrassing questions about whether shadow ministers collected receipts for every odd job or window cleaned and the circumstances in which Ed Miliband’s mother seems to have avoided tax on the house in which he now lives.
Individually, these incidents seem like discrete gaffes but a common thread runs through each failure.
Andy Burnham, Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband all walked into such eminently predictable elephant traps because their moral certitude blinded them to the politically obvious.