by Jonathan Todd
At the end of last year, I wrote on three reasons for Labour victory in 2015: brand, economy, and leadership. Let’s revisit them.
The Good Right – Tim Montgomerie’s campaign – understands the Tories’ brand problems. There has been a 7 per cent rise over the past year to 85 per cent in the proportion of people that see the Tories as being close to the rich. By having the likes of Peter Stringfellow along to a black and white ball and allowing Lord Fink to mishandle Ed Miliband’s questioning of his tax affairs, the Tory campaign appears determined to win over the remaining 15 per cent.
Reckless decisions over this parliament – the bedroom tax, scrapping the 50p income tax rate, and NHS restructuring – wouldn’t have happened if the Tories had been the Good Right throughout. To use the reported language of Miliband, they are “running out of runway” to turn around the perception before the election that they are “the party of the rich”. Given the Tory leads on economy and leadership, we might wonder what keeps them flat-lining at 30 per cent in the polls and the failure to address this perception is a prime candidate.
What could happen between now and 7 May to eradicate the Tory poll lead on the economy? It’s not hard to imagine scenarios emanating from Greece, the Middle East and Ukraine that have serious negative economic shocks. But would the Tories be blamed? Or the nurse that is held more tightly for fear of something worse?
When looking toward Labour victory, I wrote that George Osborne “overplayed his hand in the Autumn Statement, leaving bombs, unexploded since the 1930s, beneath the Tory campaign”. Have they gone off? Do you discern a widespread anxiety about what Osborne portends for the size and capacities of the state?
If such anxiety were deep enough to overhaul the Tory lead on the economy, we might have expected it to have done so by now. There is an argument – which Uncut has been preeminent in advancing – that if Labour had been clearer about how we’d go far enough on the deficit, the way in which the Tories are going too far would become more apparent and more damaging for them.
Just as the prescriptions of the Good Right arrive too late to salvage the Tory brand in this parliament, it is likely that too little time remains to disassociate Labour with profligacy. Of course, Labour should be diligent not to deepen this negative. All policy must be fully costed. But in respecting these basics, we would be stopping a negative further deteriorating, not building a positive.
While Labour must seek to hold our ground on the economy, the strategic front on which we should seek to advance is leadership.
Labour is heading for a Scottish bloodbath so long as the question is, “who will get the best deal for Scotland?” We need to shift it to, “who do you want to be in charge of the UK?” Miliband must convince Scots that it would be beneficial if it were him, not David Cameron.
Labour’s campaigning has been accused of saying “the Greens are right, vote Labour” and “UKIP are right, vote Labour”, while “the vow plus” – as well as sounding like a Bible belt abstinence campaign – says “the SNP are right, vote Labour”. It holds out more power for Scotland as the way to make Scotland better. This seems a diluted version of the full bodied solution that the SNP stand for. Instead we need to demonstrate that Labour government in Westminster will make Scotland better. Thus, talk of Miliband being saved by his supposed nemesis Jim Murphy is misplaced. It’s Miliband who would be in charge in Westminster, he must show what difference he’d make.
We need to be more confident in our Labour values and call out the erroneous values of the SNP, as well the Greens and UKIP. Labour seems most confident in parading our values in debating with the Tories but we should be less abashed in doing so when squaring off against the Greens, UKIP and the SNP, while being more confident in our capacity to present ourselves as a more competent party of government than the Tories.
Cameron may poll better than Miliband but the Tories polling is weaker than Cameron’s and Labour needs to plant the seed that Cameron will not serve a full term to ensure that Tory polling does not rise to the levels of Cameron’s polling as election-day approaches.
There is not enough time between now and 7 May for the Tories to make a positive of their negative brand and we must fear that time is also against Labour’s prospects for substantially improving our economic polling. But scope for Labour to do better on leadership remains. Upon which our future in Scotland, and therefore, across the UK, may depend.
Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut