Labour needs a clear, distinctive, and credible economic message

by Jonathan Todd

More people than not think that Keir Starmer looks like a prime minister in waiting (38% versus 34% in a YouGov poll conducted in early July), while more than twice as many think Labour is not ready for government than think Labour is (54% versus 23% in the same poll).

Other polling reveals that voters now think that Starmer would make a better prime minister than Boris Johnson.

Yet Labour trail the Tories by somewhere between 6 and 10 points on voting intention – with Survation putting it at the lower end of that range, Kantar being at the higher end, and Opinium in-between.

These deficits cannot be explained in terms of Starmer. It is the rest of the party that holds us back.

“Labour is under new management,” said Starmer at PMQs. Where Labour previously made commitments that voters struggled to believe, Labour now needs credible answers. Yet big enough to meet the UK’s challenges.

These do not come any bigger than the economy. The number of people aged 18-24 claiming Universal Credit or Jobseeker’s Allowance doubled in the last three months. Unfortunately, with furlough ending, demand not recovered to pre-Covid levels, and the risk of a second wave, our economic struggles are likely to persist.

With respondents being allowed to tick up three options, YouGov asked: Which of the following do you think are the most important issues facing the country at this time?

Health and the economy came joint top on 57%. Far ahead of the next most important issues: Britain leaving the EU (43%); the environment (24%).

It is noteworthy that over four-in-ten of the public do not see Brexit as “oven ready” and unsurprising that health is a concern amid a global pandemic – which will further rise if there is a second wave. But, as we learn more about Covid-19, improve our systems for containing it, and advance towards a vaccine, the economy will likely usurp health as the public’s biggest worry.

At the moment, very slightly more people think the government is handling the economy well than badly (very well or fairly well at 44% versus very badly or fairly badly at 43% – via YouGov).

While the government’s economic management is fronted by Rishi Sunak, widely considered popular and impressive, he is sailing into some significant headwinds. In the immediate term, due to Covid-19. From 1 January 2021, increased barriers to trade with our largest export markets.

These headwinds may be strong enough to blow the government off course. But Labour cannot wait and hope to win the economic argument by default.

Labour needs a clear, distinctive, and credible economic message. This must be pro-business but not business-as-usual. With a $2tn green energy plan to bring carbon-free electricity in the US by 2035, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden thinks he has this. In a way likely to impress the quarter of UK voters that see the environment as the most important issue facing the UK.

It may be that putting flesh on the bones of Labour’s Green New Deal can provide Labour’s economic message. However, while Green New Deal commitments differentiate Biden from President Trump, the Conservatives remain at least nominally committed to responding to climate change and are keen to utilise public investment to drive economic recovery.

Cumbria provides a window on what this might entail: tidal power installations across Morecambe Bay and the Duddon Estuary with dual carriageways on those barrages – a project backed by the newly elected Tory MP for Barrow and Furness from his maiden speech onwards; new nuclear and hydrogen plants in west Cumbria – likely to be backed by all 5 Tory MPs in the county.

Not so long ago, 4 out of 6 MPs in Cumbria were Labour. Now none are. “What,” Cumbrians might ask in 2024, “did the Tories ever do for us?” Tidal power, dual carriageways, and new nuclear and hydrogen plants would be a decent answer.

While the extent to which they economically compensate for the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit remains to be seen, these would be symbolic investments and limit the extent to which Labour Green New Deal promises are distinct.

If the government were to deliver similar investments across the country, they would form their case for re-election. For a government that so struggled with PPE, testing and tracing, such a feat of delivery may be too much. But it would be complacent for Labour to assume this.

Labour now benefits from a leader that looks like a prime minister. He needs to be backed with a winning economic case – which takes account of how government policy is likely to develop.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut   


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11 Responses to “Labour needs a clear, distinctive, and credible economic message”

  1. richard mackinnon says:

    Your right, Starmer is impressive but the rest of the shadow front bench is just not credible. The old faces look tired. Ashworth, Gardiner, they reek of failure. What sort of vexation will Corbyn, Abbott and McDonnell heap upon the new leader?
    I just cannot see how Starmer can turn the LP into a credible political party that can win back in the north, in Wales and in Scotland.
    Scotland is lost. Next year at the Scottish elections Labour will be wiped out. Labour has one MP. Not so long ago Labour sent 50 MPs to Westminster. I cannot see how Starmer can turn that around.
    ‘Credible economic message’? that’s a tall order in todays Great Britain.
    Starmer has a job on his hands.
    Here is what I think may be on his mind. He is good especially when up against Johnson. I think if this continues and it will the Tory party will sacrifice BJ in the winter. A new PM be elected and if the virus and the economy and Brexit become a tsunami of disaster then Starmer will be asked to help in a unity government. In other words Starmer will become a one man party.

  2. anosrep says:

    “These deficits cannot be explained in terms of Starmer.”

    Yes they can, and very simply: so far he has not merely failed but not even tried to develop the “clear, distinctive, and credible economic message” that you rightly say Labour needs. Anneliese Dodds and Ed Miliband made a start, but every time they propose a sensible policy Starmer’s spokesperson (rarely Starmer himself, not brave enough) disavows it.

  3. Tafia says:

    People do not trust you over the EU. They do not believe that should you win in 2024, you will not attempt to takes back in, not even just in the Customs Union. Until Starmer spells out crstal clear that that will not happen, you can forget any laughable idea of winning.

    And that’s before we get the the gender garbage, the utterly disgraceful hotos of him ‘taking the knee’, PC clap-trap, identity rubbish and other trendy-lefty nonsense. It might go down well with the weirdies and other trendy-lefty metropolitan halfwits, but out in suburbia, where you need to win, it’s largely regarded as vomit inducing.

  4. Tafia says:

    And you mention polling.

    The Tories are pulling away again after having a poor June ( poor as it was, Labour never got above them). Polling so far for July gives them a 6.5% lead over Labour, which because of FPTP and the fact that Labour are under 40, the Tories over 40 and the SNP masters of all they survey notyh of the border, would translate to a 25-30 seat majority for blue. The polling for July has a Tory ave of 43.5% compared to Labour’s 37.0%. Not once, at all, have the Tories dropped below 41% despite floods, Patel bullying allegations, Covid. Labour have only managed to get out of the thirties once, in the first week of June, when they managed 40% (for purists they didnt. Tbey got something lime 39.8 which was rounded up to 40.)

    For those interested, polls so far for July are as follows:-
    Redfield & Wilton, 01 Jul
    Con: 42%
    Lab: 38%
    LDem: 8%
    Grn: 5%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 7%

    Opinium, 01-03 Jul
    Con: 41%
    Lab: 37%
    LDem: 8%
    Grn: 4%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 10%

    Survation, 03-06 Jul
    Con: 44%
    Lab: 37%
    LDem: 7%
    Grn: 4%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 8%

    Redfield & Wilton, 08 Jul
    Con: 44%
    Lab: 39%
    LDem: 7%
    Grn: 4%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 6%

    YouGov, 08-09 Jul
    Con: 46%
    Lab: 36%
    LDem: 6%
    Grn: 3%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 9%

    DeltaPoll, 09-10 Jul
    Con: 44%
    Lab: 38%
    LDem: 7%
    Grn: 3%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 8%

    Opinium, 09-10 Jul
    Con: 42%
    Lab: 38%
    LDem: 6%
    Grn: 4%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 10%

    Survation, 10-12 Jul
    Con: 42%
    Lab: 36%
    LDem: 8%
    Grn: 5%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 9%

    Kantar, 11-13 Jul
    Con: 45%
    Lab: 35%
    LDem: 9%
    Grn: 2%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 9%

    Redfield & Wilton, 15 Jul
    Con: 44%
    Lab: 37%
    LDem: 8%
    Grn: 4%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 7%

    Opinium, 15-17 Jul
    Con: 44%
    Lab: 36%
    LDem: 6%
    Grn: 4%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 10%

    SavantaComres, 17-19 Jul
    Con: 43%
    Lab: 37%
    LDem: 6%
    Grn: 2%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 12%

    Redfield & Wilton, 22 Jul
    Con: 44%
    Lab: 36%
    LDem: 8%
    Grn: 5%
    Oth/DK/WNV: 7%

  5. Tafia says:

    /cont. Scotland remains a major problem for Labour, where the SNP by it’s dominance are basically a flank guard for Tory dominance nationally. Specific Scotland only polling is infrequent but revealing. There is no joy or hope in Scotland as far as Labour’s electoral ambitions are concerned. Labour voters dont seem to grasp that the SNP are not interested in deposing the tories – they only have one aim; independence. It suits Scotland to have the Tories in power in Westminster as they can use them as bogeymen to maintain there own support, and it suits the Tories to keep Scotland in a cage and poke them every now and then to keep them enraged.

    YouGov, 01 May, Scotland Only
    Westminster
    Scot: SNP 51%, SCon 25%, SLab 15%, SLD 6%, SGP 2%, Oth 1%
    Holyrood Const/List
    Scot: SNP 54/45%, SCon 23/23%, SLab 12/12%, SLD 8/7%, SGP 2/8%, Oth 1/5%

    PanelBase, 01-05 May, Scotland Only
    (Westminster Election)
    SNP: 50%, SCon: 26%, SLab: 17%, SLD: 5%, SGP: 2%, Oth: 1%

    Panelbase, 01-05 Jun, Scotland Only
    IndyRef2
    Yes: 48%, No: 46%
    Westminster
    SNP: 45%, SCon: 18%, SLab: 16%, SLDem: 5%, SGrn: 2%, Oth: 13%
    Holyrood Const/List
    SNP: 47/43%, SCon: 19/17%, SLab: 14/14%, SLDem: 6/7%, SGrn: 3/6%, Oth:11/13%
    (**16/17 year olds can now vote in Holyrood elections and the sample is adjusted to contain a representative sample of those ages for the Holyrood figures)

    Panelbase, 30 Jun-03 Jul Scotland Only
    IndyRef2
    Yes: 50%, No: 43%
    Westminster
    SNP: 53%, SCon: 21%, SLab: 19%, SLDem: 6%, Oth: 2%
    Holyrood Const/List (**)
    SNP: 49/44%, SCon: 18/16%, SLab: 14/14%, SLDem: 6/5%, SGrn: 2/8%, Oth:11/13%
    (**16/17 year olds can now vote in Holyrood elections and the sample is adjusted to contain a representative sample of those ages for the Holyrood figures)

  6. Dave Roberts says:

    All good until the last paragraph. There is no need, with the majority they have, for the Tories to enter into an arrangement with Labour. If things don’t turn around then Johnson will step down on health grounds and Sunak will be PM. I totally agree that Labour both on the front bench and the back Labour are lacking in talent.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Agree with all comments here
    Didn’t respond myself as the parties not listening
    Paul embery has a good book out in September if anyone’s interested

  8. Dave Roberts says:

    I have just looked at the reviews of the Embery book and it looks like a must have read. Let’s hope it kicks off a debate. I can already imagine what the increasingly mad Guardian is going to say about it.

  9. Yes, Labour needs a clear economic message, but the pandemic has changed the game for the right wing of the party. Tinkering around the edges of the present system can no longer be the answer. Radical policies are needed.

    We seem to be headed towards a period of high unemployment and a continuation of wage stagnation. The pandemic is showing that ‘small government’ doesn’t work. The mid-March u-turn by the Johnson government needed to borrow policies out of both Gordon Brown’s reaction to the 2008 financial crisis and John McDonnell’s 2019 economic plans.

    The Labour front bench doesn’t really look capable of coming up with very much. They haven’t showed much in the past and they aren’t now. What are they going to propose to alleviate high unemployment, low productivity and stagnant standard of living? Yet things have changed. So many office wirkers showing that working from home is not impossible. I am hearing stories of more getting done without long commutes.

    The other choice is our party supporting austerity again. Do you really want that? Let’s try and come up with some policies to help our leaders shortage of ideas. I will start with a four day week with a reduction in hours worked. I think the numbers showed we do as a nation work more hours than most other European countries. It could actually lead to productivity improvements.

  10. A.J. says:

    I twigged back in 1985 that one or two of the members of my local branch were fruitcakes when they behaved as if the deregulation of buses would amount to some kind of Armageddon. Same with the introduction of wheelie-bins. Political correctness hadn’t then been given a name; it existed nonetheless. Then there was the wheeling and dealing, the back-scratching, the passing of notes under the table at meetings, the innate snobbery.
    I would suggest that Labour has a bad track record going back to the early Fabian types (who at least had benefited from some kind of broad education) and that a bad situation is clearly going to get worse.
    I’m still staggered that certain seats – Bolsover, for example – turned blue, but the signs were clear for all to see with the loss of the area around Clay Cross.
    Now – and many of you won’t like this – Tories often tend to stick and hang together – and with little class consciousness involved. They’ll get themselves onto council estates and risk abuse – but they’ll have a go.

  11. A.J. says:

    More hours than, say, the Germans?

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