Denis Healy’s droll advice to stop digging when you find yourself in a hole seems lost on the current Labour frontbench. Just when it appeared that the party had officially reached Peak Disaster in May’s general election, it seems there is always more that can be done to frighten away potential voters.
Let’s take just four interventions from last week.
On Wednesday, at Prime Minister’s Questions, acting leader Harriet Harman casually committed the Labour benches to supporting a third runway for Heathrow, the central recommendation of Sir Howard Davies’ long-anticipated Airports Commission.
This is slightly surprising because there is no such commitment in the recent Labour manifesto. Indeed, there has been no discussion in the party about the change in policy. If there had been, it might have been pointed out that without ameliorative measures, a third runway will lock-in, rather than reduce, regional economic imbalances between Greater London and the North and Midlands. But, hey, it was a good line for PMQs.
Next up was Gloria de Piero, the party’s shadow equalities minister. She announced that companies employing more than 250 people (note: not the public sector) will be subject to a new regulation compelling them to undergo an “annual equal pay check” and publish information on the pay gap between their male and female employees in order, it seems, to be publicly shamed for any disparity.
Labour’s charmless offensive with business continues unabated. If there is evidence that employers pay women less for working at the same level as men, in the same organisation, on the same hours, then it’s a simple matter of enforcing the 1970 Equal Pay Act, which has outlawed such practices for the past 45 years.