by Dan Cooke
One thing we learned in the election campaign was that the younger Ed Miliband, while apparently much in demand, was a lousy date who “only wanted to talk about economics”. We also learned something much more serious: the mature Miliband and his advisers were completely wrong to think Labour could win an election without talking about the economy.
The Tory narrative on the economy, before and during the campaign, was so clear and powerful that friend or foe could recite it in their sleep. They had a “long-term economic plan”, that got the economy “back on track” after Labour “crashed the economy” and the “money ran out”. This account of the recent past provided powerful rhetorical support to their forward offer of prosperity for all, including more investment in the NHS than Labour promised.
If this grates with unfairness to many of us, we have to bluntly ask: did our party ever pose a counter-narrative to challenge this one? The frank answer is – at least during the campaign – clearly no. The line to take, when it was put to Labour spokespeople that the Tory plan was working, was apparently to say that the recovery was not felt by all, the proceeds of growth were unevenly distributed or, more abstractly, that the economy was run for the benefit of the rich and not ordinary people.
Unfortunately these were talking points only to avoid talking about what for most people is the central question of economic debate: who can be trusted to deliver growth and jobs. It sounded as though we were saying this did not matter because it was the “wrong growth” and the “wrong jobs”. By building a campaign around issues of how to regulate a successful economy, like banning zero hours contracts, we forfeited the debate on who can be trusted to deliver a successful economy in the first place – in other words the debate that actually decides votes.