Someone somewhere needs to paint a picture

by Peter Watt

Boy oh boy do we need a vision. Let’s face it; our politicians look pretty rubbish at the moment. The Eurozone crisis means that to all intents and purposes, they are not free to act, not free to decide and implement and not free to make meaningful decisions.  Instead they, and we, are all now waiting for – well whatever the end game is in the Eurozone. All plans for growth are effectively just words. Office for budget responsibility forecasts are meaningless and future treasury planning looks pretty much fantastic.  Merkel and Sarkozy’s grand plan to save the Euro didn’t even last six days.

And this enforced paralysis is affecting all of the parties.

George Osborne, for instance, must be dreading his autumn economic statement. What the hell is he supposed to say? “Tax receipts are down, borrowing is up and the economy is stagnating but it would have been worse under Labour”. Well that will have them jumping up and down in excitement in marginal seats across the land. It may be true, or have an element of truth, but it’s hardly the stuff of political legend.

Last week we even saw David Cameron and Nick Clegg emulate a Gordon Brown tactic and re-announce and re-package their £1.4 billion growth fund. That followed hot on the heels of the Cameron “growth summit” at number ten earlier this year, which saw industry leaders gather for a photo shoot with the PM. Another Labour tactic of old.

And this week poor Ed Balls has had to stand up and slag off the government for its poor growth figures. The problem was that in the face of the overwhelmingly bad – no, cataclysmically bad – economic news from overseas, he looked a little churlish. I mean you could argue that the government needs to do more, and you might have a point. But it does all seem a little like spitting in the wind in the face of trillions of pounds of government debt across Europe. If Greece implodes then that is pretty bad – but Italy?   In the current context, and if you were Labour,  it may be best not to overplay your hand. A cut in VAT may or may not be a good thing, but it probably isn’t the magic bullet that will turn around our economy. And no one listening thinks so either.

So we really do need some vision here. What happens when things settle down a bit?What sort of economy do we want? What is the role of the state? Where will the jobs come from? How can we begin to reverse the trend in downward pressure on the incomes of low and middle range earners? What is the balance between employment protection and encouraging employment?

All huge questions which need answering; but politicians, caught in the Euro headlights, are avoiding. What is clear, is that there won’t be as much money and there will certainly be less appetite by the public for government’s to spend it. If ever there was a time to be bold this is surely it. But again all parties are bedevilled by a lack of vision or fear of thinking big.

Now is the not the time for fear.

The government asked Adrian Beecroft, a venture capitalist, to look at business deregulation. He did. And apparently has come up with a series of recommendations for making it easier to employ people. They included a proposal to scrap the unfair dismissal laws, which the government is too scared to publish. Now, I am not going to argue that this would have been the right approach. But at a time of economic crisis, to sit on a blue sky report on business deregulation is bonkers. It could form the basis of an important discussion about the balance between employee protection and making it easier to employ people. They don’t have to accept the report or they could accept bits of it. But no; despite the desperate need for new thinking they are too scared of the reaction and do nothing.

But Labour is barely better. What is our response to the brave new post-recession world? Well we have had calls for a plan B and less predatory capitalism. Both ill-defined and again avoiding the difficult discussion about what a successful Labour government might do if it cannot spend more money.

The problem is that all of this follows the expenses scandal where the pactise of politics and politicians took a severe beating. A public, already sceptical about politics, had their worst fears confirmed: fears that politics is an elitist and self-serving pursuit. Now it seems that on top of all that, it is also pretty meaningless. What is the point of voting for anyone if, in reality, decisions are not in the hands of our elected politicians? If the prime minister and chancellor cannot influence events then who the hell can?

So we need someone somewhere to begin to paint a picture of a better way. It needs to be a vision that we can all understand and aspire to. It needs to be articulated in bold terms and it needs to be brave. In short, it needs to be everything that we are not getting right now.

Peter Watt was general secretary of the Labour party.

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14 Responses to “Someone somewhere needs to paint a picture”

  1. Nick says:

    What’s the problem?

    Well simply you borrowed and spent so much that its tipped. There is no way back without massive cuts, and you won’t face up to that.

    One of the major issues is that you carried on using Bernie Maddoff as the chief accountant. [It’s the same with your parties finances]

    Where is the civil service pension on the government books? It’s not. It’s hidden.

    Likewise with the state pension, the state second pension, PFI (peanuts in comparison), guarantees, nuclear decommissioning.

    So you’ve conned us by hiding all of it off the books.

    That meant you didn’t address the real issues. There were people on benefits in Westminster getting 170,000 pounds a year tax free. On benefits.

  2. Don Gately says:

    you’re right – we need a new vision but we won’t get one until politicians can face some of the unpalatable facts about the current situation

    there won’t be a return to growth, we’ll be lucky to maintain the size of the economy as it stands. Fundamentally there’s been very little growth in the economy for the last 15 years or so with only the dotcom boom and financial bubble really driving growth and that was mainly illusory growth.

    with the former soviet bloc and china moving away from communism and with india and brazil really starting to get their act together then we’re seeing a redistribution of wealth from the affluent north and west to the poor east and south. The workers in those countries want better lives and there are only so many resources available to the planet. The rise in food costs isn’t being driven by recession as much as growing wealth in the BRIC countries is seeing higher consumption of meat which has a knock on effect of cereal costs as demand for animal feed grows.

    Our politicians need to deal with the fact that we’ve had more wealth over the last few hundred years than a country our size should really expect – that wealth came from overseas and that wealth built our industrial capacity. We’re not going to have that pre-eminence again and it’s too late to put those competing nations back into poverty. Our standard of living relied on other workers in other nations having less than us – we’d need about 14 planets worth of resources for all the world’s workers to live at present UK standards.

    this is bad news for labour as any future has to see a decline in standards of living and labour have been a progressive force the other way. Unions particularly have moved to a position of defending existing rights rather than breaking new ground and will act as a point of resistance to this inevitable change. However I believe only Labour can really tackle the real challenge facing us – with a less wealthy nation how do we distribute our wealth more equitably.

    I believe some in the party (not sure they’re part of the leadership team) might be able to engage with this – managing public expectations is going to be key here though and Balls with his futile talk of a plan B to achieve the impossible is certainly not going to help

  3. swatantra says:

    Peter tells it as it is and as the ordinary punter on the street sees it:’

    ‘our politicians look pretty rubbish at the moment. The Eurozone crisis means that to all intents and purposes, they are not free to act, not free to decide and implement and not free to make meaningful decisions’

    There is the nub of it. And at PMQshe only person who raised that point was Alaister Darling, make the rest of the House looklike the novices they are.

    Peter is also right in saying the power has shifted more to the PM , he is no longer first amongst equals; he is in effect becoming more presidential.

    The blue sky thinking report needs to be openly discussed in Labour ranks.

    It took years to break down the closed shop mentallity within industry that stifled innovation and growth. Perhaps the workplace legislation that Labour bravely introduced in its 13 years went a bit too far in the opposite direction and needs to be reviewed. The fact is nothing can ever be set in stone, but sits in the context of the times.
    So Peter is raising some important points that Labour should be addressing on ‘UNCUT’.

  4. Richard says:

    “So we need someone somewhere to begin to paint a picture of a better way. It needs to be a vision that we can all understand and aspire to. It needs to be articulated in bold terms and it needs to be brave. In short, it needs to be everything that we are not getting right now.”

    Take a walk down to St Pauls Peter and spend an afternoon there.

  5. The Future says:

    Ahh but Peter you and others on this site have no intention of giving an alternative. Just endless articles trotting out the same tired clichés with no original thought or ideas. Which is kind of ironic because actual attempts to sketch out a new vision you so desperately want are popping up all over the rest of the Labour movement.

    And it’s a wonder why you end up talking to yourselves – it’s not like Labour Uncut is bulging with comments is it. Maybe if you offered your own positive vision, rather than just carping from the sidelines, people may be a bit more interested in what you had to say.

    But anyway. I couldn’t help but notice this comment.

    “And this week poor Ed Balls has had to stand up and slag off the government for its poor growth figures. The problem was that in the face of the overwhelmingly bad – no, cataclysmically bad – economic news from overseas, he looked a little churlish.”

    It’s hard to know where exactly where to begin with this. For example in 2008 when Lehman’s was going under I doubt you were you thought Osborne for being churlish when he was attacking Brown? In fact, one can’t help but think you were there praising Osborne for being dynamic and attacking Brown for being tired and slow footed.

    One can only presume that this little attack on Ed Balls is sour grapes, especially seen as if you want an example of vision, Ed balls willingness to break the political consensus on the need for cuts is just that. The fact that growth over the last year is 0.5% shows that Ed Balls was exactly right in his summation of the political & economic situation.

    You would think that Labour Uncut would be desperate to shower him with praise. But instead you can’t bring yourself to recognise this simple fact. That Ed Balls was right.

    The other path, the other “vision” for want of a better word that you and others argued for was that we should just agree with the Tories. Agree to the cuts and try and move on from the deficit as a political issue. If we had done that, if we had said, yes you are right and that we too would make these cuts, then yes it would have been disingenuous to criticise them for the UK’s growth rates.

    In refusing to recognise this, it’s not Balls that’s being churlish. But you.

  6. Andy Howell says:



    We could do worse than to start by looking at Compass’s Plan B economy document that was released early this week! Our caution on economic policy is dire!

  7. aragon says:

    You want to discuss Adrian Beecroft’s ideas ?

    We need to strengthen employee protection, Germany actively mitigates against redundancies.

    People are company assets (not owned by the company, but rented), with job specific knowledge that can not be discarded at will (without serious losses to the company and society).

    Not to mention workers interests in ‘Job Security’ or the wider impact on the economy. And if you think there is no money then you misunderstand the nature of money.

    “fears that politics is an elitist and self-serving pursuit. Now it seems that on top of all that, it is also pretty meaningless.”

    This is not news. The current political vision is non-existent, showing a lack of imagination, understanding and original thought.

    You would do well to go with the Compass ‘plan B’, it’s about the best on offer at the moment. But it will not amount to much after the politicians have weakened it, and it is already seriously lacking in some areas.

    Micheal Meacher MP covers some of the issues with the compass ‘Plan B’, but not solutions in his blog.

    We need to go well beyond plan B. Plan F anyone ?

    And someone with the idealism, conviction and perseverance to see it through.

    (Plans V to Z are mine – But I’m not talking).

  8. Ralph Baldwin says:

    For vision you need freedom, for freedom you need democracy. You cannot have complete command and control dictatorships on local authorities and/or in Parliament and expect new ideas to develop and grow.

    It was because we were banned by our own Labour group “Leadership” from performing scrutiny on scrutiny committees, banned from debate, banned from even emailing each other as elected reps that turned me away from the Labour Party.

    The Party polices members in favor of the authoritarian Leaders even when claims made are physically impossible and utterly ridiculous. You sacrifice the hard working campaigner for the most ambitious bully.

    You want blind subservience and loyalty, you got it. And from me Good-bye!

    Independent Councillor Ralph Baldwin BSc (Hons)

  9. Ralph Baldwin says:

    By the way, thats “Goodbye to Labour membership”.

    In future I will still be supporting Labour as a registered supporter but not in Barking and Dagenham due to the Council Leader.

    If it was not for the re-founding Labour element I would no longer be fighting to help Labour during elections, at least this way I can when the candidate is a person of reasonable integrity (they are out there just not many of them).

  10. james says:

    “if it cannot spend more money”

    That’s a big “if” – we have a sovereign currency. We have a central bank which can create new money which could, as monetary policy committee member Adam Posen suggested, establish new for-purpose banks to lend to SMEs at better rates than are currently available. We allow private banks to create most of our money supply for free through loans – which puts paid to the “we can’t borrow our way out of recession” line by a govt seeking to encourage households and firms to do just that. Perhaps we need to think more about financial and monetary reform before we concede to the establishment consensus on “expansionary fiscal contraction”…

  11. swatantra says:

    Big trouble in little Barking.
    If thats the way things are going there should be an official enquiry by the Party Leadership, otherwise its back to square one with the facists returning next time round.

  12. AmberStar says:

    Ed Balls had a clear vision for growth & recovery before the 2010 election. You chaps on the right of the Party shut him down & opted for the Darling “cuts worse than Thatcher” plan. That decision probably cost Labour the election.

    After the election, Ed B tried again… his Bloomburg speech was well received & sketched out a broad vision. He was told to sit down & shut up until he was ready to back ‘The Darling Plan’.

    But use your own vision; look & you’ll see: Ed Balls is our ace. He knows that the voters are afraid of the future & that makes them very wary of big visions sketched out in wide terms. Ed has become a lot smarter, politically, over the past 6 months. It’s been very enjoyable to watch.

    And Ed will spend the next 3 years drip feeding the voters (& you) his big vision so that, when you look back, you’ll wonder how we travelled so far yet barely noticed we were moving at all. Baby steps, that’s how to do it, when voters are filled with fear about what the future will bring.

  13. Ralph Baldwin says:



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