At last, some Labour pains

by David Talbot

Labour might still easily lose, in 2015, an election it really ought to win. If that is indeed what happens, the reason, as so often with the Labour party, is that it will have operated in the world it so dearly wishes it to be, rather than the cold, rather more sobering, reality.

It will be because it didn’t understand what voters told it in 2010. It will be because unveiling daft posters, available, incidentally, at the not very One Nation price of £35, and talking of the “same old Tories”, lamenting their cuts and their rich friends, is far easier than undertaking a soul-searching examination of why the party was so comprehensively buried in 2010. It will be because it preferred to spend time in the seminar room, talking to nobody but itself, pontificating wildly on the politics of Neverland. This will be, as always, most soothing for the Labour movement. It will have its high-mindedness, and its piety, and it will lose.

The Labour party cannot win in this state of deluded comfort, revelling in the opportunities for moral indignation that austerity affords, whilst simultaneously saying nothing of note to the nation.

If there was a pain-free option, the Labour party would, of course, take it. In this make-believe world of Labour thinking, when, not if, Labour are elected in 2015 the party will have to impose no cuts, spending will be allowed to increase on nice things like the health service, and grateful voters will at last acknowledge they made a dreadful mistake in 2010 by voting for those ghastly Tories. This inability to face the truth is deeply worrying for those, which now include, seemingly, the Labour leadership, who believe the party has spent the past three years either saying the wrong thing or nothing at all.

On the great issues of the day too often there has come has come either silence from the Labour party or scorn from the labour movement. By wallowing in the trough of political invective, the Labour party doesn’t seem to have realised that it long ago lost the argument.

At no stage has there been any sense that the best response is not to get angry, but to get even. With twin speeches last week Miliband and Balls have, at last, grasped this, and initiated the long journey from utopia to realism. It will be difficult, it will be painful and it is a must.

Until the public believe that Labour has taken responsibility for its past and pledged to behave differently in the future, it will not be entrusted come 2015. The party has been repentant on many things since 2010, but never on the economy, partly, one suspects, through sheer bloody-mindedness and partly, no doubt, to the fear that a party of the left might struggle to define its purpose without money to spend.

An age of austerity ushers in the semi-existential threat for Labour of what it means to be when there is no money. Balls, with his talk of “iron discipline” and having to “govern with much less money around” is preparing the way for a very painful entry to government for vast swathes of the Labour party.

Since 2010 the debate amongst the Left has been clear for self-appointed bastions of the labour movement to parade their synthetic anger, burnishing their anti-coalition credentials with dire warnings of a return to the Dickensian-era, and of ministers who cut because they enjoy hurting the poor. The tacit admission from Balls’ speech, though, is that it will now be impossible to avoid setting out, in quite the most excruciating detail, where the Labour axe would fall. There are many painful years ahead and there will be no Labour government if it cannot be imagined as a party that will cut spending.

As the votes come in on May 7 2015, the acceptance or not of what Messrs Miliband and Balls have outlined last week will serve as a reminder of how far the party had fallen by 2010, and how far it still has to climb.

David Talbot is a political consultant

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14 Responses to “At last, some Labour pains”

  1. Nick says:

    Start with the basics.

    The state pensions are unfunded. The ONS put the debts in excess of 5,300 bn. Rising faster than inflation. When you were in power that debt was rising at 734 bn a year.

    Whose pensions are you going to axe just to keep government afloat?

    Or will Labour continue to live in Neverland about the mess?

  2. swatantra says:

    Remember, no gain, without the pain. Labour has to become a more pragmatic Party and deal with the present and current dangers which 3 years of Coalition dithering manipulation and dogmatism have led us into. Lets put the national interest first and not petty Party politics.

  3. aragon says:

    I am glad to see you all support the laser like focus on costs and the benefit cap and the other meaningless propaganda. .

    This is all been offered by the Tories, the laser like focus on costs the iron grip on spending. Ed Balls speech could have been written by George Osbourne.

    Talk about Hobsons’s choice, the only fantasy is that the two Ed’s could run a welk stall.

    Ed Miliband’s speech said nothing of value, (see John Rentoul ). Peter Oborne has Ed Miliband as the invisible man, he is visible, but lacks substance.

    The fact that few people understand macro-economics, including the current chancellor and shadow chancellor does not make demonstrably failed policy of austerity right.

    Like Peter Hitchins, I am “tired of been ruled by thick rich people” although I may not share his solution.

    The IFS has austerity stretching to 2020 (and beyond?), and all the realists on the economy don’t even know what the alternative is, far less than having tried it, and failed. All the economic pragmatists and realists offer is attachment to current dogma.

    Just how long do we cut for in the hope of a still beyond the next decade recovery, or could cutting just be a downward economic spiral.

    The two Ed’s speeches will make no difference in practice and if you want this poison it is already available from multiple sources, including the Tories.

    What the country lacks an alternative!

    What Labour lacks is a leadership with substance.

    Me too politics is unlikely to out Tory the Tories but does agree that the Tories are right!

  4. Felix says:

    “At last, some Labour pains. Me on @LabourUncut on Miliband & Balls moving Labour on from politics of Neverland,” says Talbot on Twitter.

    Not another one that sucks his own cock, say I.

  5. Ex-labour says:

    This assessment is absolutely spot on the money for me. However it is yet more sound bites rather than policy that provides any detail. Until the Eds come clean and say what, where and how much will be cut I’m afraid Labour are still a million miles from where they should be.

    They also trail in areas such as immigration where Ed senior has muttered a few inconsequential words that missed the point and were quickly forgotten.

    The inside info coming out is that spin doctor Graff is all about stating values not policies and that speeches are nuanced to reflect a value without a commitment. Just how far that will get Labour I’m not really sure.

  6. David Talbot says:

    Nick – I think you’ve made that point before..

    Argon – I like that Peter Hitchens quote, haven’t come across that before. With the current lot, he has a point, of course.

    Felix – just what is your problem?

    Ex-Labour – thanks, I agree that is a baby-step, but an important one at that.

  7. BenM says:

    What did voters tell Labour in 2010?

    It certainly wasn’t “the Tories are better for us”.

    The Tories couldn’t win a majority in the most open-goal election of all time.

    Not surprisingly, the electorate doesn’t like financial crises, doesn’t like being thrown out of work, and doesn’t like uncertainty attached to poor economic performance.

    Because Osborne has been focussing on implementing the Tory pet project of slashing the state rather than addressing the issues above, he has now lost any vestige of credibility and respect too – and so have the Tories as a whole.

    Doesn’t mean Labour are going to swan into power in 2015. But also doesn’t mean Labour are way out of touch either. I think Labour needs something to seal the deal, but I can’t see the Tories getting another chance after recklessly blowing away the NHS and education as well as stiffing the economy.

    No way.

  8. Henrik says:

    Could someone tell me how protecting foreign aid, education and health by ringfencing them from cuts constitutes ‘recklessly blowing away the NHS and education’? Just asking, like.

  9. james says:

    @Henrik – it means blowing them away less than Labour would nationally ie look at Labour in Wales

  10. uglyfatbloke says:

    There are things that could be done to help balance the books without causing undue pain and suffering and without being unpopular.
    Setting a limit of 35,000 per annum on all state-sector pensions and a limit of £100000 on retirement gratuities would be good – it’s not as if those pensions are actually paid for by the individuals concerned, they just make a contribution to them,
    Scrap Trident and the FRES armoured vehicle programme – trident is useless and there’s no point in Britain building yet another useless tank.
    Turn lots of universities back into colleges and stop paying principals gigantic salaries.
    Make it a legal obligation that any company which wants to trade in Britain must have its customer services department in Britain.
    Legalise and tax cannabis and reduce our bloated prison population.
    While we’re at it, ban political advisers from getting salaries from the state. If parties want them, parties scan pay for them.
    Move government departments out of London and the South east sop that the offices they occupy can be rented out to businesses that create real jobs and wealth and so that the rest of the country can get a fair crack of the whip.
    End London Weighting for the civil service – it’s more expensive to line in Orkney or Lewis, but you don;t get weighting for those areas.
    If we can’t abolish the monarchy, at least get the expenditure down to a reasonable level and stop wasting he time of the regular army in parades at Buck house etc. The TA could do it perfectly well for a fraction of the cost.
    Introduce fair voting so that parties do not get untrammelled opportuniies to screw things up.

  11. steve says:

    @ uglyfatbloke

    That’s an excellent set of proposals – can’t see our political careerists being too keen though – they’ll get very upset at any prospect of their feather-bedding being reduced or opportunities for corporate hobnobbing diminished.

  12. John Reid says:

    Ben m, nor us in 92′ 1970’1955.

  13. John Reid says:

    Everything David Talbot said

  14. John Reid says:

    My earlier comment about snatching defeat from victory.

    1970-in place strife was broken and not wanting to go to early too the electorate

    1955′ Bevan or Gaitskell should have replaced Attlee aft 1951

    1992′ we were 25 points ahead in 1990′ even after ousting Thqtcher and the Tories lead reducing, if we’d highlighted the recession, Poll tax and NHS reforms we could have got the Lead upto 20 points again,

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