If we are all Labour Uncutters now, let’s do this properly

by Jonathan Todd

We are all in the black Labourites now, Labour Uncutters and proud. It was In the Black Labour published by Policy Network in 2011 that reminded us that fiscal prudence and social justice are complementary. It was Labour Uncut at conference in 2013 who provided detail in our book on how this might be done, how £34bn of additional savings in 2015/16 could be reallocated to Labour priorities.

Both publications were contentious. They – at least In the Black Labour – are now orthodoxy. Higher debt interest payments, Ed Miliband noted in his speech last week, as In the Black Labour did previously, squeeze out money for public services and for investment in the long-term potential of our country. Following the Miliband speech, Phil Collins observed in the Times that the difference between an old Brownite and an old Blairite is about three years. The dates of Miliband’s speech and In the Black Labour prove him right to the week.

The headline used by Collins’ paper to report the speech – I’ll cut deficit but won’t reveal how, says Miliband – showed, however, that Miliband is yet to go as far as Labour Uncut has gone. In isolating additional cuts we’d support, Labour Uncut created resources to apply to different priorities. In the spirit of Mad Men’s Don Draper, we didn’t like what was being said about Labour (that the party can’t be trusted with public money), so we changed the conversation (by fronting up to enough cuts to create fiscal room for a set of policy priorities distinctly Labour and different from those of the Tory-led government).

Miliband didn’t do the full Draper. Maybe he got as far as a Pete Campbell, another Mad Men character. Moving in the right direction but lacking Draper’s uncompromising edge. Yet Miliband doesn’t need to that audacious to remake himself in Draper form. Carl Emmerson, deputy director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, reckons he has a £50bn target to shoot at. That’s the fiscal room between Conservative plans and Labour’s commitment to balance current spending by 2020.

£50bn is ample to signpost a Labour future. But voters won’t reward what you promise if they conclude you won’t deliver it. The £50bn can play the role played by house building and childcare within the Labour Uncut book; the altered priorities made affordable by identifying sufficient cuts. The political gain that attaches to this £50bn, however, is conditional on demonstrating how we’d balance current spending by 2020.

The lack of detail in Miliband’s speech was rapidly exposed in the Q&A. He couldn’t say what mix of tax rises and spending cuts his fiscal consolidation would entail. As I recall, the Darling Plan that Labour advanced in government contained a mix of 80 per cent cuts and 20 per cent tax rises. The leadership contest that Miliband won four and a half years ago featured debate on whether this is the optimal ratio. In spite of the intervening period being adequate for Miliband to have written a PhD on the subject, he couldn’t now say anything on this ratio. Nor on the size of the state that he seeks as a percentage of GDP. He could tell us that the 35 per cent that George Osborne pursues risks great damage. While being to me a highly plausible claim, it also appears an argument more likely to be widely believed if Miliband could articulate how big he thinks the state ought to be.

If Labour Uncut can identify £34bn of additional cuts, quite literally as we get drunk, surely Miliband can fill in such details?

Miliband also hesitated during the Q&A to confirm that he will borrow to invest, even though this is implicit in his headline current spending commitment. Labour is right to distinguish capital from current spending, as I argued in November’s Progress magazine. I also argue in this article that “it is cutting Labour, not Tory, pet projects that most strongly demonstrates toughness”. When pushed to identify cuts we’d support, Labour spokespeople talk about limiting free schools and scrapping PCCs. People want it confirmed that Labour won’t duck the difficult decisions required to balance current spending by 2020, not affirmation of their presumption that we’ll oppose Tory policy.

Atul Hatwal recently described “four groups within Labour today: what used to be called the Blairite, New Labour right, the traditional right clustered around Ed Balls, the soft left which is Ed Miliband’s core constituency and the hard left which is organised around Unite”. The first two of these groups have wanted something akin to Miliband’s speech since before In the Black Labour, while Miliband should carry the soft left with him in his fiscally prudent direction. Only the hard left demur.

This direction demands further candour. Miliband needs to answer the kind of questions that he couldn’t in the Q&A to turn the focus back on to Osborne and what will be forsaken by the £50bn difference between Labour and the Tories. This detail will make the hard left angrier still but is the price of retaking the political centre and reaping the benefit of completing the journey Miliband’s speech began.

If we are all Labour Uncutters now, let’s do this properly. Give us Don Miliband.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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9 Responses to “If we are all Labour Uncutters now, let’s do this properly”

  1. swatantra says:

    It would be great to see Atul and Petes resumption of their potted History of the Labour Movement. I think their epic sort of stopped around 1945. Because it is the post 1945 era that very much reflects Modern Times ie a Rebuilding of Britain from the desolate landscape of the previous 3 decades. Its a similar scenario of a New Deal and New Thinking about the State and the services we deliver. And we have that threat also of an invisable enemy within, this time religious bigotry waiting to tear the State apart, for a better life in Paradise, rather like the Cold War thing. If Atlee Bevin and Morrison dropped in from the past to the way we live now they would be shocked at the waste the lack of purpose and immorality of society in general.
    I think its time to bury Blair and not praise him, don’t you.

  2. Madasafish says:

    “Miliband also hesitated during the Q&A to confirm that he will borrow to invest,..”

    Unfortunately Gordon Brown said almost exactly the same..

    .”we have more than doubled investment in education” 2006 Budget http://tinyurl.com/lc9jqc3

    and suprisingly the same budget promised to increase new housing build to 190,000 a year.

    And guess what? The education spend resulted in a decline in standards measured internationally and the houses were — never built.

    So promising to borrow to invest has a sorry resonance of past broken promises and lies associated with Labour Leaders and Chancellors.

    People think political leaders are liars and charlatans. I see no evidence based on the past performance of Labour and Conservatives to dissuade me that view is wrong.

  3. aragon says:

    Ed Balls has been ib your camp from the start!

    Nailing Ed Milidand down is like nailing Blancmange,

    But the centre ground you wish to occupy is becoming a swamp and the graveyard of the political elite,

    The only paragraph is agree with in this article is as follows:


    “Anyway, as I say, all this is a sideshow. The real problem is not Brand (or Farage) it’s a political class which serves only a small percentage of our population. It’s spineless, useless leaders. It’s a huge chunk of the electorate which has become disengaged and angry and started to look for leaders outside the establishment.
    It’s the kind of worrying political atmosphere we had in the 1930s. And unless our leaders grow a pair and get a clue, they’re going to see more Brands, not less.”

  4. Landless Peasant says:

    A future Government, whether Labour or Tory, may well be obliged, hopefully forced, to increase State Benefit payments to the correct legal amount by the Council of Europe, who are now in the process of taking the British Government to Court for breaking the law. So the ‘Welfare’ budget will have to be waaaay higher than the paltry sum it is now, probably almost double. Forcing people into deep poverty by policy is plain wrong on every level. No one, but no one, can possibly adequately live on just £68 per week JSA as I am forced to do now. Yes I have a computer, an old one I had given, and I use my neighbour’s internet connection, and have to have internet in order to fulfill the increasingly draconian demands of das DWP in order to continue claiming the Benefits to which I am already Rightfully entitled. In short, your figures will be miles out as they are based upon a system that has been, and still is, operating illegally!

  5. Michael Worcester says:

    Gordon said ‘fiscal prudence’ almost as much as ‘end to boom and bust’. It is not a good opener if you are trying to get the publics confidence in Labours economic competence

  6. Tafia says:

    Landless Peasant – Council of Europe rulings on the Social Charter are not legally binding. The Social Charter is not law – merely advisory /an ambition, a sxet of targets to work towards and countries are free to interpret it as they wish and proceed at their own pace.

    Of the 47 countries signed up to the Social Charter, 38 (including the UK and virtually all of the ‘top flight’ countries) are not proceeding at a speed the CoE would like, but it can’t actually make them. Germany for instance won’t pay benefits to under 25s still living at the family home, Spain, Portugal , Italy and others only pay benefits for a set time frame ranging from as little as 6 months up to 2 years – some will only pay benefits to their own nationals. One allocates jobs to the unemployed and if you refuse or get sacked you get nothing.

    None of them are doing anything illegal and the CoE can’t interfere as it doesn’t actually have any power of sanction in this area – merely produce a weighty tome for you to read with plenty pf graphs which you, as an EU citizen, have paid for (along with their expenses). The CoE claims that it’s findings are legally binding, but not one member state supports that position, nor do the Council of Ministers and the MEPs would never vote it through the European Parliament because their national parties will instruct them not to. Neither Tory, LibDem, Labour or UKIP support the position of it being binding.

    The report (which you have paid for and which I am sure you think is value for money) can be read here:-


  7. BenM says:

    The budget won’t be balanced by this government, nor the Tories if they win (looking less and less likely after today’s ICM Poll) nor the next Labour government.

    In the Black Labour is as economically illiterate as the first day it was posited.

    Most people want decent public services, properly funded, by chasing and closing down tax loopholes first and foremost.

    The budget deficit they don’t really give a hoot about, and really only acknowledge it because politicians – mainly rightwing ones with a vested interest in doing so – tell them they should.

  8. Landless Peasant says:

    @ Tafia

    “The Council of Europe, which has 47 member states, said the conclusions were legally binding in the same way that judgments relating to the European convention on human rights had to be applied by member states.”


    The British people are being short-changed if not outright robbed.

  9. Tafia says:

    Landless, “The Council of Europe, which has 47 member states, said the conclusions were legally binding in the same way that judgments relating to the European convention on human rights had to be applied by member states.”

    As I said, that is merely the CoE opinion.

    The 47 signatories do not accept it as legally binding and as a result there is absolutely nothing the CoE can do to enforce it’s belief. Nothing at all. Not even an £80 fixed penalty notice.

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