Ten hard truths for Labour

Following Tristram Hunt’s call for “a summer of hard truths” Labour Uncut is running a short series laying them out. Here’s Samuel Dale with his top ten.

1. We need to match Tory spending plans in 2020. Ed Balls ran the tightest and impressive spending controls of any major party in modern political history at the last election. No shadow minister made a single unfunded commitment. But it didn’t matter because you don’t build economic credibility through micro-policies. You build it through a strong macro-economic plan. Labour was promising to spend and borrow more than the Tories. It meant the Tories were free to make billions of pounds worth of unfunded tax cuts, NHS spending and rail fare freezes all while being able to claim they are more responsible than Labour. General elections are a zero sum game. You choose one party over the other. Labour will not gain economic credibility unless it matches Tory spending plans.

2. We need our own cuts. Labour needs to be creative about how it would cut spending to pay off the deficit and reduce debt in this parliament too. We can’t wait until 2020 to rebuild our economic credibility. John McTernan has suggested a possible fire and police service merger to modernise the emergency services. Do we need a whole department for culture, media and sport? Can we divide up contents of the business department? How can we join up pension policy across the Treasury and DWP? Labour has to provide a fairer alternative and show that the Tories are making the wrong political choices even within a tough economic environment. It must start as soon as possible.

3. A collection of popular policies is not a platform for government. The far left are fond of the old trope that renationalising the railways is very popular with the public. But a collection of popular policies is not a platform for Government. Ed Miliband had popular policies on non-doms, freezing energy prices, ending the bedroom tax and cutting tuition fees. In 2005 the Tories banged on about popular welfare and immigration policies. But put it all together and the manifestos were less than the sum of their parts. Voters choose Governments from the mood music rather than specifics.

4. Attracting non-voters will not win elections. No matter how many pilgrimages Labour leaders make to Russell Brand or how many voter registration drives we do, it will not change. The old will turn out to vote in far greater numbers than the young and the middle classes far more than the poor. You can not change the electorate over five years by attracting non-voters to vote Labour. It is a pipe dream.

5. The 2015 Tory Budget was a New Labour success. Margaret Thatcher used to boast how her greatest achievement was New Labour. Well, Tony Blair’s greatest achievement is the 2015 summer budget which saw a Tory-only Government embed some of New Labour’s finest achievements into the political furniture from the minimum wage to NHS spending; and foreign aid to pensioner benefits. Tony Blair has changed the Tory party so let’s admit it.

6. Tax avoidance and evasion is here to stay. As Labour-supporting barrister Jolyon Maugham has so expertly explained, the HMRC tax gap shows how much due tax has not been paid. It will never be fully paid and there will always be some leakage without a totalitarian state. It is not a cash cow to raid for spending priorities like Jeremy Corbyn and, to some extent, Liz Kendall with her review of tax reliefs. It’s fool’s gold.

7. Trident isn’t very expensive. Upholding the UK’s nuclear deterrent costs about 5-6% of the defence budget or £2bn to £2.4bn a year. It is projected to stay the same with the Trident replacement. It’s not cheap and it could escalate in theory but whenever you hear numbers like £100bn bandied around then it is the cost spread over decades. Total public spending for 2015/16 is expected to be £760bn and our debts amount to more than £1.5 trillion. Whatever your views on Trident, it is not that expensive and scrapping it will not save much money.

8. Bashing posh boys is bad politics. Britain has an old Etonian prime minister and Mayor of London and both their successors could easily come from the same school. The Chancellor went to St Paul’s, the same school as the leader of the opposition. Labour has to be the party to fight entrenched privilege but not it can not win a class war. Dog whistle politics such as the 2009 Crew and Nantwich by-election where Labour activists wore top hats are counter-productive. As is the more subtle “I’m a northerner” trope from Andy Burnham that pits north against south. Britain doesn’t care where politicians came from, it cares where they’re going. Be yourself and don’t play class war. Inverse snobbery wins no votes.

9. Britain needs as many financial services companies as possible. Labour needs to do its best to keep banks and attract more international finance to London and the rest of the country. Hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of billions in tax receipts depend on it. The Germans would not dream of bashing their car industry so we should not bash hammer our own financial services sector for the sake of it.

10. The media do not decide elections. It’s time to put to bed the myth that the Tory press alter election results. Some newspapers – from the Mirror to the Telegraph – can be ludicrously partisan during election campaigns but they only amplify reality, they can not change it. The Tory fear campaign of a Labour/SNP coalition only gained traction because it was true and legitimate. Partisan press only highlight failures, they are not the cause of them.

Sam Dale is a financial and political journalist

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21 Responses to “Ten hard truths for Labour”

  1. Tafia says:

    More bilge from the dying New Labour and panic-wrought Progress

  2. Madasafish says:

    This article is I am afraid wasted. Most comments will basically rail against it and ignore it..

    After all, any Party which looks like possibly electing as Leader a politician like Jeremy Corbyn is not serious…about anything..

  3. GTE says:

    ” pay off the deficit”

    Dilbert. You can’t pay off a deficit.

    “culture, media and sport? Can we divide up contents of the business department? How can we join up pension policy across the Treasury and DWP?”

    How about reporting how much the state owes? Oh shit, can’t do that. We’d have to explain how a socialist welfare state had ripped people off.

    Correct on point 6. Somewhere over the rainbow is a pot of gold. Just as relevant.

    Correct on 7.

    1.5 trillion is peanuts. Irrelevant. The problem is that socialist pension debt is increasing at 636 bn a year.

    It’s going all Greek.

    Correct on 9.

    On class war, the Tories have grown up. Time for Labour to do the same. Or are you going to blame people for their parents, for example if they are black? What if the Tories make class abuse a human rights issue? That would be funny.

  4. Landless Peasant says:

    You won’t get my vote by emulating our enemy the Tory scum. Bollocks to Austerity.

  5. Mike says:

    Good article. Shame some like Tafia cannot come up with a reasoned critique.

  6. Mike says:

    Landless peasant – you are just raging against the voters of this country. You think all Tories are scum? Why are you in the Labour party. You and Corbyn should be in the Green party – much more left wing and pious.

  7. Will Douglas-Mann says:

    Maybe in 2020 I’ll be one of those who tells canvassers who knock on my door, “There’s no point in voting for any of you, your all the same”

  8. John P Reid says:

    Landless Peasant,what makes you think ,we want your vote

  9. Tafia says:

    Mike Good article. Shame some like Tafia cannot come up with a reasoned critique.

    It’s impossible to critique. The other three candidates are saying little about what they believe in and what they want to do – they spend more time scare-mongering Corbyn running campaigns based on hysteria and negativity.

    You might nit agree with Corbyn, but you know where he stands. The other three – especially Burnham, flip-flop all over the place, come out with endless streams of bingo-speak and say next to nothing of any actual importance.

    The raving frothing loonies aren’t Corbyn – it’s all the rest. Wild-eyed, panic stricken and more pathetic by the day.

    Their rallies are poorly attended. They make no commitments. They say very little of any significance (listen to the LBC podcast – even the presenter eventually had enough of the other three saying little of any relevance and he’s a tory).

    Virtually everyone I know that intends to vote in this is either voting Corbyn or Burnham. Corbyn is almost certainly into the run-offs and sneaking up on the outside to be against him is Cooper. But everyione I know that’s voting Burnham is putting Corbyn as number 2 – not because they like him, but because they despise Kendall and Cooper.

    But it’s all largely academic and irrelevant. Labour will lose in 2020 no matter who wins the leadership. And none of those four will ever be Prime Minister.

  10. Jimmy says:

    I confess I’m uncomfortable with #1 but that is a very well argued piece.

  11. ” Labour will not gain economic credibility unless it matches Tory spending plans”

    Don’t you ever read Stiglitz or Krugman?

    That’s just two Nobel prize winners who would say Tory type spending plans, unless offset by big tax cuts don’t have any credibility at all. Attempts to force a reduction in the deficit willl only deepen the recession.

    Even if you can’t understand what these guys are saying, just look at the real world evidence. Is there any evidence that Tory fiscal policies have the effect of creating growth in the economy?

  12. “pay off the deficit and reduce debt in this parliament too”

    As has been already pointed out you can’t pay off the deficit. Govt can reduce the deficit and it can even turn a deficit into a surplus.

    A surplus would actually reduce the govt’s debt. But we have to remember that Govt’s debt (to the penny) is the non-govts asset. If govt somehow could “pay off” the debt then no-one would have any financial assets in pounds. We’d either be reduced to a barter economy or we’d have to use some other currency.

  13. “We can’t wait until 2020 to rebuild our economic credibility.”

    That’s true but the understanding of economics generally in Britain is woeful. Scientific understanding is much better thanks to the efforts of the BBC.

    For instance the average person has no idea what money really is, where it comes from and why it has a value even though its not linked to gold or any other currency.

    There’s no real appreciation that central government is an issuer of currency rather than a user of currency, like the rest of us, and so different rules apply.

    I’d pack off Chris Leslie onto a re-education course. His knowledge of economic macro-economic theory is lamentable. Whoever made him shadow chancellor? He’d be a total disaster in government.

  14. Greg says:

    Good article but it’s missing a vital point: the Labour Leader has to be Prime Ministerial – and obviously so. Blair was, John Smith was, Kinnock wasn’t and OMG Ed Miliband wasn’t. Of course it’s not an easy quality to pin down, but having an air of authority is important. Does Corbyn have that? No, he most certainly does not. As for the others… hard to say.

  15. Indigo says:

    Labour used AV to select it’s leader, Corbyn is currently in the lead, everyone else is killing themselves to pick up his second preference votes either by saying nothing, or being Corbyn-lite. The electoral system practically guarantees the front runner sets the tone, and the others do their best not to piss off his supporters to gather their second preference votes.

  16. Tafia says:

    If you run a surplus you are effectively taking money of the people and hoarding it.

  17. Tafia,

    Exactly right. Which might be a good idea under certain circumstances. But not right now though.

  18. Landless Peasant says:

    @ John P Reid

    You’re hardly in a position to be turning down votes!

  19. Landless Peasant says:

    Fuck spending cuts. Take the wealth back from the Rich, by force if necessary. By the ballot or by the brick.

  20. Landless Peasant,

    I wouldn’t recommend bricks. If you throw bricks they’ll use guns. So either you have to be prepared to use guns too or stick to the ballot. We’ve seen that cycle of violence in Northern Ireland and I wouldn’t like to see it again on the mainland.

    It’s too soon for that anyway. Let’s stick to peaceful ways and see what can be achieved that way.

  21. Mike Homfray says:

    But this just suggests we become the Tory party.
    It’s wrong on every single point

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