Since the same argument is raging on the other side of the Atlantic, I’ll let Chris Hayes of the Nation mag make my point for me:
The conversation—if it can be called that—about deficits recalls the national conversation about war in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. From one day to the next, what was once accepted by the establishment as tolerable—Saddam Hussein—became intolerable, a crisis of such pressing urgency that “serious people” were required to present their ideas about how to deal with it. Once the burden of proof shifted from those who favored war to those who opposed it, the argument was lost.
We are poised on the same tipping point with regard to the debt. Amid official unemployment of 9.5 percent and a global contraction, we shouldn’t even be talking about deficits in the short run. Yet these days, entrance into the club of the “serious” requires not a plan for reducing unemployment but a plan to do battle with the invisible and as yet unmaterialized international bond traders preparing an attack on the dollar.
Now, I’m realistic enough to know that the argument over the deficit has already been lost on one level here. The Labour party had no clear message during the election and they let the Tories define the argument for them. Near to the election pretty much everyone was fretting about the deficit and the debt, even Labourites. When your political enemies have forced you on their turf you’ve already lost.
I’m saying this partly in response to the astute Hopi Sen, who still reckons Labour should spend all its time drawing up some deficit reduction plan, as if that will somehow revive their electoral fortunes.
It won’t. The Tories will simply carry on claiming that Labour are playing ‘class war’ by planning to raise taxes and they’ll carry on cutting while saying that even Labour have now started to acknowledge the depths of their own incompetence.
The election is five full years away. Now is not the time to start preparing for government – now is the time to put the Coalition on the defensive and tell voters they are destroying their local communities. Very simple message: you just repeat it continuously. The Cuts Won’t Work. The only time this Coalition has looked shaky over the last few weeks is when Ed Balls repeatedly slammed Michael Gove and when Tom Watson called him a “miserable pipsqueak”. That’s the only time we saw fear in their eyes. You think they’ll be fearful if the Milibands spell out vague ideas that will be obsolete in a year’s time?
And even then, they’ll be trying to carve out very minor difference between the Tories using broad phrases like ‘we’re for fairness and equality and job growth’ – the Tories have already pre-empted that by calling their budget ‘progressive’. It’s bizarre that Hopi, John Rentoul and David Miliband et al believe that if they lay out some of these broad principles that somehow the debate will move on to their territory and they’ll grab the initiative back from the Tories. That intense jostling for space in the centre will do nothing to make Labour stand out at all.
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