In his post on Labour List, Sunny argues that Labour centrists undermined the message on the economy, by adopting Tory language. I think Sunny is correct in identifying that centrists for the sake of being centrists are a problem. By shifting because of new conservative positions, you lose consistency and start arguing on their terms.
However, I don’t think this is what Alistair Darling was doing during the elections. The Labour argument for reducing the deficit, but not immediately, was clear. That Labour believed this would cause a double dip was also clear. Gordon Brown could not go 2 sentences without mentioning it.
What was misssing were the negative consequences of a double dip. For example, that it would make the recovery longer or more painful. Or perhaps more significantly, that it would cause established, productive businesses going to the wall, which would harm the long term productivity of the economy.
Instead, David Cameron was able to make the facile argument that any business or household know that in times of trouble they have to make cutbacks.
To be fair, the question of reducing the deficit now, versus reducing it later is a genuine policy debate. The coalition would argue that cuts allow it to keep interests rate low and keep the economy going. There is also the argument that continued deficits would cause the bond markets to worry and interest payments to rise. Where it has gone wrong, and where Labour has been negligent in attacking it is the balance between tax rises and budget cuts.
Now one area where Labour did attack the Conservatives was their attitude towards the initial bailout and nationalisations. Here the problem was that Gordon Brown had been the person responsible for managing the economy for the past 13 years. I’m not sure if there was a solution to this. It seems Alistair Darling did an excellent job, but its not clear he would have been a successful leader of the Labour party.
Finally going forward the argument from a Labour perspective seems clear – that the coalition is engaging in an ideological battle against the state. While Labour acknowledges that in the good times there may have been unnecessary spendimg, that’s not what the Tories were targeting. That the coalition is wrong from a policy and a fairness perspective and that the Lib Dems are simply providing window dressing for Tory policies. I don’t necessarily agree with all of that, but I see it as the debate.
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