The daily barrage from the Guardian, which began on Boxing Day and has continued non-stop for a fortnight, is still continuing. Who’s behind it? Clearly there has been briefing from members of the Shadow Cabinet, perhaps orchestrated by the person whose Policy Network pamphlet set it off, Peter Mandelson. There is also a Blairite majority in the PLP some of whom may well have contributed too.
This is not fundamentally about policy: it’s about trying to weaken the leadership. The idea that it’s necessary to spell out the big cuts that Labour would make is absurd – like getting aboard the Osborne austerity train when it’s about to hit the buffers. Or that it’s necessary to display fiscal masochism in order to regain credibility, rather than point out the crucial fact that Labour never did over-spend; just before the bankers’crash the budget deficit was just 3% of GDP, an average-to-low position in the EU ordering, and it only rose to 11.6% because of the bankers’ bailouts.
There is nothing wrong at all in asserting that at an election in 3½ years time, continued expenditure cutting will have so weakened the economy and diminished growth that the public spending options for a Labour Government would be significantly curtailed. But why is it necessary to say this when it is obvious and nobody disputes it? Why when the public don’t remotely expect an Opposition to start making precise economic commitments so very far from the election? It is much more about seeking to placate a disloyal Bairite rump who are trying to force the leadership into line (their line) and undermine its authority.
This cannot go on. Wanting to keep the party together, wanting to avoid factional splits , wanting a balanced policy with broad appeal – all these are worthy aspirations. But it has to be two-sided. A leader who has been democratically elected is entitled to expect public loyalty and that where any dissent exists, it should be privately discussed, not publicly aired – and certainly not keeping up a barrage of inuendo for weeks on end. A leader is expected to lead, and must do so, enforcing his authority. That moment is now.