Ahead of Labour’s conference, interventions by Polly Toynbee and Ed Balls today offer confused and dangerous strategies if Labour is planning to win in 2015.
To do so, it must challenge both parties of government on their economic record and, having done so, be confident in breaking the austerity consensus and offering an alternative vision.
Polly Toynbee’s faith in the Lib Dems and lack of it in Labour is confused, perhaps wilfully so. That faith would surely not exist if she were experiencing the cuts the Lib Dems were imposing, while her inability to see Labour breakthrough is more credible, if based on the messaging we have seen from Ed Balls today.
In seeking to see the best in individual Liberal Democrat members, Toynbee remains blind to their demonstration of support for their current leadership and the government’s economic strategy. Whilst she urges them to relegate their Orange Bookers and Osborne’s ‘calamitous economic policy’, there was no sign they were prepared to do so in Brighton last week.
But Toynbee also displays a lack of vision for the future of British politics if she thinks Labour must nuance it’s messaging around potential hung parliament situations and the backroom deals they require.
Without any illusions in what results it might bring in a real election, Labour’s poll lead is on an upward trajectory. It currently averages 10%, where is has been – or even higher – in 17 of the last 25 polls. And that is before it has offered much in the way of policy detail.
Labour’s poll lead is based largely on a drift back to Labour from those who had left it for the Lib Dems over the past ten years, but who are disillusioned with that party’s hook-up with the Tories. These are people who do cast their vote and are prepared to vote tactically. What Labour has yet to do is carry out the admittedly difficult task of inspiring and mobilising the disillusioned former-Labour voters, who can only see the austerity consensus amongst the main parties.
Millions who voted for Labour in 1997 simply don’t vote any more. The majority on reaching the age of 18, don’t exercise their first opportunity to vote. Changing this is the task.
Toynbee looks back to the unique circumstances of the last election where coalition negotiations were necessary. When the results are in next time, negotiate if necessary, but to anticipate a hung parliament shows a paucity of ambition. She is effectively writing off Labour and Ed Miliband’s ability to win the election.
But if it wants to win Labour’s response on the economy is key and Ed Balls intervention today is worrying. If Labour cannot break with the austerity consensus and offer something different, when all evidence shows the cuts are destroying the economy, then the poll lead could shrink again.
The messaging on zero-based budgeting sounds like a recipe for further cuts. The suggestion that private firms could be brought into run public services after so many outsourcing scandals is without sense. The idea the public want Labour to prove how ‘ruthless’ it is with spending, when the Tories are doing such a good job, is not credible.
We must present a vision, where stimulus and investment leads to new life opportunities to those being ground down by welfare cuts, unemployment cuts and lost education opportunities. We cannot just be seen as the least-worst option, as many believe we came to present ourselves in 2005 and 2010 – we must inspire voters once again.
This article was forst published iJoin Next Generation Labour’s fringe meeting: Labour Policies for a Labour Government with Owen Jones, Seumas Milne, Jon Trickett MP, Tom Copley AM, Cllr Alice Perry, Shelly Asquith, Kate Osamor and Calum Sherwood at Rain Bar, Great Bridgewater St, 6.30pm on Tuesday 2nd October. More details on facebook.