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Labour can see the light, so why won’t it act?

Ed Balls question mark, photo Peter Byrne/PA WireIn the last week Labour has tried valiantly to get across the message that it can be just as tough as the Tories in taking unpopular decisions, but with ingenuity it can be done without causing harm. It is a message that strains credulity, though it has delighted the Blairites. Contrary however to what the latter faction believes, it is not a message that the great majority of the British public has been waiting expectantly to hear.

They see it as the wrong message. And they’re right. The policy the public are looking for is not how far Labour can out-tory the Tories over austerity, but rather a policy of growth and hope for the future. And the public is right too that such a policy is perfectly possible, and that that is what Labour should now be promulgating.

Ed Balls was right to commit to a £10bn capital spending programme particularly directed at social housing construction, which would be good for job creation as well as meeting a large and growing social need, but he queered his pitch by saying he would accept the spending cuts Osborne is going to spell out on 26 June (why give a hostage to fortune when he doesn’t even know what those cuts will be?) and that Labour would end winter fuel payments for better-off pensioners (thus beating the Tories to what they’ve already hinted they were likely to do – is that smart?).

What’s wrong with the latter proposal is that it reinforces the widely held perception that both the main parties are united at hacking back the Welfare State and that there’s now little or no difference between them. What the public is really desperate to hear from Labour is that it will take a stand against at least the worst of the Tory attacks on people’s living standards, e.g. reverse the iniquitous bedroom tax and call a halt to the callous stripping of seriously disabled people of their benefits on the utterly spurious grounds under the Atos farcical assessments that they are fit for work.

What Labour should be trumpeting at every opportunity is that the benefit system is taking hit after hit because Tory economic policy is fundamentally misguided. Its austerity policies inhibit growth and constantly pull down aggregate demand, and when as a result the budget deficit grows instead of falls, that is used as a pretext for another massive round of cuts (another £9.8bn in this year alone). Instead of competing with the Tories over cuts, Labour should be demanding a major public sector investment programme of job creation in infrastructure, housing, and service provision funded, not by any increas in public borrowing, but by taxing the 0.1% super-rich on their £190bn gains since the crash 4 years ago.

One Comment

  1. Chris says:

    “The public” should want Labour to defend welfare, but do they? A lot of people have a narrow-minded and ignorant hostility to benefit claimants. Labour needs to work much harder to change how those people think, otherwise this country is seriously screwed.

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