You really can’t expect to win an election by importing an election guru from abroad – even one as well-proved as David Axelrod who helped win two presidential elections for Obama as his political adviser – unless there is a foundation of strong and resonant policies to inspire voters with in the first place.
At present there isn’t. The 2015 election is clearly going to hinge around austerity. Osborne is going to say that the 2.7% expected growth rate in 2014 shows that he was right all along and that austerity has worked. In fact austerity hasn’t worked at all except to depress the economy.
What has produced this temporary spike is yet another surge in consumer spending, which accounted for 80% of last year’s growth, an incipient housing bubble, and a number of stealth increases in public expenditure which is now some 1.8% higher than it was in 2010. The public’s impression is that Labour is simply following the Tories down the austerity route whilst at least things are now slightly better, however little, under the Tories. So how is David Axelrod going to mobilise Labour’s grassroots, let alone win new converts, against that background?
What Labour should be saying is that Osborne’s austerity is still dragging the country down and will continue to do so even more with the further big spending cuts he’s promised to implement after the election, and that the temporary upturn won’t last because it hasn’t got legs (growth is expected to fall back to 2.2% in 2015 and 2% in 2016), it’s based on all the wrong factors, and the estimated figures for business investment and the balance of payments are truly awful.
What Labour would do therefore is to break away from Osborne’s obsession with austerity and use public investment (and a lower exchange rate) to expand the economy on a sustainable basis and create a million jobs within 2 years. If Axelrod had that message to build on, he might just succeed in getting a genuine grassroots revival going in a big way.
As Axelrod himself has said: “You work by mobilising people in local communities who understand they have a stake in this and their economic future is on the ballot paper”. So where the policies on the alternative to austerity, job creation, restoration of a genuine NHS, a social security system grounded in a commitment to full employment, and fair conditions at work and a positive role for the unions in the economic and social life of the country? Let’s get that right first and then Axelrod may be able to show his mettle.