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The Blairites are wrong about the deficit

caroline flintIt’s always good to know that the Blairites are worried because it normally means that Ed has taken another step which will help win the next election. And so it is this time again, with Ed promoting proposals to stop exorbitant rent rises and looking to end some of the privatised rail franchises. In response Caroline Flint, dubbed the leading Blairite in the shadow cabinet after some others have been demoted, has taken to the media  so as publicly to announce her disquiet and arguing that:

  1. Labour’s commitment must be to bring the deficit under control;
  2. Markets should be subjected to the test of ‘transparency and openness and fairness’; and
  3. It is wrong to pursue a so-called 35% strategy in which Labour aims to win 35% of the vote, implicitly accepting that large tracts of Conservative voters are not going to be converted.

All three of these contentions are misguided and wrong.

Of course it is right to bring the deficit under control, but continuing deep cuts and prolonged austerity are the wrong ways to do it. Between 2011-2013 Osborne though spending and benefit cuts of some £40bn reduced the budget deficit by the princely sum of £7bn (£118bn down to £111bn), yet if the economy achieves 3% growth in this next year (admittedly a big IF) the deficit will be cut by £45bn.  Which route is better?  It’s a no-brainer, but the reason the Blairites don’t like it is that they support Osborne’s objectives to shrink the State and to squeeze out the public sector.  So when is Labour going to declare full-heartedly that it supports a powerful growth policy and not further austerity?

Of course markets should be transparent, open and fair, but under present conditions of financialised capitalism the oligarchic companies that control present-day markets use their power to ensure that they are anything but. These are not the public-minded providers of services, but the hard-boiled purveyors focused on extracting whatever they can from the public purse (G4S, Serco, Capita, A4E, Atos, among others). To appeal for transparency, openness and fairness is like praying for a sinless world at a vicar’s tea party. The issue here is not begging for a wish fulfilment, but altering the power balance between State and markets to ensure that the spivs and racketeers are effectively brought into line in accordance with the demands of democracy.

When did Ed Miliband or anyone else in the leadership say that Labour was pursuing a 35% policy? Of course we should go after every vote we can get, but that means not so much trying to convert Tory voters in the south by adopting 90% of Tory ideology as Blair did, but rather presenting a programme that will win back the 2-3 million Labour voters who are threatening to jump ship to UKIP or feel that Labour no longer really represents them.

Image credit: detail of picture by Policy Network at Flickr  CC BY 2.0 

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