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Nothing stands between Labour and election victory except its own timidity

Timid Ed lookalikeA sad tale of ambivalence and timidity across a range of policies

This coming Monday the remaining stages of the Infrastructure Bill will be taken in Parliament, including votes on the launch of fracking in this country. Cameron and Osborne have declared they are both ‘gung-ho’ to develop this technology to the fullest degree as fast as possible, though the resistance at Balcombe in East Sussex and Lancashire where the county council has refused drilling consent to Cuadrilla suggests that grass roots opposition may be a lot stronger than the Tories have reckoned for, including in hitherto true-blue areas.

The Labour Party’s response has been to draw up 14 new regulations – all of them perfectly reasonable in their own right – before fracking can be permitted to go ahead. Sadly however what a majority in the country are looking to Labour for is not a tweaking of the conditions on which fracking should then be allowed to proceed, but simply a clear unambiguous verdict rejecting it. The reasons to do so are overwhelming: it will aggravate climate change, there are clear environmental risks from experience elsewhere, it will prolong the life of fossil fuels when what we should be doing is accelerating their substitution by renewable energy.

That’s not the only area where Labour is showing ambivalence and timidity. The recent vote in the Commons, on an SNP motion, calling for the non-renewal of Trident brought out the same response. Labour recognises, and is sympathetic to, the downsides of continuing with Trident – the £130bn cost over a 50-year period, the uncertainty of being able to operate the system independently of the US, doubts about the relevance of such a weapon at such enormous cost against today’s challenges of terrorism and cyber-warfare – but will not take a stand against the conventional wisdom. That is even the case when an increasing proportion of the military top brass have come out against renewing Trident, especially when it means cutbacks in other areas of the military budget such as adequately arming and protecting UK troops in the field, as the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown all too starkly.

A third area where timidity could still lose Labour the election is the economy. Labour’s message, in true New Labour style, is: yes, we will continue cutting public spending just like the Tories except that we will exclude capital expenditure and will extend the cuts over a longer period, thus somewhat easing their current impact. That is certainly desirable as far as it goes, but that is not what the country is crying out for. Like the Greek electorate this weekend, they are calling for an end to austerity and they are desperately seeking hope in place of insecurity and abandonment. And there could hardly be a better time to make that shift than now when after 6 years of anguish and impoverishment the deficit under Osborne’ policies is actually this year set, not to fall, but to rise even though it is still a stunning £100bn. So why doesn’t Labour seize the moment? History shows that politicians are rewarded, not for timidity, but for showing the courage of their convictions and seeing it through.

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