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Labour needs its leader and candidates to offer an alternative to austerity

Austerity is failingA fundamental weakness of Labour’s recent general election campaign was the failure to offer voters hope of a return to prosperity. Shackled to the Coalition’s economic framework, the core of which is slashing the public sector, Labour’s small progressive proposals were drowned out by the overwhelming commitment to austerity. Focusing on a promise to introduce a ‘budget responsibility lock’ at the manifesto launch underscored just how out-of-touch the Party’s campaign had become.

The Tories’ rhetoric justifying their budget policies is just misleading propaganda – austerity is not about reducing the deficit. Quite the opposite, cutting government spending contributes to current economic stagnation and in turn depresses the government’s revenue.

Stimulating growth is the best way to reduce the deficit, but that is not the Tories’ priority either. When the Coalition took office in 2010 the economy had already started a modest revival, but their austerity policy rapidly reversed this upturn. The result today is a Britain that is experiencing its weakest and most drawn out recovery since the 19th century. In the first quarter of 2015 GDP only grew by 0.3 per cent, that is slower than the Euro-zone, and industrial production still remains below its 2010 level.

If the objective of austerity was really growth or deficit reduction then it has clearly failed already. But the policies are designed for a different purpose; to restructure the economy. More people are being got to work for longer hours at less pay, with income and wealth being transferred from the bottom and middle to the very top of society.

The Tories intend to accelerate this process and have announced they intend to cut £30bn of public spending by 2017-18, including £12bn off welfare.

These are the realities being experienced by the electorate, and a significant majority does not support further austerity. For example, the 7 May Ashcroft poll found that 74 per cent of voters are not feeling any benefit from the ‘economic recovery’. Also 54 per cent do not agree it is necessary to continue with austerity and spending cuts through this parliament.

Labour’s failure to sufficiently stand up for this majority had inevitable electoral consequences on 7 May. Left of centre parties that do oppose austerity were able to make significant advances at Labour’s expense. Labour increased its vote share (relative to 2010) by 1.5 per cent, but both the SNP and Greens advanced far more. The SNP gained an extra 3.1 per cent and the Greens an extra 2.8 per cent; together these parties increased their electoral share more than three times as much as Labour.

Back in opposition, Labour now should fight the government’s austerity policies. This will help reconnect with voters. The Party needs to stand for an alternative to the Tories’ attacks and would benefit from supporting initiatives such as the 20 June End Austerity Now demonstration.

This coming week the Party will decide whose names will go forward on to this August’s ballot papers for Labour’s Leadership and London Mayoral candidate. It is important that Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott proceed to next stage in the respective contests. Both are campaigning for Labour to champion the defence of living standards. It will help Labour win if these issues are at the forefront of its policies and campaigns.

Diane Abbott MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP are both speaking at 7.30pm on Monday 15 June at The Friendship Centre, Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, 235 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8EP (Meeting hosted by the Diane for London Campaign, reserve a place by email to )

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