Having alienated its Trade Union members, and missed the chance to oppose the government on the Welfare Reform Bill, has the Labour leadership REALLY retreated back to 'too far too fast' and a 'five-point plan for jobs and growth'?
It seems so...
It seems so...
Before Christmas, the Labour leadership were virtually silent.
There was the mantra ‘too far too fast’, and there was the really duff 5-point plan for growth and jobs – if you can remember them, you’re a better supporter than I.
But on all the issues that seemed to matter – student fees, pensions etc. – the leadership seemed to prevaricate.
Opportunities seemed to be being missed, and members were screaming for the leadership to start OPPOSING the Tories.
The New Year Blitz
After the New Year, however, the Shadow Cabinet seemed to come out swinging.
Liam Byrne made a statement about welfare, Jim Murphy about defence. There was a keynote speech by Ed Miliband and an announcement at the Fabian Conference by Ed Balls.
There was a great deal of excitement.
At first, latching onto a few sentences in Ed Miliband’s speech which had been highlighted by the Guardian, I saw a good deal of hope that the speech marked a move LEFTWARDS in the Party’s policies.
Mr Miliband had indicated that there was going to be a new direction which included sharing society’s wealth more fairly, creating jobs and growth, and tackling vested interests.
I was a lone voice.
Almost immediately after, Ed Balls gave his speech in which he pledged to accept the Tory cuts and pay freeze, even beyond the next election.
Now, to be fair to Mr Balls, he made it quite clear that Labour was having to accept this as a dreadful necessity because the Tories were making such a huge mess of the economy that there was not going to be any money in 2015 to reverse the cuts.
But, taken in association with Mr Byrnes identification with the ‘scrounger’ narrative and Mr Murphy’s warnings on fiscal credibility, the new Balls-Miliband policy statements were taken by most people (even that arch-cynic Dan Hodges) as a lurch RIGHTWARDS in the Party’s policies.
Union leaders, in particular, spoke out against what they interpreted as a capitulation to the right. Recently, Welsh Labour has also refused to accept a pay freeze as a tenet of Labour policy. People ARE leaving the Party; the polls HAVE swung against Labour.
Back to Square One
So – as the dust clears – what has been the outcome of all this houha?
Yesterday, Ed Miliband gave his report to the Party’s National Executive Committee.
You can read the full report of what he said here – it DID include statements that indicated that Labour would insist on a re-distribution of wealth within the limitations of the deficit and the recession, by ‘a whole agenda of fairness that differentiated us from the coalition but would not involve extra spending, such as tackling tax loopholes, high energy costs and fares’. It DID make it clear that there would be no money to spend in 2015.
But the core of the message was that … ‘we continued to say the cuts were too far and too fast and that our answer was the five-point plan for growth and jobs’.
Today, the government announced dreadful economic figures which proved that we were sliding back into a double-dip recession. Growth is down, and borrowing up.
In the light of this, Ed Balls made a statement, which you can read in full here – it DID repeat that Labour would inherit a deficit in 2015.
But the core message was clear – that ‘Labour’s five point plan for jobs would help get our economy moving’ and that the government was ‘clobbering the economy with spending cuts and tax rises that go too far and too fast’. In fact, in a 350-word statement, he mentioned jobs and growth three times, and ‘too far, too fast’ three times.
So, after ALL that excitement, we’re back to where we started – the mantra ‘too far too fast’, and a really duff 5-point plan for growth and jobs.
And in the meantime, the Labour leadership have alienated their Union members, and have missed the opportunity to score some real points on the Welfare Reform Bill – the latest opposition to the bill is being led in the Lords by a Conservative Peer.
And one is left wondering what has happened.
Is it true, as David Cameron suggested in PMQs today, that Ed Miliband had tried to move right, but ran for cover when the unions kicked off?
Or has all this fuss really been about next-to-nothing … about introducing a few nuances into the overall policy?