Anyone but Balls (Part 3)

It Shouldn’t Happen to Yvette.

Indolence characterises the Labour leadership campaign. Well-meaning people wring their hands and say that the high bar potential candidates must leap before they can put themselves before the party should be lowered so that every possible shade of opinion is represented. For this reason, Labour politicians who think that Diane Abbot is a self-aggrandising boor, nevertheless nominate her so that she can take part in a contest that will wind through the summer months like a sluggish river meandering to the sea.

   “Full debates” will be the order of the day until the party conference in late September. Candidates are promising to “learn lessons” and, of course, to “listen” until their ears ache.

    Their unstated assumption is that the coalition government is secure, and will last a full term: Labour has all the time in the world to determine its future direction. That assumption may be right, but there are no guarantees. The coalition could prove to be highly unstable. To understand why you only have to look at the miserable faces of Liberal Democrats, who feel they are making a nonsense of their whole lives by allying with the Tories, and the equally wretched expressions of Conservatives who feel that Cameron has conned them into joining a mushy centrist enterprise that will do nothing to advance their cause. Labour has to be ready for a snap election if the government falls apart.

   More to the point, it has to have the policies to sustain it even if the government survives. There is no more foolish cliché in politics than “oppositions don’t win elections, government lose them”. If, as in the 1980s and early 1990s, the public is not convinced that a Labour opposition could manage the economy, it will not vote Labour however unpopular a Conservative government – or in this case a Conservative-led government – becomes.

   And yet the weirdest aspect of this lethargic contest is that no one, not even David Miliband, is confronting the failures of Gordon Brown, and, by extension of Ed Balls, and hammering home how disastrous it was for Britain that the centre-left lost its bearings in the giddy atmosphere of the bubble.  I am sorry if I repeat myself, but for a supposedly left-of-centre government to preside over one of the great manias of financial history is unprecedented. What will Labour do, if George Osborne proposes radical banking reform, as he may? Stick to the policy of Brown and Balls, and say they still believe in “light-touch regulation” of the City? Or mumble that it doesn’t know what it thinks any more?

    To go from the past to the present, clearly Britain cannot carry on throwing money about as it did while Brown was at the Treasury. But what does Labour think should be cut and what does it think should be spared? Should we, for instance, protect investment in infrastructure because it provides employment and gives us the railways, broadband networks etc we will need in the future, and pay for it by extending the freeze on public sector pay? Should Labour be warning that the Tories are cutting too fast and too soon, and risk pushing us back into recession? If it thinks that they are, when does it believe cuts should take place?

   Finally, Labour need to ask the question that shows it understands that politics is for people who can move and adapt fast rather than twiddle their thumbs as they “listen”: if there were an election next week, next month or next year, what should Labour say to the voters? Taxes on a hideously indebted public cannot go up too far. The goody bag Brown and Balls dipped into so often is empty, so what’s offer, where’s the deal?

 The crash of 2008 shook the kaleidoscope, as Tony Blair would say. But Labour is carrying on as if nothing happened. It is a measure of the centre-left’s failure to confront changed times, that the Brownites could even consider putting Balls forward as their candidate. Yvette Cooper is not only free from association with the tactics of character assassination that disfigured the Brownites in their pomp, but she was not involved in economic policymaking and could have stood with clean hands and a clean slate. That she stays at home, while her husband puts himself about as a potential prime minister, shows that many in Labour are still deep in denial about the economic consequences of Gordon Brown.

Underrated: Abroad

The ravenous longing for the infinite possibilities of “otherwhere”

The king of cakes

"Yuletide revels were designed to see you through the dark days — and how dark they seem today"