The void in Osborne's speech

The shadow chancellor has no plan for growth

From the Conservative conference

There was a disturbing void in George Osborne's speech today. His address to the conference lacked a single positive proposal to stimulate economic growth. The announcement of a one-year public-sector pay freeze, a rise in the retirement age to 66 and cuts to baby bonds and tax credits left us in no doubt that the Tories will reduce the deficit. But Osborne forgot what Gordon Brown correctly identified in his TUC speech: "growth is the best antidote to debt". There was no evidence of anything like a coherent Conservative strategy for growth.

Worse still, the shadow chancellor derided those measures Labour has taken to stimulate the economy. His claim that the VAT cut failed entirely is not supported by research. In February, three economists from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the cut had raised real consumption by 1.2 per cent.

The refrain of Osborne's speech was "We're all in this together", so how fair were the pledges he made? He was right to resist calls from the Thatcherite right to scrap the 50p income-tax rate. His threat to use the tax system to punish banks that refuse to curtail extravagant bonuses was wise. And it was reasonable of him to remind voters that it was the Tories who first proposed action against non-doms.

But elsewhere, Osborne's attempt to clothe himself in progressive garb did not succeed. He reaffirmed his party's grossly regressive pledge to raise the inheritance-tax threshold to £1m within the life of the next parliament. He relished the cheers for the Tories' tax break for married couples, yet this remains an example of the unfairness he attacked elsewhere in his speech. A tax that would give the wealthy husband on his third marriage priority over the struggling single mother cannot be justified. It is also at odds with the Tories' questionable but progressive plans to means-test tax credits and to scrap child trust funds for better-off families.

After this speech, there is nothing to suggest that Osborne would deliver either a more prosperous economy or a fairer society.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Labour risks becoming a party without a country

Without establishing the role of Labour in modern Britain, the party is unlikely ever to govern again.

“In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn

All I want for you to do is take my body home”

- Blind Willie Johnson

The Conservative Party is preparing itself for a bloody civil war. Conservative MPs will tell anyone who wants to know (Labour MPs and journalists included) that there are 100 Conservative MPs sitting on letters calling for a leadership contest. When? Whenever they want to. This impending war has many reasons: ancient feuds, bad blood, personal spite and enmity, thwarted ambition, and of course, the European Union.

Fundamentally, at the heart of the Tory war over the European Union is the vexed question of ‘What is Britain’s place in the World?’ That this question remains unanswered a quarter of a century after it first decimated the Conservative Party is not a sign that the Party is incapable of answering the question, but that it has no settled view on what the correct answer should be.

The war persists because the truth is that there is no compromise solution. The two competing answers are binary opposites: internationalist or insular nationalist, co-habitation is an impossibility.

The Tories, in any event, are prepared to keep on asking this question, seemingly to the point of destruction. For the most part, Labour has answered this question: Britain will succeed as an outward looking, internationalist state. The equally important question facing the Labour Party is ‘What is the place of the Labour Party in modern Britain?’ Without answering this question, Labour is unlikely to govern ever again and in contrast to the Tories, Labour has so far refused to acknowledge that such a question is being asked of it by the people it was founded to serve. At its heart, this is a question about England and the rapidly changing nature of the United Kingdom.

In the wake of the 2016 elections, the approach that Labour needs to take with regard to the ‘English question’ is more important than ever before. With Scotland out of reach for at least a generation (assuming it remains within the United Kingdom) and with Labour’s share of the vote falling back in Wales in the face of strong challenges from Plaid Cymru and UKIP, Labour will need to rely upon winning vast swathes of England if we are to form a government in 2020.

In a new book published this week, Labour’s Identity Crisis, Tristram Hunt has brought together Labour MPs, activists and parliamentary candidates from the 2015 general election to explore the challenges facing Labour in England and how the party should address these, not purely as an electoral device, but as a matter of principle.

My contribution to the book was inspired by Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. The track list reads like the score for a musical tragedy based upon the Labour Party from 2010 onwards: In My Time of Dying, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Ten Years Gone. 

Continued Labour introspection is increasingly tiresome for the political commentariat – even boring – and Labour’s Identity Crisis is a genuinely exciting attempt to swinge through this inertia. As well as exploring our most recent failure, the book attempts to chart the course towards the next Labour victory: political cartography at its most urgent.

This collection of essays represents an overdue effort to answer the question that the Party has sought to sidestep for too long.  In the run up to 2020, as the United Kingdom continues to atomise, the Labour Party must have an ambitious, compelling vision for England, or else risks becoming a party without a country.

Jamie Reed is Labour MP for Copeland.