On-form Darling accuses Lib Dems of acting as Tories’ “human shield”

Former Chancellor fast emerging as key opposition figure.

Alistair Darling, not a man given to hyperbole, is on top form defending his economic legacy and attacking what he sees as ideological cuts from the Tory-led coalition. He has been a regular on the airwaves at a time when Labour lacks leadership. And this passionate piece in the Observer was a model Keynesian take-down of the government's fiscal plans.

Now, following Ed Miliband's description of Nick Clegg as a "crypto-Tory", Darling has accused the Lib Dems of acting as a "human shield" covering the Tories' controversial programme of cuts.

Darling writes in today's London Evening Standard:

When George Osborne says the UK is "on the road to ruin" he is trashing this country's reputation to justify the cuts and tax rises he's always wanted.

He talks a lot about tax rises and cuts. He never has much to say about growth. So the test of the Budget will be whether his plans ensure growth. And crucially, if it is fair.

Britain is slowly emerging from recession. Europe, our biggest trading partner, is struggling to maintain growth with many countries in recession or not far off it. Our economy is this year largely being supported by government spending, as the independent Office for Budget Responsibility has said. We cannot afford to do anything to undermine that growth. Indeed, we should be supporting it.

Borrowing has risen because tax revenues fell when the financial crisis hit in 2008. We and every other developed country did the same: we used public spending to stop our economy tipping from recession into depression. It worked.

Remember, the Tories supported our spending plans right up to 2008.

Of course, borrowing has to come down as our economy recovers. That is why I wanted to cut it by half over a four-year period. It would have been tough but I wanted to avoid damaging our economy whilst it was still in a fragile state.

The Tories have painted an apocalyptic picture of public finances and claim high borrowing is to be found here and nowhere else. That, as they know, is nonsense. They are using this as an excuse to do what they have always wanted to do -- have a real go at the public sector.

It is essential that we maintain growth. Without it, the deficit will never come down, as we have seen in Japan.

The Tories often quote Canada. The truth is the Canadians got their borrowing down on the back of a growing US economy. And it is nonsense, too, to suggest that if you cut public spending the private sector will take its place automatically.

And remember the Lib Dems' "VAT bombshell"? Judging by the last few weeks, they will be voting for a Tory Budget and acting as their human shield.

Darling is setting the tone for the new opposition. As Alastair Campbell has said, it is time for the Labour leadership candidates to follow suit.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Beware, hard Brexiteers - Ruth Davidson is coming for you

The Scottish Conservative leader is well-positioned to fight. 

Wanted: Charismatic leader with working-class roots and a populist touch who can take on the Brexiteers, including some in the government, and do so convincingly.

Enter Ruth Davidson. 

While many Tory MPs quietly share her opposition to a hard Brexit, those who dare to be loud tend to be backbenchers like Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan. 

By contrast, the Scottish Conservative leader already has huge credibility for rebuilding her party north of the border. Her appearances in the last days of the EU referendum campaign made her a star in the south as well. And she has no qualms about making a joke at Boris Johnson’s expense

Speaking at the Institute of Directors on Monday, Davidson said Brexiteers like Nigel Farage should stop “needling” European leaders.

“I say to the Ukip politicians, when they chuckle and bray about the result in June, grow up,” she declared. “Let us show a bit more respect for these European neighbours and allies.”

Davidson is particularly concerned that Brexiteers underestimate the deeply emotional and political response of other EU nations. 

The negotiations will be 27 to 1, she pointed out: “I would suggest that macho, beer swilling, posturing at the golf club bar isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

At a time when free trade is increasingly a dirty word, Davidson is also striking in her defence of the single market. As a child, she recalls, every plate of food on the table was there because her father, a self-made businessman, had "made stuff and sold it abroad". 

She attacked the Daily Mail for its front cover branding the judges who ruled against the government’s bid to trigger Article 50 “enemies of the people”. 

When the headline was published, Theresa May and Cabinet ministers stressed the freedom of the press. By contrast, Davidson, a former journalist, said that to undermine “the guardians of our democracy” in this way was “an utter disgrace”. 

Davidson might have chosen Ukip and the Daily Mail to skewer, but her attacks could apply to certain Brexiteers in her party as well. 

When The Staggers enquired whether this included the Italy-baiting Foreign Secretary Johnson, she launched a somewhat muted defence.

Saying she was “surprised by the way Boris has taken to the job”, she added: “To be honest, when you have got such a big thing happening and when you have a team in place that has been doing the preparatory work, it doesn’t make sense to reshuffle the benches."

Nevertheless, despite her outsider role, the team matters to Davidson. Part of her electoral success in Scotland is down the way she has capitalised on the anti-independence feeling after the Scottish referendum. If the UK heads for a hard Brexit, she too will have to fend off accusations that her party is the party of division. 

Indeed, for all her jibes at the Brexiteers, Davidson has a serious message. Since the EU referendum, she is “beginning to see embryos of where Scotland has gone post-referendum”. And, she warned: “I do not think we want that division.”

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.