Mandelson to the rescue

Mandelson's intervention could buy Brown the time he needs

So it looks like Gordon Brown's "life-support machine", Peter Mandelson, has come to his rescue again. It's the worst-kept secret in Westminster that Mandelson has been infuriated by Brown's refusal to concede that significant spending cuts are needed to reduce the deficit. But in a speech to the Work Foundation today (run by that original New Labour guru, Will Hutton), he will insist that Brown's deficit strategy is "credible" and even "praise" the pre-Budget report.

It's worth contrasting the preview of Mandelson's speech with his private remarks. In a fabulously gossipy column yesterday, Rachel Sylvester revealed that Mandelson told a friend: "Don't get me started about the PBR. I am incandescent."

This said, Mandelson will still use the speech to settle some scores with the "class war" left. He will warn that Labour "cannot and must not confine itself to the politics of distribution. We need a new and renewed politics of production." Which sounds to me like an updated version of Stephen Byers's assertion (made to the City of London) that "wealth creation is now more important than wealth redistribution".

It's rather late for Labour to be debating its election strategy (the "politics of aspiration" versus "class war") now, and the fact the cabinet has yet to resolve this issue is indicative of Brown's indecision and weakness. The truth is that neither approach is adequate. Instead, Labour needs to articulate a vision of the fairer, more progressive society which should emerge from the ruins of neoliberalism. Gordon Brown's boast that he will deliver a "decade of prosperity" fails to appreciate the longing many feel for a more equal, not merely a more prosperous, society. Labour needs its progressive leaders such as Ed Miliband to put this right. And soon.

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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