Labour will have just 13 days to agree its deficit policy

The new party leader will have less than two weeks to prepare a response to the spending review.

Just as George Osborne's emergency Budget defined the first three months of the coalition, so the Comprehensive Spending Review on 20 October will define the next three. The political dust-up over Michael Gove's relatively modest schools cuts offered a preview of the furious rows we can expect this autumn. The decision to cut all non-ring-fenced departments by up to 25 per cent will put more strain on the coalition than anything in the Budget.

With this in mind, Labour's response to the review will define the approach it takes in opposition. But, based on the current timetable for the shadow cabinet election, the next Labour leader and shadow chancellor will have only 13 days to agree a policy on the deficit and spending cuts. The new shadow cabinet won't start to be elected until the week beginning 4 October, with the results announced on 7 October.

As one leadership contender said: "It is an incredibly tight timetable for the new leader and their shadow chancellor to map out a policy that might yet determine how we are viewed for the rest of the parliament."

The big judgement the next leader will face is whether to stick to the Brown/Darling pledge to halve the deficit by 2014 (as David Miliband suggests) or to reduce the pace of cuts (as Ed Balls suggests).

To my mind, Labour needs to come up with something more impressive than a moderated version of Brown's "investment versus cuts" line. As I've suggested before, one way to do this would be to come out against the decision to protect the £110bn National Health Service budget (the International Development budget is a far smaller £6.2bn).

To his credit, Andy Burnham (in his capacity as a former health secretary) has argued as much, pointing out that the decision to ring-fence health "will visit real damage on other services that are intimately linked to the NHS".

It's about time that one of the Milibands followed Burnham's lead. This could yet provide Labour with its Nixon-in-China moment: only the party of the NHS can be trusted to cut with care.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.