Blair endorses Cameron’s economic policy

Says he would have raised VAT and reduced the Budget deficit faster than Brown.

When David Cameron declared, at a 2005 dinner with newspaper executives, that he was "the heir to Blair" he was more right than he could have known.

In his memoir A Journey, Blair offers the coalition's economic policy his unequivocal endorsement and dismisses Gordon Brown as a retrograde Keynesian. He laments that Brown "bought completely the Keynesian 'state is back in fashion' thesis".

Had Blair led Labour into the election, he would have supported a "gradual rise in VAT", he says, a faster pace of deficit reduction and smaller increases in direct taxation.

Here's the key passage:

We should have taken a New Labour way out of the economic crisis: kept direct taxes competitive, had a gradual rise in VAT and other indirect taxes to close the deficit, and used the crisis to push further and faster on reform.

We've long known that while Blair reluctantly supported the new 45p top tax rate, he was opposed to the introduction of the 50p rate -- one of Labour's most popular policies.

On the deficit, he strikes a remarkably Cameron-sounding note:

If governments don't tackle deficits, the bill is footed by taxpayers, who fear that big deficits mean big taxes, both of which reduce confidence, investment and purchasing power.

To my mind, Labour is fortunate that Blair was not in power at the time of the financial crisis. Unlike Brown, he may not have supported the fiscal stimulus that prevented the economy from going into a death spiral.

Writing about the 2010 election, Blair also claims that the public elected "the government they wanted". In fact, most people voted for parties (Labour and the Lib Dems) that opposed immediate cuts in public spending and argued for a slower pace of deficit reduction. What they got was a government committed to economically reckless cuts and to a savage and regressive deficit reduction programme.

But, reading Blair's book, I'm inclined to ask: is there any policy of the coalition's that he disagrees with? The uncomfortable answer for his Labour admirers is: perhaps not.

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.