Darling's most damaging claim

His claim that Labour had no "credible economic policy" is a gift to George Osborne.

Of all the claims from Alistair Darling's memoir (£), it is his assertion that Labour went into the last election without a "credible economic policy" that is most damaging for the party. Darling all but accuses Gordon Brown of deficit denial for refusing to accept the level of cuts and tax rises needed to ensure fiscal sustainability. Christmas has come early for George Osborne.

Darling told Andrew Marr this morning: "You need a credible economic policy. It really hampered us at the election". Some would reply that a party without a credible economic policy is unfit to govern and it was notable that Darling refused to dissent when Marr suggested as much.

The former chancellor is right to argue that Labour's economic policy wasn't credible but for the wrong reasons. Rather than pandering to Conservative demands for savage cuts, the party should have offered a distincitve economic policy based on investment to stimulate growth and reduce the deficit. It should have argued for more targeted tax rises on the wealthiest in our society. The Brown government's most popular policies were the bankers' bonus tax and the 50p tax rate. It is hardly surprising that when offered a choice between Labour cuts and Tory cuts, voters decided they wanted the real thing.

In agreeing to stick to Darling's pledge to halve the deficit over four years (while replacing a cuts-tax ratio of 67:33 with one of 60:40), Ed Miliband has met the former chancellor's definition of a credible policy. But that won't stop the Tories from claiming that Labour's policy is as uncredible now as it was then.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What happened when a couple accidentally recorded two hours of their life

The cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic.

If the Transformers series of movies (Transformers; Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen; Transformers: Dark of the Moon; Transformers: Age of Extinction; and Transformers: the Last Knight) teach us anything, it is that you think your life is going along just fine but in a moment, with a single mistake or incident, it can be derailed and you never know from what direction the threat will come. Shia LaBeouf, for example, thinks everything is completely OK in his world – then he discovers his car is a shape-shifting alien.

I once knew a couple called Dan and Fiona who, on an evening in the early 1980s, accidentally recorded two hours of their life. Fiona was an English teacher (in fact we’d met at teacher-training college) and she wished to make a recording of a play that was being broadcast on Radio 4 about an anorexic teenager living on a council estate in Belfast. A lot of the dramas at that time were about anorexic teenagers living on council estates in Belfast, or something very similar – sometimes they had cancer.

Fiona planned to get her class to listen to the play and then they would have a discussion about its themes. In that pre-internet age when there was no iPlayer, the only practical way to hear something after the time it had been transmitted was to record the programme onto a cassette tape.

So Fiona got out their boom box (a portable Sony stereo player), loaded in a C120 tape, switched on the radio part of the machine, tuned it to Radio 4, pushed the record button when the play began, and fastidiously turned the tape over after 60 minutes.

But instead of pushing the button that would have taped the play, she had actually pushed the button that activated the built-in microphone, and the machine captured, not the radio drama, but the sound of 120 minutes of her and Dan’s home life, which consisted solely of: “Want a cup of tea?” “No thanks.” And a muffled fart while she was out of the room. That was all. That was it.

The two of them had, until that moment, thought their life together was perfectly happy, but the tape proved them conclusively wrong. No couple who spent their evenings in such torpidity could possibly be happy. Theirs was clearly a life of grinding tedium.

The evidence of the cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic: the idea of spending any more of their evenings in such bored silence was intolerable. They feared they might have to split up. Except they didn’t want to.

But what could they do to make their lives more exciting? Should they begin conducting sordid affairs in sleazy nightclubs? Maybe they could take up arcane hobbies such as musketry, baking terrible cakes and entering them in competitions, or building models of Victorian prisons out of balsa wood? Might they become active in some kind of extremist politics?

All that sounded like a tremendous amount of effort. In the end they got themselves a cat and talked about that instead. 

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder