Is Labour right to focus on "dealing with the deficit"?
Douglas Alexander is the latest shadow cabinet member to speak about cuts -- but this may not be the
Labour has continued it's bid for "economic credibility". The latest shadow cabinet member to throw himself behind the new emphasis on cuts is Douglas Alexander, who told the Guardian:
I don't think the public has yet heard us talking enough about dealing with the deficit, as well as talking about the need to boost growth and jobs.
The shadow foreign secretary's intervention by no means a game-changer, but it does indicate determination from Labour top command to reinforce their new line that they would accept the Tories' cuts if in government.
Balls drew the ire of the unions when he committed Labour to a continued public sector pay freeze (with the proviso that help is given to the low paid). This approach -- accepting cuts, but with caveats -- was continued by Alexander in the Guardian interview, when he said that Labour supported the household benefit cap as long as it does not "render people homeless".
Labour has been criticised for an incoherent message, and early polling did not indicate an instant boost. An ICM/Guardian poll this week asked how the tougher position affected likelihood to support Labour. 72 per cent said it made no difference one way or another; just 10 per cent said it would make them more likely to vote Labour, and 13 per cent said it made them less likely to vote for the party, giving the shift a net rating of minus three.
Of course, it has not yet had much time to bed in, which explains the comments from Alexander, a key strategist. We can expect more Labour figures to add their voices to this new "austerity Labour" pot.
He explained his position thus:
There have always been two parts to the Labour argument - a short-term stimulus now to get the economy moving and medium-term cuts to get the deficit down. It was always vital that we won the first part of that argument - that the government are going too far and too fast - and I think thanks to Ed Miliband and Ed Balls we are winning that argument. But the second half of that argument - that the deficit has to come down - has to be emphasised more, and all of us have a responsibility to make that case. We have talked a lot about the first and we need to talk a lot more about the second"
But is this really the best plan, and have we heard a lot about growth? Ultimately, accepting your opponent's terms makes it look like they were right all along. As my colleague Mehdi Hasan recently argued, it would be far more effective for the party to construct their own narrative:
So what should the alternative, Labour frame be? The answer is obvious: growth and jobs. In November 2011, a YouGov poll found that more voters (37 per cent) wanted the government to focus on growth, "even if this means the deficit stays longer, or gets worse", than on reducing the deficit (36 per cent), "even if this means growth remains slow". Given that YouGov's polls show Labour leading the Conservatives by 18 points on job creation but trailing them by 22 points on deficit reduction, it seems strange to focus all the rhetoric and airtime on closing the deficit gap.
Growth has slowed to a halt (it looks like we're already back in recession) and this is an area where the government is vulnerable. Yet it does not look like the opposition will be taking this easy line of attack any time soon.