Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander, both once talked of as future leaders, are facing the end of their careers in May. (Photo:Getty)
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"You cannot fight an idea": Why Labour is increasingly bleak about its prospects in Scotland

The latest polls show that nothing is changing in Scotland, and why would they? 

No news is good news - if you're the SNP, that is. And the latest poll from Scotland shows very little change at all - the SNP still top of the heap on 46 per cent, Labour a distant second on 27 per cent, the Conservatives in third place on 18 per cent and the also-rans knocking around in the low single digits. Small wonder that our sister site, May 2015 projects the SNP to take all but one of Labour's 41 seats in Scotland. 

It may be worse for Labour than even the headline figures suggest.  The polls fluctuate a little, but effectively what it reveals is that public opinion in Scotland remains where it was: 45 per cent for independence and 55 per cent against. That vote share - 45 per cent - is obviously insufficient in a referendum but devastating to Labour under first past the post (and little better in the D'Hondt system favoured at the elections to the devolved parliament). "You cannot fight an idea," as one shadow Cabinet minister is fond of saying, "Except with a better idea." Fairly or unfairly, Labour in Scotland, like in England and Wales, is seen as having little in the way of fresh ideas. 

But it seems unlikely that a change at the top, either in Scotland or the United Kingdom as a whole, is unlikely to benefit Labour. The polling suggests that not only do the SNP's supporters want to live in another country - increasingly as far as their opinions are concerned, they already do. Take Jim Murphy's approval ratings, not stellar but around the David Cameron mark at -10% in the latest publically avaialble poll. But that conceals strong ratings among Labour voters (+55 per cent), Liberal voters (+13 per cent) and Conservatives (+ 5 per cent). (To give you an idea of how good those are, Cameron is at -71 per cent with Labour voters in the rest of the UK.)

But among SNP supporters Murphy's polling is terrible, at -54 per cent. And just as Ukip voters split from the country at large on issues ranging from the large - they are more likely to believe that they will see the apocalypse in their own lifetimes - to the small - they believe that Sean Bean should play Nigel Farage in a movie, while everyone else favours Rowan Atkinson - SNP voters have broken away from all other voters. I'm told that there will be detailed polling on the impact of the Scottish goverment's review of government expenditure and revenue (GERS) soon. The government's figures are fairly devastating for the case for independence, but in private sampling and on the doorstep, as with public polling on the oil price, the SNP's supporters are reaching radically different conclusions than the supporters of the Unionist parties. 

It seems likely that there is no policy offer that can pull away a significant chunk of that 45% that is currently allowing the SNP to sweep all before it. Labour's woes still have a way left to run.

(I've notably avoided the Greens because the polling evidence is so scarce. Both Labour and Green campaigners in Scotland report that the boost in that party's standing seems to have less to do with independence - "that RIC-SSP-Trot block, it's joined the SNP not the Greens" in the words of one - and more to do with the overall Green surge. But with no public opinion polling specifically on the Greens and seemingly little private data either it's really all supposition.) 

 

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

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The Autumn Statement proved it – we need a real alternative to austerity, now

Theresa May’s Tories have missed their chance to rescue the British economy.

After six wasted years of failed Conservative austerity measures, Philip Hammond had the opportunity last month in the Autumn Statement to change course and put in place the economic policies that would deliver greater prosperity, and make sure it was fairly shared.

Instead, he chose to continue with cuts to public services and in-work benefits while failing to deliver the scale of investment needed to secure future prosperity. The sense of betrayal is palpable.

The headline figures are grim. An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that real wages will not recover their 2008 levels even after 2020. The Tories are overseeing a lost decade in earnings that is, in the words Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, “dreadful” and unprecedented in modern British history.

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s own analysis shows the cuts falling hardest on the poorest 30 per cent of the population. The Office for Budget Responsibility has reported that it expects a £122bn worsening in the public finances over the next five years. Of this, less than half – £59bn – is due to the Tories’ shambolic handling of Brexit. Most of the rest is thanks to their mishandling of the domestic economy.

 

Time to invest

The Tories may think that those people who are “just about managing” are an electoral demographic, but for Labour they are our friends, neighbours and the people we represent. People in all walks of life needed something better from this government, but the Autumn Statement was a betrayal of the hopes that they tried to raise beforehand.

Because the Tories cut when they should have invested, we now have a fundamentally weak economy that is unprepared for the challenges of Brexit. Low investment has meant that instead of installing new machinery, or building the new infrastructure that would support productive high-wage jobs, we have an economy that is more and more dependent on low-productivity, low-paid work. Every hour worked in the US, Germany or France produces on average a third more than an hour of work here.

Labour has different priorities. We will deliver the necessary investment in infrastructure and research funding, and back it up with an industrial strategy that can sustain well-paid, secure jobs in the industries of the future such as renewables. We will fight for Britain’s continued tariff-free access to the single market. We will reverse the tax giveaways to the mega-rich and the giant companies, instead using the money to make sure the NHS and our education system are properly funded. In 2020 we will introduce a real living wage, expected to be £10 an hour, to make sure every job pays a wage you can actually live on. And we will rebuild and transform our economy so no one and no community is left behind.

 

May’s missing alternative

This week, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, gave an important speech in which he hit the proverbial nail on the head. He was completely right to point out that societies need to redistribute the gains from trade and technology, and to educate and empower their citizens. We are going through a lost decade of earnings growth, as Carney highlights, and the crisis of productivity will not be solved without major government investment, backed up by an industrial strategy that can deliver growth.

Labour in government is committed to tackling the challenges of rising inequality, low wage growth, and driving up Britain’s productivity growth. But it is becoming clearer each day since Theresa May became Prime Minister that she, like her predecessor, has no credible solutions to the challenges our economy faces.

 

Crisis in Italy

The Italian people have decisively rejected the changes to their constitution proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with nearly 60 per cent voting No. The Italian economy has not grown for close to two decades. A succession of governments has attempted to introduce free-market policies, including slashing pensions and undermining rights at work, but these have had little impact.

Renzi wanted extra powers to push through more free-market reforms, but he has now resigned after encountering opposition from across the Italian political spectrum. The absence of growth has left Italian banks with €360bn of loans that are not being repaid. Usually, these debts would be written off, but Italian banks lack the reserves to be able to absorb the losses. They need outside assistance to survive.

 

Bail in or bail out

The oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needs €5bn before the end of the year if it is to avoid collapse. Renzi had arranged a financing deal but this is now under threat. Under new EU rules, governments are not allowed to bail out banks, like in the 2008 crisis. This is intended to protect taxpayers. Instead, bank investors are supposed to take a loss through a “bail-in”.

Unusually, however, Italian bank investors are not only big financial institutions such as insurance companies, but ordinary households. One-third of all Italian bank bonds are held by households, so a bail-in would hit them hard. And should Italy’s banks fail, the danger is that investors will pull money out of banks across Europe, causing further failures. British banks have been reducing their investments in Italy, but concerned UK regulators have asked recently for details of their exposure.

John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor


John McDonnell is Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and has been shadow chancellor since September 2015. 

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump