Nicola Sturgeon launches the SNP's manifesto in Edinburgh earlier this week. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

SNP's anti-austerity rhetoric does not reflect its plans, says the IFS

The party is forecast to spend less than Labour and the Lib Dems by the end of the parliament through slower but longer austerity. 

When the SNP launched its manifesto earlier this week it was with a demand to for the next UK government to "end austerity". But the rhetoric does not match the reality. The IFS has today published its assessment of the main parties' fiscal plans, concluding that the gap between the SNP and its rivals, Labour and the Lib Dems, is far smaller than suggested. 

It found that while the SNP would increase total public spending in real terms each year (by 0.5 per cent) "departmental spending would be broadly frozen between 2014–15 and 2019–20, and departmental spending outside of the NHS and aid could be facing a cut of 4.3 per cent". Real-terms cuts to all departments between 2010-11 and 2019-20 would amount to 9.1 per cent under the SNP, 12.1 per cent under the Conservatives, 5.9 per cent under the Lib Dems and 4.6 per cent under Labour. In the case of unprotected areas (everything excluding international development, the NHS and education), the SNP is forecast to cut by 22.2 per cent, the Tories by 27.6 per cent, the Lib Dems by 18.3 per cent and Labour by 13 per cent.

"Their stated plans do not necessarily match their anti-austerity rhetoric," the IFS concludes of the SNP. Indeed, as the graph below shows, Labour could be outspending the party by 2018-19 with the Lib Dems surpassing them in 2019-20. While the SNP's plans "imply a slower pace of austerity than those of the other three parties", they ultimately mean "a longer period" too. The nationalists' commitment to ensure that the deficit and the national debt fall "in every year as a share of national income" means that they have less room for manoeuvre than commonly assumed.

Labour could outspend the SNP

It's important to note that IFS's projections assume that Labour would make maximum use of the flexibility built into its fiscal rules: to balance only the current deficit (leaving room to borrow for capital investment) and to reduce debt as a share of GDP "as soon as possible" (rather than by a particular year). Whether Ed Miliband would do so would depend on the economic and political circumstances he encountered in office. But even with this caveat, the distance between Labour and the SNP is nowhere near as great as Nicola Sturgeon claims. 

But while she has chosen to put a profligate spin on her plans, Miliband has chosen to put a frugal spin on his, devoting the first page of Labour's manifesto to fiscal responsibility and refusing to explicitly pledge to borrow to invest. The priority, he resolved, was combating his party's profligate reputation. Whether that was the right choice will be determined by the outcome on 7 May. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Ken Livingstone says publicly what many are saying privately: tomorrow belongs to John McDonnell

The Shadow Chancellor has emerged as a frontrunner should another Labour leadership election happen. 

“It would be John.” Ken Livingstone, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most vocal allies in the media, has said publicly what many are saying privately: if something does happen to Corbyn, or should he choose to step down, place your bets on John McDonnell. Livingstone, speaking to Russia Today, said that if Corbyn were "pushed under a bus", John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, would be the preferred candidate to replace him.

Even among the Labour leader’s allies, speculation is rife as to if the Islington North MP will lead the party into the 2020 election. Corbyn would be 71 in 2020 – the oldest candidate for Prime Minister since Clement Attlee lost the 1955 election aged 72.

While Corbyn is said to be enjoying the role at present, he still resents the intrusion of much of the press and dislikes many of the duties of the party leader. McDonnell, however, has impressed even some critics with his increasingly polished TV performances and has wowed a few sceptical donors. One big donor, who was thinking of pulling their money, confided that a one-on-one chat with the shadow chancellor had left them feeling much happier than a similar chat with Ed Miliband.

The issue of the succession is widely discussed on the left. For many, having waited decades to achieve a position of power, pinning their hopes on the health of one man would be unforgivably foolish. One historically-minded trade union official points out that Hugh Gaitskell, at 56, and John Smith, at 55, were 10 and 11 years younger than Corbyn when they died. In 1994, the right was ready and had two natural successors in the shape of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in place. In 1963, the right was unprepared and lost the leadership to Harold Wilson, from the party's centre. "If something happens, or he just decides to call it a day, [we have to make sure] it will be '94 not '63," they observed.

While McDonnell is just two years younger than Corbyn, his closest ally in politics and a close personal friend, he is seen by some as considerably more vigorous. His increasingly frequent outings on television have seen him emerge as one of the most adept media performers from the Labour left, and he has won internal plaudits for his recent tussles with George Osborne over the tax bill.

The left’s hopes of securing a non-Corbyn candidate on the ballot have been boosted in recent weeks. The parliamentary Labour party’s successful attempt to boot Steve Rotheram off the party’s ruling NEC, while superficially a victory for the party’s Corbynsceptics, revealed that the numbers are still there for a candidate of the left to make the ballot. 30 MPs voted to keep Rotheram in place, with many MPs from the left of the party, including McDonnell, Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John Trickett, abstaining.

The ballot threshold has risen due to a little-noticed rule change, agreed over the summer, to give members of the European Parliament equal rights with members of the Westminster Parliament. However, Labour’s MEPs are more leftwing, on the whole, than the party in Westminster . In addition, party members vote on the order that Labour MEPs appear on the party list, increasing (or decreasing) their chances of being re-elected, making them more likely to be susceptible to an organised campaign to secure a place for a leftwinger on the ballot.

That makes it – in the views of many key players – incredibly likely that the necessary 51 nominations to secure a place on the ballot are well within reach for the left, particularly if by-election selections in Ogmore, where the sitting MP, is standing down to run for the Welsh Assembly, and Sheffield Brightside, where Harry Harpham has died, return candidates from the party’s left.

McDonnell’s rivals on the left of the party are believed to have fallen short for one reason or another. Clive Lewis, who many party activists believe could provide Corbynism without the historical baggage of the man himself, is unlikely to be able to secure the nominations necessary to make the ballot.

Any left candidate’s route to the ballot paper runs through the 2015 intake, who are on the whole more leftwing than their predecessors. But Lewis has alienated many of his potential allies, with his antics in the 2015 intake’s WhatsApp group a sore point for many. “He has brought too much politics into it,” complained one MP who is also on the left of the party. (The group is usually used for blowing off steam and arranging social events.)

Lisa Nandy, who is from the soft left rather than the left of the party, is widely believed to be in the running also, despite her ruling out any leadership ambitions in a recent interview with the New Statesman.However, she would represent a break from the Corbynite approach, albeit a more leftwing one than Dan Jarvis or Hilary Benn.

Local party chairs in no doubt that the shadow chancellor is profiling should another leadership election arise. One constituency chair noted to the New Statesman that: “you could tell who was going for it [last time], because they were desperate to speak [at events]”. Tom Watson, Caroline Flint, Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall all visited local parties across the country in preparation for their election bids in 2015.

Now, speaking to local party activists, four names are mentioned more than any other: Dan Jarvis, currently on the backbenches, but in whom the hopes – and the donations – of many who are disillusioned by the current leadership are invested, Gloria De Piero, who is touring the country as part of the party’s voter registration drive, her close ally Jon Ashworth, and John McDonnell.

Another close ally of Corbyn and McDonnell, who worked closely on the leadership election, is in no doubt that the shadow chancellor is gearing up for a run should the need arise.  “You remember when that nice Mr Watson went touring the country? Well, pay attention to John’s movements.”

As for his chances of success, McDonnell may well be even more popular among members than Corbyn himself. He is regularly at or near the top of LabourList's shadow cabinet rankings, and is frequently praised by members. Should he be able to secure the nominations to get on the ballot, an even bigger victory than that secured by Corbyn in September is not out of the question.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.