Shadow cabinet ministers and Labour-supporting bloggers alike have become excited by this quote [below] from the Tory minister Greg Barker, speaking in front of an American audience:
We are making cuts that Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s could only have dreamt of.
He’s right. But the Labour response is, ahem, odd. Angela Eagle, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, says:
Greg Barker has let the cat out the bag about the ideological agenda behind this Tory-led government’s deep cuts to public services.
Hmm. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. The inconvenient truth is that Labour, in the so-called Darling plan for deficit reduction, had also planned to go beyond Thatcher, too — and were equally keen to “let the cat out of the bag”.
Here’s the relevant quote from the then chancellor, Alistair Darling, in an interview with the BBC’s Nick Robinson in March 2010:
Robinson: “The Treasury’s own figures suggest deeper, tougher than Thatcher’s — do you accept that?”
Darling: “They will be deeper and tougher — where we make the precise comparison, I think, is secondary to an acknowledgement that these reductions will be tough.”
That’s why the Darling plan was such a bad plan. Halving the deficit over four years is a political decision on a political timetable; it has nothing to do with economics. I can’t help but agree with Polly Toynbee, who wrote in her Guardian column on Saturday:
Labour should seize this moment. Increasingly trapped inside Alistair Darling’s straitjacket, Labour should embark on a new economic direction. The FT quite fairly analysed the figures: the difference between Labour and coalition deficit reduction plans is just £24bn by 2014. Ed Balls’s claim that cutting half as much is “a massive difference” is only true if he offers a route map to explain what tax rises and what growth formulae deliver the same deficit reduction as would Tory cuts. Both Eds sound uncomfortable because sticking to the Darling plan means more painful cuts than they can admit. The argument that they are not in power so don’t need a complete budget may be tactically correct, but it doesn’t work as a public statement. Labour can only take a commanding lead over the next austerity months by offering a more convincing economic alternative.
Over to you, Mr Balls . . .