The Beckett report is clear that the Labour party’s failure to shake off public concerns surrounding its economic competency led to the disastrous result in May 2015. It is an unsurprising and yet critical conclusion. Anyone who knocked on doors during the election campaign will know that the Tory rhetoric on Labour’s handling of the economy chimed with the average voter; the comparison of government debt to household debt may make zero economic sense, but it is certainly an easily understandable concept.
Ed Miliband and his advisors clearly believed that the best way to counter this narrative was to appear ‘tough’ on the economy. Remember the front page of the manifesto, the ‘responsibility lock’? It was even leaked prior to the manifesto so as to seem extra tough. The infamous ‘Ed Stone’ even dedicated its first point to ‘a strong economic foundation’. Insert pun/witty joke here. But on a serious note, in sum, the party presumed that appearing tough on the economy would do enough to win votes. While it is true that economic growth continues to lag and borrowing continues to grow ever higher – much higher indeed than it ever did under a Labour government – Labour cannot get away with simply keeping up appearances on the economy.
Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the Fabian Conference on Saturday sparked the beginning of this economic regeneration. Labour should be focusing on the major areas discussed by Jeremy if it is to seriously contest the next election: economic inequality, housing and health. These areas that concern almost every section of society will be crucial and must be talked about at length. Why are we answering questions on the Falklands or flying pickets? Just as when Cameron is asked a question about any topic he answers with empty rhetoric on economic security, the Labour leadership should be responding to questions on such out-dated topics with ‘well the real problem at the moment is that people working fifty hours per week cannot even afford to rent, never mind buy a house’ or ‘perhaps we should be talking about the Government’s decision to remove grants for the most disadvantaged students?’
Distancing ourselves from the collapse of 2008 is obviously crucial. When people hear Jeremy Corbyn talking about closing the gap between the average worker and executive pay or the democratisation of the railways they are listening to something that they have not heard before. ‘That sounds very different to what Labour was proposing at the last election’ a friend said to me in a conversation about the speech, and ergo also very different to what we were offering in 2010. If it is different to what we were offering in 2010 then people will believe that it is an economic policy different to the policies the ‘Labour party that wrecked the economy’ were proposing.
The famous ‘it’s the economy stupid’ comes to mind whenever I have this discussion and while it may seem like a cliché it remains undyingly important. If we can convince the average worker that Labour will have their economic interest at heart then there is no reason why we cannot win the 2020 election under Jeremy Corbyn. It is, however, much easier said than done. As long as fairer pay and conditions, a roof for all and vastly improved public services become the bread and butter of Labour economic policy we will all have a message to hammer home. Let’s stop dancing to the Tory tune and let’s ignore the distractions of battles past. It is time to forge a left-wing economic platform that works for the majority of British people and not just the privileged few.