2005. Despite Blair’s falling approval ratings and the Lib Dems nibbling away at their support over Iraq, Labour won the general election. In fact, it was never seriously in doubt. The Tories seemed unable to break through at all; Labour and the greater Left seemed to have cornered the national debate. People began asking if the Conservatives could win a majority ever again.
2015. The Conservatives have just won that election no one thought, right up to polling day itself, it could. Osborne, at last free of those pesky Liberal Democrats, announces an emergency budget, essentially a replacement budget for the one put out only a few months ago – again, in order to put out his vision, free of Clegg and Alexander.
As a result, we all find ourselves in a place that is eerily like the precise inverse of a decade hence, a sort of mirror image of 2005, with left and right juxtapositioned. The centre-left comeback to Osborne’s budget was weak and full of unfortunate contradictions. It was a war on the poor they said, but at the same time, a lot of it was nicked from Labour. So does that mean the Left now want to try and rebrand Miliband as some sort of crypto-Tory?
The rise in minimum wage coupled with the removal of tax credits has tied them in knots so definitely, several commentary pieces had me laughing out loud. They can’t bash raising the minimum wage being put up, obviously, so they go after the tax credits cut. Only that effectively requires them to argue in favour of the taxpayer supplementing large corporations, allowing them to underpay their staff, meaning that the difference is taken out of the NHS and schools.
Don’t get me wrong: Osborne’s emergency budget was unashamedly of the Right, and as such should have been ripe for criticism for a Left truly on its game. However, the centre-left, its politicians and its commentators, seem to be at a low not seen since, well possibly ever. They are caught between agreeing with the Tories on everything, only with added, needless caveats (“A lowering of the benefits ceiling to £23k is deeply wrong. It should be £23.5, surely”), or indulging in Seamus Milne style far-left nonsense. Neither will get Labour, or indeed any centre-left party, back into power in Britain.
In fact, this emergency budget needs to act as a wake up call to the centre-left in this country. If the comeback to Osborne let off the leash on steroids is, “You nicked the best bits from Ed Miliband”, what would the Tories have to announce for the Left to be able to mount an effective rebuttal? A total dismantling of the NHS (I can imagine it now: “I know we said that’s what the Tories were doing a few years back and it turned out to be crap, but this time we really, really mean it!”)? Flat PAYE income tax? Seriously, I’d still put my money on Osborne coming out looking okay the way things are going.