The right are clearly a little rattled by having a competent leader of the Labour Party in situ once again. It has been a long time since this wan’t the case and they got used to living in a world where the head of the opposition was an open joke. Yet despite all that, Labour still faces a huge uphill climb. One of the problems it faces is how to respond in a post-Covid or even an ongoing, we have to live with CoVid world for a bit.
This is not helped by the fact that portions of the left are assuming that because a Tory government is looking to spend its way out of this crisis, that this means the argument for larger government will be unassailable from here on out. In fact, I am starting to feel sure that at some point in the next five years, depending on how long this crisis takes to play out, we could have a period of harsh austerity that will have widespread public support. Labour will have to have an argument to counter what may be the Tory line that because we spent to get out of an unforeseen crisis, that means we now have to tighten down public spending for a bit.
This could create a trap for Labour, one they have fallen into a few times in the last decade. I can see Labour wanting to make the compassionate argument; that we have asked people to make tremendous sacrifices in a time of crisis and we cannot take away their public services now. They will also want to say that a new round of austerity will hit the poorest and the most in need. Whatever the merits of these points, they are not the way Labour should go about arguing against post-CoVid austerity if the Tories go down that road.
Instead, they would need to make a reasoned argument against it. They would need to come up with ways of explaining that working households across the land will be worse off under these Tory plans – and have an alternative plan that is reasonably easy to get across while sounding solid and thought out. What form that would take I don’t exactly know yet, but Labour would need a counter to the inevitable Tory claim that Labour spending plans want to bankrupt our grandchildren.
I realise I am asking here for the Labour Party to start thinking about the rebuttal to an argument that isn’t being made at the moment and may never be required. On the other hand, this is a useful exercise regardless. Labour needs to find a way to make a larger state which spends more on public services appealing to a whole range of voters who were turned off by the Corbyn project. They cannot fall back on “the CoVid crisis has made us all socialists now” idea – one way or another, they will get caught out by this. Since 2008, the left has assumed again and again that events will make their arguments for them. They had better start coming up with some credible ones of their own now.
Tomorrow, I have another book coming out. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!
It’s out on April 9th, but you can pre-order here:
The phoenix says
You assume the tories under johnson will return to austerity
As soon as he gets out of hospital which he will
Expect a Damascus moment
He is not the ridiculous ideologue like Osborne who used the american financial crash as an excuse for thatcherism
Remember he cried at her funeral for god sake
Like the left takeover of labour for 5 years
The tories with him and Sunak are in control and the fiscal tories in retreat
This will play out nicely for Starmer
Go after the off shore capital and raise taxes for the wealthy
Protect the key workers
A lot of small business will not recover after the pandemic
The stupidity of brexit will also drag the economy down
Tories are now the tax and spend party not through choice but unforeseen reality of a 100 year disaster
Starmer is like Muhammed Ali
The ultimate counter puncher
The consequences of dealing with the CoVid-19 pandemic and Brexit will leave the country in a mess. I think it quite likely that the Tories will be in a very difficult place. I would predict a resigned acceptance of a new round of austerity rather than “widespread public support”.
Labour would face the same problems: industry and business hamstrung by Brexit, a massive public and private debt together with mounting interest rates. Moreover, if the Tories were ejected in 2024, it is probable that Labour would lack a working majority. SNP would want to keep its distance, Lib Dems, even if there were enough of them, have had the experience of a coalition during harsh economic times and would not be keen either. Of course, given its grip on the levers of power and rich backers, the Conservatives could well hold on, in which case Labour does not have to be plausible, just appear to be so.
Peter Martin says
“….the argument for larger government will be unassailable from here on out. In fact, I am starting to feel sure that at some point in the next five years, depending on how long this crisis takes to play out, we could have a period of harsh austerity”
Are you saying that austerity can be used to achieve smaller government deficits which in turn leads to smaller government?
If so, this is not how it works. A reduction in government spending will contract the economy and lead to a reduction in the Govt’s income. The effect on the deficit is still unknown. It could even increase if tax revenues fall faster than Govt spending as everyone loses confidence in their own finances. There will be additional calls for Government support when times are tough. Just as we are seeing now the size of Government, relative to the rest of the economy, could increase.
Austerity should properly be regarded as an anti inflation measure. It should only be applied when the economy is overheating.