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: