Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Polly Toynbee's manifesto of unconditional surrender

Polly Toynbee has many qualities, but one of her significant flaws is that she doesn't seem to know anything about political strategy.

She wrote an article this week condemning Gordon Brown and Ed Balls for attacking Tory cuts and claiming that the choice is between Labour investment and Tory cuts. Instead she wants Labour to "be honest" and announce the following policies:

*Scrap ID cards and Trident
*Freeze public sector pay and cut back their pensions
*Freeze private sector pay and bonuses
*Raise capital gains tax to prevent house prices rising
*Cut spending on the NHS
*Promise to spend more money on services for the vulnerable which most people haven't heard of

She appears to think that if Labour did this, then we would be more popular, which is simply delusional (only the first of these might be popular, and as a package, they alienate just about all the people who might possibly consider voting for us).

It irritates wealthy newspaper columnists, but in fact Brown and Balls have found a good line of attack about Tory cuts, which causes the Tories a number of problems.

If the Tories spell out in detail how they intend to make their spending cuts, then many of their supporters will not want to vote for them any more and their lead in the opinion polls will collapse. They are also split about how deep the cuts should go, and don't have the experience or knowledge about how to save money without it affecting front-line public services. Their general approach to public services is kind of like Blairism without the redeeming features.

But if they continue to make vague promises about cutting "waste", promise fantastical and nonsensical savings on education and welfare and lead people to believe that their cuts will be relatively painless for most people, then they will probably win the next election, but risk being a one term wonder as people turn against them when they find that the cuts are far from painless and involve real and deep cuts to services which people care about.

What the Tories want, ideally, is to win the next election with popular support for big spending cuts which gives them the mandate to cut public spending significantly to reduce the budget deficit. The problem is that there is no evidence that there is any popular support for this. Every time this issue is surveyed, it finds that people are quite happy to see services which they don't use cut (or for taxes to be raised on other people), but opposed, for very understandable reasons, to paying more and getting less for it.

Polly Toynbee's manifesto of unconditional surrender would let them off this dilemma. If Labour announces that they are going to make most people pay more tax and get less for it, in order to increase spending on Sure Start, social workers and unemployed young people, then it makes it easier, not harder, for the Tories to slash these programmes and to claim that there is no sensible alternative to their own programme of cuts.

Labour shouldn't offer its many opponents in the Tory Party and the media the gift of spelling out in detail what tax rises and/or spending cuts it would make should we be in government in 2011, when so much about the state of the economy two years from now is uncertain. And they should definitely try to make the Tories decide whether they are confident enough about the next election to reveal their own plans for massive cuts and try to persuade people to support them. It is rather interesting that to date and for all their massive opinion poll leads, the Tories aren't that confident.


At 7:41 am , Anonymous Duncan said...


I disagree but mainoy because I think this goes well beyond a question of political strategy.

Obviously the 12.5% deficits wouldn't last forever byt we are facing a structural deficit of about 6% of GDP. That does have to be closed.

If gilt yields rise, which they eventually will, that structural deficit easily becomes 8/9%.

But let's stick with a 6% figure. To close that means some combination of either 16% tax rises or 13% spending cuts.

These are huge numbers.

The parties owe it to the public to be honest on how they intend to deal with that.

Imagine we won on a manifesto of 'no Tory cuts' - then what?

At 8:32 am , Anonymous Duncan said...

I thought Charlie had an interesting take on this:


At 1:27 pm , Anonymous David Floyd said...

"*Freeze private sector pay and bonuses"

Not really clear how a government would implement this.


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