During the Labour leadership election Richard and I talked a lot about what exactly it was that we were voting for (I know, I know, but we can’t afford to go out much). Were we looking for the next Prime Minister – polished enough to win the confidence of media barons and banks, someone to triumph in the 2015 leaders’ debates? Or were we looking for a Leader of the Opposition, who was focused on giving the government a good kicking every day for the next five years? In the end I opted for the latter – I voted for Ed Balls – believing that a period of calm reflection and sweet reasonableness was a luxury that neither the party nor the country could afford.
The deafening silence from the Labour leadership since the CSR (and the truly shocking outcome of the Tower Hamlets’ mayoral election); the lack of an alternative economic plan and the seeming inability to mobilise against the government’s programme fill me with real despair. The job of pointing out the dangers of what’s being proposed seems to be being left to the IFS, Nobel Economics Laureates and blogs. The flood of communication from the Labour Party during the leadership campaign on email and Twitter seems to have dried up completely – they’re not even preaching to the converted at the moment.
One of the problems for any Opposition is that the big, dumb, easily-graspable lines the government is peddling: “This is fair. It’s all Labour’s fault. The education budget has been protected. We’re all in this together” are so much easier to fit into a headline than the nuanced analysis of the small print that you need to put the opposite view. The Labour party needs to find ways to counter the belief that this is all unavoidable and it needs to find ways of getting a clear message out, fast.
I assume that the strategy is to build up a plan the party can unite behind and argue for in the long-term. And I can see the value of not giving in to knee-jerk opposition for the sake of it. The problem is that – as the man said – a lie can be half way round the world before the truth has got its boots on. The longer the “this is all Labour’s fault” line is out there unopposed, the harder it’s going to be to avoid the blame for what’s coming next.