Before Mr Ed Miliband had been elected or had uttered a word as Leader Labour his party was ahead in the polls. Just five months after their mauling in the General Election, the public was giving them more than 40% support. How can this be?
I do not find it very surprising. For the last few months the main message coming out of the Coalition is the message of “deep cuts”. The long rambling spending review has allowed Labour politicians to get on the airwaves and excite concern about a long list of possible cuts. It has allowed all sorts of special interest groups free rein to parade the importance of their public spending and imply it is about be cut in clumsy ways. It has allowed Mr Balls to confidently predict a double dip recession based on the cuts he expects. It has damaged domestic confidence, and even led to a Monetary Policy Committee member demanding more money printing. Labour’s focus groups and polls show them they need to project some optimism and hope into the bleak economic and spending landscape. The government should do so before they lose the argument.
I do find it suprising that Conservatives leaders have allowed this to happen . I thought they understood that an image of a party that wants to cut well loved public services is not helpful. Nor is it a true reflection of past Conservatives in government. An image of a party which can cut out waste and less desirable public spending cannot be won by words. It can only be won by quietly and successfully doing just that. Five months into Coalition government, and public spending is more than 10% higher than a year ago, yet the government already has a reputation for cutting hard and cutting too much.
Coming out of past recessions Conservative government in 1981 and 1992 did cut the rate of growth in public spending and the plans for extra public spending as a necessary part of delivering a decent recovery. This time it was important to make it clear that the deficit is to be brought down more quickly than under Labour’s plans. That part of the strategy has worked, bringing interest rates on government borrowing down and seeing off a possible Greek or Irish style borrowing crisis. So far so good. Now we need to hear from Ministers that they can bring the deficit down whilst still increasing public spending every year. Their aim is better public service. They intend to achieve this with smaller increases in money. The previous government showed it was possible to shower the public services with extra money but get very little back for it. This government should be able to reform and improve public service with smaller extra sums.
They just make the task a whole lot harder if they allow the impression to gain hold that they are in it for the cuts. That will unite the Union hotheads with Labour to fight harder. It might even make firebrands of some moderates within the public services. We are all in this together. Temperate language about public spending which reflects the truth of how much money is available will serve them better than the harsh language of cuts.