All true, or very likely so, although one cannot know for sure, Balls and Darling seem to have been closer to the mark, and Krugman is usually a pretty shrewd observer.
Balls’ argument is looking considerably stronger than it did and, in parliamentary terms, as Dan Hodges puts it, he “put George Osborne on the canvass” . So this is the start of Labour’s long road back, right, now we have fixed our economic credibility problem?
Ah, would that it were that simple. Where we might want to differ from the good Hodges is when he says that “Balls has won”. He has not. Labour has not. For a number of reasons: but most already known. Stephen Beer, a fund manager, warns at Progress that we have not done “enough to restore economic credibility for Labour”, and he’s right.
But it is more than that. Even if we can make a convincing argument, in the court of public opinion, for being cleared of economic incompetence, there are a half-dozen other charges which it will surely want taken into consideration.
First, as Hamish McRae points out in the Independent , government predictions have underestimated GDP by half a per cent, on average, over the last ten years. So we may well not actually be in recession at all after the figures are corrected.
Indeed, the insightful McRae goes as far as to predict that the “doomsayers will be proved wrong” on the basis of some alternative figures from Goldman Sachs. Not conclusive, but enough to make us hesitate.
Second, the Tories being proved wrong is not the same as Labour being proved right. We do not know for sure what might have happened, had Darling or Balls been Chancellor instead of Osborne. Neither can we even explain in detail what we would have done: while we have specified a level of cuts, we have not yet said where we would have cut, which of course could affect outcomes.
So Labour might have done just as badly, or worse. We do not know and, besides, the game of alternative histories is rarely one which moves voters.
Also Beer writes correctly that, on top of this, we need to get back credibility with the financial markets, where we currently seem to be doing our best, via our “predators versus producers” talk, to alienate them.
Third, we should be wary of yet again focusing on the economics and ignoring the politics: even if we were to win the economic argument with economists and the media, this does not mean voters will believe us.
The Tories will continue to blame Labour under Brown, not to mention the euro crisis, which seems a horse which will run and run in the “useful Tory excuses” stakes. In fact, although the latest poll on the blame game shows, encouragingly, that blaming Brown is an excuse which is starting to wear a little thin with voters, 56% of those polled still blame the economic situation on factors other than the government , as the Sunday Telegraph’s Iain Martinhelpfully pointed out to me earlier this week.
Fourth, Labour is riding high in the national polls, yes. But it is on the back of government unpopularity and, in the last couple of weeks, chaos. It is not demonstrably, thus far at least, down to Labour achievements. It is pleasant to feel the sun now and then, but we cannot expect that it will last. There is a very strong likelihood that this Tory bad news will not last for the next three years: count on it.
Fifth, credible economic policy, even though it represents a big part of Labour’s electoral challenge and even if we can achieve it, is by no means all. The mountain Labour has to climb is also reflected in other vital challenges where its prospects range from unpromising to dire.
London, where it is damned if it loses and damned if it wins. Scotland, where the UK may just be saved from disintegration despite the party, rather than because of it. Leadership polling: move along here, nothing to see.
And, probably most important of all, policies. With Liam Byrne’s departure to Birmingham, the policy review now appears to have gone AWOL.
The brutal electoral equation is this: no policies equals no alternative programme, which equals no hope, until that changes. A change which will now inevitably be delayed.
Finally, we must not forget that a reaction of delight at the figures, with the suffering of the country as background, is not an attractive position, viewed from outside. I-told-you-so will not win us many votes, even if people think that we were right. And even though this double-edged event is probably, frustratingly, a necessary condition for Labour’s rehabilitation.
We have perhaps heard one swallow sing, but it is still, sadly, the middle of winter. The song, as Robert Plant once put it, remains the same.
This post first published at Labour Uncut