Thursday, 3 May 2012

The double-dip, if it is one, has not changed the rules of the game

Delight, for many on the left, met the economic figures last Wednesday. Britain was not in recovery after all, but was the victim of a double-dip recession. Paul Krugman wrote eloquently of Britain’s “death spiral of self-defeating austerity”, and Ed Balls had a very good day.

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


  1. "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."

    To be clear Mr Marchant, you believe it is the duty of the party which ostensibly fights for the British people to explain itself to a handful of financiers? These same financiers who were saved from a catastrophe of their own making by nation states all over the world?

    How about the party start demanding that these individuals start explaining themselves to the public, who underwrite their bets and their debts? I think that would garner rather more votes.

  2. Hmm. Do you not realise that we cannot get anywhere near the levers of power, if financial markets project that a Labour government would be a financial disaster? That is the realpolitik.

    Once we get into power, we can do all the regulating and controlling you want. But the first is a sine qua non.

  3. RM

    Sorry to be so negative but your whole piece is tripe, you sound like a worn out political hack who has suffered a nervous breakdown and has taken to blogging to ease the pain.

    Where to start - AD / GB had a plan and it was working.
    Dave the Rave and Sniffy - the Demolition Brothers - do not have a plan and they do not have a clue. To them it is all politics not economics and we are paying a heavy price for their stupidity. The have scared

  4. RM - Part 2 - Bliddy I-Pad

    The dog boilers of the ConDemNation have scared the plebs fartless and spending / demand has fallen off a cliff.
    The corporate sector is hoarding money like there is no tomorrow, private investment is falling.
    What we need is the politics of the loaves and the fishes, someone to take the lead and start to get things moving. It worked then and it will work now.

  5. RM - Part 3

    Anyone want to buy a very used I-Pad.
    Very robust - thrown once - still working.
    C/O "Fat Bloke on Tour".
    Will swap for advice on getting Google Blogger to work.

    Now back to the economics.
    You start off on the wrong foot and then take a wrong turning.

  6. RM - Part 4

    It is not the Labour Party that needs to generate credibility with the Financial Markets.
    It is the Financial Markets that need to generate credibility with the reality / the public / themselves. They are the ones who caused the Global Credit Crunch and they are the ones who need to lessons of the public and of governments. The dog boilers calling for more austerity are people who will kill capitalism, they are the ones who should be very careful of what the wish for - if they kill the host, they as the parasite will die and the children of the host will be ultra vigilant to make sure the same situation does not develop again.


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