For the sake of brevity, I’m going to do something in this post that I don’t normally like to do, which is to use the shorthand terms of left and right wing interchangeably with the other axis on the political spectrum of liberal and authoritarian. Apologies, as this will rather confuse the message or previous posts where I argues that Labour should and can do no such thing. Please understand that I do so only to respond to the postings of others in kind.
First things first. The memo, the Observer is so breathless about is a “two and a half page paper…written by the head of Labour’s anti-Tory attack unit”. So the person whose job it is in the Labour Party to offer strategic ideas on how we can beat the Tories is doing so in an ideas paper yet to be discussed by shadow cabinet colleagues, never mind adopted in partial or wholesale form. For me, I wouldn’t have held the front page.
Reaction has been predictable. Labour’s 1992 brigade have been doing their usual Chicken Licken routine. So much so in fact that one starts to wonder how and why this fairly innocuous document came to be sold to the Observer as a game-changer in the first place. Perhaps someone, somewhere wanted to kick off a pre-conference anti-Ed frisson. Or force him into a corner on response to the riots, clearly the most contentious aspect of attacking Cameron’s “rightward shift”, though significantly that appears to be acknowledged in the document.
I haven’t read the document. I’d like to as I really can’t judge its content or aims without doing so. All I can do is discuss more generally, where I think Labour can and should land some blows on Cameron and the Tories. Equally, while Conor Pope is right that people aren’t that interested in what a lot of us activists and strategists mistake for politics, we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking they don’t care about the effect of policy on their lives. So yes, talking horse-trading and inside baseball while canvassing doesn’t work. Simply referring to the Tories as “right wing” doesn’t work. But that’s not to say that we can’t go a long way to re-toxifying their brand, by highlighting broken promises on the NHS, on the environment and on their their bizarre leadership combination of the louche and the incompetent. We just need to do so in a way that makes it clear why that matters to voters, not why it matters to Labour.
The most obvious, yet most shied away from place where Labour could attack the Tories from the left is on taxation policy. This has the advantage of being both good for us in short term tactics while also supporting a longer term narrative. My contention would be that Labour can make the following promises at the next election:
“the average family in Britain will pay no more tax in real terms under a Labour Government than they do now”.
That’s simple and direct. But we will want to do more, because we believe in funding state programmes. So here’s another promise for those whose wealth and income are well above average:
“A Labour Government will not raise your taxes beyond that you paid in 2010. But My God we will collect them.”
This leaves us room to reinstate the 50p tax rate, to move VAT and to do what works with Corporation taxes, encouraging small businesses and start ups while ensuring that monoliths pay to retain their advantages. We should ensure that Osborne doesn’t get away with his “find the lady” trick over the Swiss banks, but answers for his major role in the scuppering of the European Union Saving Tax Directive which would have been far more effective on an ongoing basis at tackling tax havens.
This position also speaks to Labour focusing our efforts on making sure the fortunate pay their fair share. Not raising their taxes, but bloody well paying them. Like everyone else has to.
Recent polling shows that measures like the 50% tax and a mansion tax (this year’s stage managed coalition bust-up) have support across the political spectrum. Labour can use the stage managed bust-up to their advantage by saying that both are good policy, as long as they run along side measures to support the lives of the squeezed middle. We can take the pre-agreed argument between the Lib Dems and Tories and show how we both agree and differ setting out a radical agenda that puts us on the side of the public and paints them again as out of touch and on the side of the aloof.
On the other hand, we will need to be very sensitive when it comes to dealing with crime in the aftermath of the riots. We can’t be simplistic and blame the cuts and we can’t ignore the effect that the cutting of youth services, the loss of jobs and the spluttering of our economy means for people on the ground. But those people were more often the victims than the perpetrators of the crimes we saw in early August, and we have to represent them too. We need to be clear that we support swift but measured justice, but that we also want to really be open to innovative ways to change behaviour too. We will be open to ideas from wherever they come from if they can be proved both to work, and not to cause longer term damage, as I discussed last week.
Labour don’t have to run to the left to define themselves against what is a pretty right wing Government. We can occupy a broad spectrum of the centre ground while also retaining our leftist principles. But one thing we can’t do is run to this coalition’s right – there’s no room there for a centre ground victory.
One thing we shouldn’t do is discuss this publicly in terms of left and right. Because that again is where the public don’t care. Nail Cameron on his incompetence. Nail him on his broken promises. Nail him on his louche attitude and failing leadership abilities. We can paint a vivid picture of this Government’s failings on thier own terms and on the public’s. We won’t win just by calling them Tories, but by showing why Toryism is so damaging.