Mark Ferguson at Labour List has written about how Labour must be wary of the fact that 49% of people still blame us the most for the cuts. I completely agree that it is essential that we continue to keep this at the heart both of our policy and our presentation of current and past policy as we go forward.
The problem I have, is that we don’t know why they blame us.
Do they blame us because the Tory narrative that we overspent on public services has caught on? It’s a populist narrative that probably does have a lot of traction despite both a lack of serious veracity and the fact that until the crash the Tories were planning to match us for spending.
Do they blame us becuase we failed to regulate the banks and failed to balance the economy properly away from fragile economic areas like finance, leaving us too exposed to the crash? If so they are quite right to do so.
It is vital that Labour conduct extensive polling and focus grouping to understand the reason for the blame so it can formulate a response to the question that resonates. That may not mean accepting wrongly apportioned blame, but it will mean moderating the language of regret to match the expectations of voters.
I suspect the truth is that the answer is mixed, but is mostly the former (if I had to I’d put it at an 80:20 split) which is difficult for Labour. We can and should apologise for and learn from the latter, but I don’t believe we did massively overspend before the crash. We can promise to ensure that investment is sustainable, strengthen and make more independent the OBR and give it some teeth to ensure that there are guarantees that we won’t be able to over-stretch in the future. That way we can promise not to do in the future what we don’t believe we did in the past, while adding independent verifiers. But we can’t promise not to invest. Investment will be needed. It’s how we articulate that while working hard to regain credibility that will be the difficult thing.