The Thick of It

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Opposition is still not enough

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Just opposing the Tories' cuts won't be enough to propel Ed Miliband into Downing Street. Not being the Tories is helping slightly and not being Gordon Brown is too. Current opinion polls show Labour and Tories neck and neck with the Lib Dems dropping to pre-1997 levels. The government's approval rating is already negative demonstrating that perhaps 2010 was a good election to lose.

YouGov put both Labour and Tories on 40% each and Populous gives Labour a slight lead. If Labour's top team, and it has to be a team effort, can get the right messages across the Tories' popularity is likely to slide as their cuts come into force, and Labour's should increase.

The key for Labour is to get the right messages. It isn't enough to simply shout about the unfairness of cuts. Labour has to make it clear why the deficit exists and also what it would do about it. Doing things differently is important because many have pointed out that the spending review takes UK public spending "back" to the same levels as in 2006. We were fine in 2006 weren't we? It all depends. At the end of this four year cycle Britain's public spending might be at the 41% of GDP it was in 2006 but we won't be living in the same country any more. The spending review takes very different slices out of the cake than those that were added between 2006 and 2010.

Treasury advisor Colin Talbot points out that 41% of GDP is still 2% below the post-war average. We're looking at a Tory government that is becoming obsessed with the level of GDP spent by government. Margaret Thatcher tried and failed to cut it to below 40% and Cameron is aiming at the same target by planning to cut further after 2015.

Talbot argues: "Shrinking the size of the state is a perfectly legitimate policy aim – but it is not one anyone voted for at the last election because none of the three main parties put it forward". 


The politics has to be right, the messages have to be consistent and well targeted. Opposition alone isn't sufficient.

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