Why Labour should welcome the Budget
In the days after the general election, a former Labour minister said to me that it was “the perfectly wrong result”. By which he meant that it could not have been designed better by the gods to frustrate Labour’s hopes. Whereas a Lib-Con arrangement would deliver a solid parliamentary majority, any attempt at a Labour-led alternative would not only look undemocratic but would involve the complex subplots set in Scotland, Wales and, especially, Northern Ireland.
If he had been less partisan, he could have described it as the perfectly right result, because — although there’s a danger of coming over all mystical about the will of the people — a Liberal Conservative government seems to represent where the centre of gravity of public opinion lies.
That is why I suspect that Harriet Harman, who has to respond to the Budget for Labour, may get it wrong. The question of the timing of public spending cuts is not important, if we are talking of only £6bn this year — a sum that was wiped out by statistical revision the other day. What is important is that Labour would have had to cut too.
George Osborne has softened opinion well, so that when he presents sensible plans for bringing the deficit down more quickly than Labour would have done (helped by those revisions) perceptions of the parties are likely to revert to pre-1992 type. That is, Labour compassionate but incompetent; Tories tough but good at managing the economy.
The new element, of course, is the Liberal Democrats. There is an alternative future for them to the one inscribed in the fate of the Australian Democrats, about which I wrote on Sunday, and that is that they gain credibility as a party of government, while posing as the defenders of the poor, sick and aged.
This is not going to be a Budget that clobbers the vulnerable, and Labour will be making a serious mistake if its response consists of a shrill reflex howl against “Cuts”. Over to you, Harriet.Tagged in: budget, harriet harman, tax and spend
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