Labour will unveil key economic policies in the next weeks and months as it speeds up its drive to regain credibility on the issue while the debate between Ed Miliband and Ed Balls intensifies
The shadow Chancellor is cautious about declaring Labour’s hand at this stage. But in an interview with The Independent, Mr Miliband said: “We will be saying more between now and the general election about our approach to spending. We will do it on the basis of what is right for the economy and the country.”
Labour plans to set the agenda by bringing forward some announcements so they are made before George Osborne unveils another £11.5bn of cuts in a government-wide spending review on 26 June.
Mr Miliband and Mr Balls are at odds over the timing of Labour’s policy statements. The latter told Labour’s National Executive Committee last week that he did not want to make commitments he could not keep or that would cause the party problems in two years. “We’ll take a position on what [cuts] can be reversed when we agree the manifesto,” Mr Balls said. Senior Labour figures denied the two men were at loggerheads. It is understood Mr Balls’s instinct is to repeat Labour’s strategy in 1997, when it declared key economic policies in January, four months before a May election. However, Mr Miliband believes Labour faces a very different challenge and must provide more than the “reassurance” voters sought in 1997 because today they want change.
In his interview, Mr Miliband said: “All oppositions face a challenge on economic credibility. We had a financial crisis in 2008 while we were in power and that obviously makes it much harder.” He insisted that Labour was level or even behind on economic competence before winning its 1997 landslide.
Some Shadow Cabinet members want to spell out specific cuts to show Labour is serious about tackling the deficit. They have been blocked by Mr Balls. But with many opinion polls showing Labour trailing the Conservatives on economic competence, the Labour leadership is discussing issues such as whether to accept the Coalition’s spending ceiling.
Mr Miliband poured cold water on suggestions that his common front with Nick Clegg against David Cameron on press regulation could pave the way for a Lib-Lab coalition after the 2015 election. Although their personal relationship has improved during talks on the Leveson report, the Labour leader said he did not resile from his previous position that it would be “difficult” to work with the Liberal Democrats in a hung parliament while Mr Clegg remained leader.
“In this specific area, Nick Clegg took a brave stand. We worked together effectively,” said Mr Miliband. “But it doesn’t change my view that the Lib Dems are making very serious mistakes. They are not a brake on the Conservatives, they are their accomplices. It would be difficult because he would have been the Deputy Prime Minister who took the country in one direction when we wanted to take it in another.”