Poor economy a drag on Labour fortunes
Miliband under pressure to rethink his deficit strategy as a new poll shows his party is stuck
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Wednesday 07 December 2011
Ed Miliband is under pressure to fine-tune Labour's stance on the economy amid growing evidence that the party is failing to win the political argument over cutting the deficit.
Several Labour frontbenchers believe the party must urgently come up with an answer to the criticism by David Cameron and George Osborne that Labour's recipe for Britain's debt crisis is to borrow even more. "It is doing us a lot of damage," said one frontbencher. Another said: "We need a rethink. We are in the wrong place on the economy."
The concern amongst Labour MPs will be heightened by the latest poll of polls by The Independent showing that the party has gained no ground despite a month of gloomy economic statistics that have called the Coalition's cuts strategy into question.
Labour remains on 39 per cent (unchanged from the previous month), the Conservatives on 35 per cent (unchanged) and the Liberal Democrats on 11 per cent (down a point). Although these figures would give Labour an overall majority of 38, that would be reduced by proposed changes to constituency boundaries. And more worryingly for Labour, the party trails the Tories on economic competence.
John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, who calculated the weighted average of last month's polls, said: "Labour's failure to make any further advance during the course of 2011 must be a source of growing concern to the party. As the economic news has worsened... doubts about the Government's handling of the nation's finances have grown.
"Yet the public doubt whether Labour would do any better – and indeed are still inclined to hold the party responsible for much the austerity that the country is now experiencing. Unless Labour can restore its reputation for economic competence, then however bad the economic news might be for the Government, it seems unlikely the party will be able to secure the kind of lead that would suggest it was on course for victory in 2015. That probably implies spelling out a much clearer alternative to the Government's economic strategy than the party has so far been able to present, and in so doing begin to convince the public that it has learnt from the mistakes made during its previous tenure in office."
Allies of Mr Miliband insist that Labour is united in agreement that its message needed to change following last week's gloomy Autumn Statement by the Chancellor. But they insisted the party's policy would not – and that it still supported a short-term fiscal stimulus to ensure the growth needed to cut the deficit.
Mr Miliband's aides suggested that Labour will say more about the long-term challenge to eliminate the deficit and build a "new economy" and less about its immediate plans including a temporary cut in VAT to combat the "caricature" of its policies painted by the Tories.
Labour now knew it would inherit a deficit if it wins the next election and would have to make cuts, they said. So the party will spell out the "hard choices" facing it on spending and taxation.
Labour sources insisted that the party's economic ratings are improving and claimed the Coalition would not be able to continue to blame Britain's problems on the previous Labour administration. They said it normally took about 18 months for voters to see a new government as "taking ownership" of the economy, so the passage of time would dilute the potency of the Coalition's attacks on Labour.
Mr Osborne mocked Labour's stance, claiming that the only other European parties that wanted to slow the pace of deficit reduction were Communists and the French Workers' Struggle Party.
- 1 The truth about 'girl things': Three cheers for Heather Watson's honesty
- 2 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 5 Men behaving badly: Urinating while standing, 'manspreading' and the gendering of selfishness
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...
Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...
£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...