George Osborne’s emergency Budget raises a simple question: what’s the emergency? My guess is that it has little to do with the hardships facing ordinary people, or Britain’s productivity problem, and everything to do with the craving for political positioning that is the hallmark of the Chancellor.
Before the election, Osborne wouldn’t say where his £12bn of cuts to benefits would fall. Now he’s in a rush to come to the House of Commons and tell us all about them. It’s an emergency only because he wants to use the moment of the Labour leadership contest to set the political narrative for this Parliament.
His last emergency budget, in 2010, was the start of his claim that all the economy’s problems were a result of “Labour’s mess”. This Wednesday is about inventing a new claim: that support for the low-paid and vulnerable is the root of Britain’s problems.
Five years ago, Labour was too focused on a leadership election; this time I won’t let them get away with it. The Tories do not have a mandate to strip support from disabled people and tax credits from working people. These will be red lines for Labour under my leadership. If Osborne thinks this is the only way to reduce the deficit, then I for one will be ready to give him the fight he’s had coming for a long time.
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Real leadership is about being ready to give a hard message to your own side, too. This budget is only happening because too many people felt they couldn’t trust Labour with the economy. Winning back trust on that issue would be my first and most important task as Labour leader.
I will challenge the Tory myth that investment in schools and hospitals caused the crash. It didn’t. But we didn’t get everything right and we will only win people back if we have the strength to say that. The truth is that we let the deficit get too high in the middle of the last decade when the economy was growing so, when the crash came, we were not as prepared as we should have been. The public believe that and expressed it clearly in the last televised election debate. If the next Labour leader looks like they can’t admit that, then we will struggle. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls should have admitted that Labour needed to have saved more in the good years.
Once we reach a reckoning on our past, we can rebuild trust and develop a Labour alternative to Osborne’s brutal deficit-reduction plan.
My Labour Party will put forward radical plans to let councils build homes again – a fairer way to get the housing benefit bill down – and create incentives to pay the Living Wage and stop taxpayers subsiding low pay.
This week marks the start of my battle against Osborne’s deceit and my fight to win back the trust of the British people for Labour.
Andy Burnham is shadow Health Secretary and a candidate for the Labour Party leadershipReuse content