Opposition is never easy. It’s frustrating when you see people experiencing tough times up and down the country.
And while I love the job that I’m
doing, I’d much rather Labour had the chance to shape the society we
live in, and make choices that support people in tough times and reflect
their values. Which is why Labour would be reducing the deficit if we
were in government – but in a way that is responsible and protects the
interests of the majority.
We have always said there have to be tough decisions on tax and spending and that Labour would have to make cuts too.
But when the Government cuts spending and raises taxes too far and too fast - and do it in such an unfair and unbalanced way - it's not just bad for families, it's bad for the deficit too.
The result is the Government won't now balance the books by 2015 as they promised and are set to borrow £158bn more than they planned - to pay for a growing dole queue and benefits bill.
Our plan is different. We would help reduce the deficit by stimulating growth – with a temporary VAT cut, tax breaks for small businesses and a bankers bonus levy to help 100,000 young people into work.
If the government just ploughs on with this failing plan, the next Labour government will inherit a substantial deficit that still needs sorting out.
That is why Ed Miliband has said we will need to find new ways to deliver social justice in straitened times, with long term reforms of our economy.
That is why Ed Balls said last year that not only do we accept there will have to be cuts but we will need tough fiscal rules to get the deficit down and that we can't make any commitments now to reverse any of the tax rises or spending cuts.
This week Jim Murphy has said in defence, we would support £5 billion worth of cuts that the Government has put forward. And in the Home Office, Yvette Cooper has said we would reduce the police budget by 12% over the course of the Parliament. Those are responsible measures which would not decimate the frontline or jeopardise our long term security.
In education, Ed Balls said in Government that we would reduce the budget by £1.1 billion, but without slashing frontline services. That compares with Michael Gove, who according to the IFS is pushing through the biggest cuts to education since the 1950s.
There are always choices to be made in politics. At a time of economic uncertainty, the Government likes to claim that it has no alternative. That we should simply be blown by the winds of an economy in chaos, rather than seeking to shelter ourselves from the storm.
But is there really no choice?
When the Government are pursuing a reckless reorganisation of the NHS that will cost billions, is there really no choice?
When the Government cut the budget for school buildings by more than double the Whitehall average, is there really no choice?
And when they are spending the same amount of money - £600 million - on 100 free schools, as they are on new places in the 24,000 other schools in England, is there really no choice?
It’s a well-worn cliché in politics, but particular true in opposition, that the race is a marathon not a sprint. But whatever some sections of the media would like you to believe, Ed Miliband is both setting the pace and is on the right track.
I haven’t yet had the chance to watch The Iron Lady which came out on Friday but it’s instructive to remember the lessons of that time.
In the fifteen months following Margaret Thatcher’s election as party leader, the Conservatives had an average poll lead of just under one per cent. By comparison, Ed Miliband has had an average lead of just under four per cent in the fifteen months since becoming Leader of the Opposition. In the aftermath of one of the worst ever results at a General Election, his progress is impressive.
However much I disagreed with some of what Margaret Thatcher did in office, there is no doubt that she did not retreat at the first whiff of grapeshot.
Ed Miliband has shown he too is ahead of the curve. On the major challenges facing Britain, he has both shaped our political lexicon with concepts like the ‘squeezed middle’ and shown he is on the side of the hard working majority.
He has talked about responsibility at the top and bottom of society – so you have seen Liam Byrne showing how Labour would help people get off benefits and pay their way, while Chuka Umunna has talked about the excesses of executive pay. That is what Ed Miliband means when he talks about supporting a ‘something for something’ culture in Britain.
So Labour is rebuilding the coalition of social justice and aspiration that won us three elections. There will be different policies to fit changing times. And different phrases too. If Tony Blair had the ‘Age of Achievement’, Ed Miliband has the ‘Promise of Britain’.
In contrast, the Tories have no sense of national mission. They prefer to abrogate responsibility, claiming there is no alternative. And they promote the few – with a Treasury autumn statement that chose to squeeze families with children three times harder than the banks.
So it’s difficult being in opposition, though nothing compared to the struggles facing ordinary families every day.
Labour faces some big challenges, but Ed has made a strong start.
Stephen Twigg MP is Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary