I’m so bored by having to write this. It shouldn’t need to be written again. We should know by now that James Carville was right when he proclaimed, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Why oh why does the Labour Party remain steadfastly stupefied by the basic truth that if the voters don’t trust you on the economy, they won’t entrust you with power?
I’m saying this because the purpose of this website is ultimately to uncover a binding narrative, wrapped around Labour policies that are focussed on a new deal for the British people. But we will not get a hearing for any of that if people don’t believe we have the economic plan and discipline to fund the implementation of our ideas. I am therefore frustrated that, due to a mixture of perception and reality, Labour is a million miles away from being listened to on the economy.
The last general election was proof, as if it were needed, of this cold, hard fact. Many of Labour’s policies were popular. The energy price freeze, the ban on zero hours contracts and the pledge to scrap the reorganisation of the NHS all received a level of popular acclaim. When it came to the crunch, however, voters simply didn’t believe Labour could pay for their pledges, so they went with the Devil they knew. In fact, it’s worse than that. Labour were trusted so little that the voters trusted the Tories in their stead, in spite of the fact that Osborne and Cameron had utterly failed to hit their fiscal targets whilst burdening the country with austerity.
You might argue – if there is something very odd about the way you argue – that John McDonnell has done his best to restore economic credibility to the Labour Party. Other than throwing a copy of Mao’s Little Red Book in the direction of George Osborne and saying, in 2008, that he was glad the financial crisis had come, McDonnell did try to assemble a team of the great and the good to design a new economic policy for Labour. Some of the seven experts McDonnell assembled have left his Economic Advisory Committee. All of them have expressed dissatisfaction with the direction of travel.
When, at last, somebody steps up with the express intention of leading the Labour Party back to relevance, she or he will have to spend at least the first two years of her or his leadership talking about two things: Brexit and the economy. She or he will have to talk about Brexit because it will be unavoidable, and the economy because, until the voters think we have a good grasp of economics, nothing else we say on any other policy area will matter. Coincidentally, this includes Brexit.
What should Labour’s new economic policy focus on? In the short-term, it has to be explicitly tied to how we navigate the Brexit negotiations and get the best deal for Britain (in fairness, Sir Keir Starmer is already doing some good work on this front). In the medium-term, it has to be about how we convince people that Labour has shaken off its desire to tax and spend its way to the promised land (the perception is key here, the numbers less so). And in the long-term, it has to have a far-sighted plan for how our party can protect millions of British workers from the looming threats of automation and a spectacularly ageing population.
Until that plan is in place, Labour’s vision doesn’t really matter. There’s not much point planning your dream house if you don’t have the money to pay for it. Too often we forget that the vast majority of British voters are deeply sane and blessed with vast reservoirs of common sense. Try to pull the wool over their eyes, and they will return again and again to the ballot box – often reluctantly – to vote Conservative.