Mandelson’s state of the race update

4th April, 2010 7:55 pm

By Alex Smith / @alexsmith1982

Peter Mandelson has fired up the election campaign proper – thought to begin in the next few days – with a rallying call to Labour activists and a message that the Tories would put economic recovery at risk.

The following email was sent to Labour supporters tonight:

Let me start by thanking you for the superhuman efforts you have been putting in over the last few months.

Your individual efforts have proved a formidable counter to the millions being ploughed into marginal constituencies by Lord Ashcroft’s Tories, and the million-pound airbrushed poster campaigns being run by our opponents.

The Tories may have a significant financial advantage but as your efforts have shown this need not be a barrier to getting our message across. This is a task for every member – this needs to be a word of mouth election.

As the ‘Shallow’ Chancellor, George Osborne, was bragging in his Guardian interview on Saturday, the Tories think they have it in the bag and the election is won before a single vote is cast.

So, what happened last week? Yes, the Tories got favourable coverage and that is a reminder to everyone that we remain the underdogs in this election. But they did so by putting politics before economics, putting their short-term political interests before the longer-term economic interests of the country. They would rather score points than stick to policies that would secure Britain’s economic recovery. When things get choppy for Mr. Cameron his first thought is to abandon fiscal discipline and his commitment to tackling the deficit, and instead reach out for crowd pleasing about-turns.

What is striking about him is that his response to any pressure is to take the soft option and the easy road. This is a far cry from the bold heir-to-Blair he first advertised.

But easy politics does not make for sound economics. And it isn’t leadership.

Unfunded promises made today can lead to economic calamity tomorrow. The Tories have underlined the central plank in Labour’s campaign – that, through our toughness, we are best placed to secure recovery.

So my point for you is this: the headlines achieved by the Tories are also an opportunity for us to show that we have guts, that when the going gets tough we make tough and serious choices that put the country first. A rise in NICs may not be popular but it is necessary, and therefore it is the right thing for the country – unless a hefty VAT rise is to be put in its place or even bigger swingeing cuts of public services.

Just remember that, two weeks ago, in a Saturday morning speech, Cameron was hailing himself as the new Thatcher, the man to stand up to vested interests and take the difficult decisions however unpopular. Well, if a week is a long time in politics a fortnight is an eternity in Cameronland.

Our mission is to secure the recovery

Our task is to hold our nerve and stick to our guns. Our most important mission is to secure the recovery. Nothing must get in the way. This is the critical issue of this election – who has the better policies a nd judgement to lock in recovery.

Gordon and Alistair must continue to make the right calls as they did when we were hit by the global financial crisis. They were the first movers on a plan that averted a Great Depression in the global economy, and their decisions set us on the road to recovery.

Through the resilience and sacrifice of the British people, the impact of the recession was blunted and shortened. As a consequence, the rate of unemployment, business failures, and home repossessions has been significantly lower than under the Tory recession of the 1990s (and with lower mortgage rates too).

Cameron-Osborne got all these big economic judgements wrong. They would have let Northern Rock go to the wall. They opposed the fiscal stimulus and the real help we gave businesses and families so we could get through this recession together.

Now they are getting it wrong on the recovery. Cut through George Osborne’s hubris and you will see him confirming that he plans to take £6-7 billion out of the economy this year in his ‘emergency’ budget, even though private demand remains weak.

To take this amount of spending power out of the economy straightaway – when the economy needs support and the road ahead will be bumpy – would pull the rug from under the recovery. This ‘emergency’ budget would put the economy straight back into the crisis room.

Now is not the time to take this sharp right turn off the road to recovery. The consequence if we do would be felt in people’s jobs and people’s living standards and young people’s training and job opportunities. This is the threat Cameron and Osborne pose.

Protecting frontline services

Once we are through this year we have to tackle the deficit in a way that is credible, responsible and fair and that protects the frontline services people rely on – schools, hospitals, childcare and police numbers.

The rise in National Ins urance – which we propose, not this year, but in 2011 once recovery is secured – is a necessary measure to enable us to restore the public finances whilst maintaining the public services.

Every businessman I have spoken to this year has told me that sorting out the national finances – doing so over time and not in one go – is the priority. That is what the National Insurance increase is about. I know some in business object, just as universities objected to the modest belt-tightening I have asked for from that sector.

But Government is about hard choices and we cannot shy away from them if we want to tackle the deficit and protect schools, hospitals, childcare and the police.

Frontline schools, police numbers and Sure Start will not be protected by the Tories. That much we know. If you are a parent with children in school and whose children go to Children’s Centres you should know before you cast your vote that these budgets will be cut under the Tories, not protected.

The Tories can say what they like. But a promise to cut the deficit further than Labour, cut taxes and sustain public spending doesn’t add up – it is a three card Tory con trick.

For the Tories, change is now only a slogan

So securing recovery and protecting frontline services will be on the ballot paper come election day.

And they are both under threat from a Tory party that is showing itself to be a party little changed from the past.

Look at their platform: immediate cuts that would put jobs and services at risk; unfunded tax cuts; an inheritance tax giveaway for the 3,000 richest estates in the country, whilst middle income mums have their child tax credits and Child Trust funds taken away; a married couples allowance restored that even Ken Clarke doesn’t agree with.

How is this different from the agenda of Michael Howard or William Hague when they were Tory leaders?

Real change promised by David Cameron at the start of his leadership has been junked. Change is now no more than a PR slogan.

This will be a big choice election

It is a choice between securing the recovery with Labour or immediate Tory cuts that could tip us back into recession.

Between protecting frontline services with Labour or an unchanged Tory Party salivating at the prospect of taking an axe to them.

Between the granite-like resilience and big brain of Gordon Brown or the plastic PR and wobbliness of David Cameron.

In all this we should remember the power of a clear, consistent, disciplined message from being on your side, standing up for hardworking families and the public’s deep fear of cuts in vital public services. Of course they hate the idea of waste and inefficiency. And we should not shy away from explaining what we are doing to make savings.

But when it comes down to it, people do not trust the Tories to be on their side. They believe the Tories want to cut public services whether it is necessary or not. Some in the media may wish to obscure this fact but the public’s attitude is deeply felt.

Thanks again for all your hard work. We have a tough campaign ahead of us. But this is a campaign that matters for the millions of people we come into politics to serve. We really are in the fight of our lives.

Thank you

Peter

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