In recent times, we’ve had a lot said about the need for us to be credible. It’s true that we need to win trust for our economic message – and I believe we’re well on the way to accomplish this. But competence alone does not address the lack of trust many of us pick up on the doorstep.
Over the years, I’ve noticed how big the rise in disillusionment has been on the doorstep. Many factors play into it – notably the anti-political stigma left by MPs’ expenses – but it is the utter bewilderment of the recession and austerity aftermath that is the biggest contributor. It’s pretty clear why.
The Tories and their Liberal sidekicks have championed There Is No Alternative. It is somewhat depressing being constantly told it’s all doomed and you just have to accept it. So when we come knocking to have a chat, the obvious question comes. What would you do differently?
Back in the better times, the dividing lines were clear. We would invest in public services. The Tories would threaten them. Vote Labour for better schools and hospitals. But even then there were issues like housing, where we had to find some unsatisfactory explanation for the lack of affordable homes, but unable to offer much hope. And it’s that pitfall we must avoid.
Times are very complicated, and our position as a democratic socialist party is not easy. But we would be mistaken if we let that hamper our role to provide people with a clear alternative to this rampant destruction of our welfare state, public services and quality of life. As the NHS is flogged off, how will we roll it back? As another fare hike is put through, will we freeze it back down? And as another attack on workplace rights is pushed through, will we undo it?
The common concept of credibility is misguided. It is too narrowly defined on fiscal measures alone. The starting point is so constrained that we risk ending up with an offer so bland it falls flat. We need to widen our criteria – to be a serious alternative to the current government as their credentials come into question. Our goal should be to make people’s lives better, to give them confidence and hope that if we were in power, things would improve. And I’m heartened to have heard Jon Cruddas, our new Policy Review co-ordinator speak of just this. It’s vital that our plans stand up to scrutiny, but our emphasis must be on our alternative vision to the Tory-led government, not what can’t be done.
We must be fiscally responsible for the long term, and expose false short-term economies. Closing down a Sure Start centre may help the council budget, but has a far greater long term cost for the local community. Likewise we should dare to make new spending commitments that would result in growth without adding to long term debt – like building social housing that would help provide new homes as well being cost neutral within a matter of years. Our plans should be fiscally sound, but backed by evidence, not just superficial posturing to look tough.
When it comes to our attitude to business, we must continue this approach. Ed Miliband’s call for responsible capitalism has given us an opportunity to go beyond our timid shell of the past, when any ideas that made the CBI uneasy were shot down by business or treasury ministers. We must fight the Beecroft report and the subsequent onslaught on rights at work that will result. But we must also think beyond this for our alternative vision, and how we can encourage businesses to grow by developing and better engaging with their staff, rather than by increasing insecurity.
It is right that we are diligent and know what we can afford to put right and when. But our goal must be to have bold, credible policies that will show people that there is an alternative, and that alternative is Labour.
Alon Or-bach is a London representative to the National Policy Form and a member of the Prosperity and Work policy commission