Want to know Labour’s big policy ideas? You could be waiting a while…

December 21, 2012 11:05 am

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I had such high hopes for 2013. I thought that we were finally beginning to get some idea of the policy direction Labour would be taking, and that a major policy announcement (with a necessary spending commitment, of course) would follow in 2013. But today’s Ed Balls interview in The Times suggests we could be waiting longer – much, much longer – for anything concrete. Balls told The Times(£):

“Until we know the state of the economy, the state of the public finances and how bad things have turned out, it’s very hard for us to know what we can possibly say.”

That sounds distinctly like we’ll be waiting until 2015 to know what Labour can offer the British people. That’s fiscally prudent, but I’m not sure it’s politically prudent, especially if a large part of the election campaign will involve the need to mobilise and motivate volunteers. And you can’t mobilise volunteers if you’re not making any promises, because they have nothing to get excited about.

Similarly, it seems that Balls has been stopping Shadow Cabinet members from making cutting commitments, as well as spending commitments, saying:

“There’s no point in coming along saying the Government is cutting spending in my area by £50 billion and I agree with £25 billion of it, as if somehow the other £25 billion is something that we will be able to reverse.”

Of course a number of shadow cabinet members have already outlined which cuts they’d accept (Jim Murphy and Maria Eagle off the top of my head). The problem though is that if you’re not seen to be accepting any cuts, or making any spending commitments, it’s very hard to answer the “what would you do?” question, which is what the media (and the public) really care about.

In 2013 Labour will need to answer that question – but unfortunately, this sensible (and frustrating) approach to the public finances only serves to make answering that question much harder…

  • Redshift1

    I agree with Balls. It would be daft to make spending commitments or saying that that we would cut x (the latter particularly daft – why give Cameron a defence against critics? He’d just say ‘Labour agree with me’).

    I like Miliband’s general themes though. I also think we should look at some cost-neutral (or at least not cost heavy) policy commitments. The whole cost of living thing is becoming massive – we should be looking at minumum wage increases/living wages. Transport and energy costs need curbing and we should be aggressive on that. Public opinion would back us up. I think this is where our front bench team is letting us down a bit.

    Less important but nice and populist would be some commitment to legislate on football ownership.

    Something that does need addressing is childcare costs, but that will probably have to involve a serious spending commitment – one for later in the parliament, but definitely needs doing.

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    The question is really whether Labour have “big” policy ideas but are keeping them secret for reasons of political prudence, or whether they have no ideas at all.

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    The question is really whether Labour have “big” policy ideas but are keeping them secret for reasons of political prudence, or whether they have no ideas at all.

  • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

    Reading the above you can see why Krugman* along with a small group of economists and analysts see themselves as the real opposition to the coalition.

    Still, I suppose Labour’s influential right-wing cuckoos are kept happy by the reluctance to offer an alternative to Tory policies.

    * http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/12/04/jonathan-portes-george-osborne-autumn-statement_n_2236720.html

    • aracataca

      Nothing to say on the Osborne borrowing story?

      • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

        Oink, oink.

  • AlanGiles

    I am surprise you are surprised Mark. This ridiculous leisurely (to the point of indolence) 3 year policy review, means that until the great blue skies thinker Crudas has delivered his report there really isn’t much point in promising anything concrete, in case it is in conflict with the Crudas tablets of stone.

    Actually, in some ways it is quite clever, in it’s way, all Labour have to do is wait until the coalition really has crashed onto the rocks and they can come in policy free or policy lite. But even after the three years of deliberation, I still predict Labour 2015 will be “New Labour” tarted up with a fresh coat of (one-nation) paint.

  • AlanGiles

    I am surprise you are surprised Mark. This ridiculous leisurely (to the point of indolence) 3 year policy review, means that until the great blue skies thinker Crudas has delivered his report there really isn’t much point in promising anything concrete, in case it is in conflict with the Crudas tablets of stone.

    Actually, in some ways it is quite clever, in it’s way, all Labour have to do is wait until the coalition really has crashed onto the rocks and they can come in policy free or policy lite. But even after the three years of deliberation, I still predict Labour 2015 will be “New Labour” tarted up with a fresh coat of (one-nation) paint.

    • aracataca

      Your silence on the disastrous borrowing figures announced yesterday by the Treasury is deafening.

  • Monkey_Bach

    As far as cuts go I am quietly confident that Liam Byrne, for one, would be “intensely relaxed” about vulnerable people tightening their belts until their pips squeak, being the political pipsqueak he undoubtedly is. Eeek.

    • reformist lickspittle

      At least Byrne is unlikely (IMO anyway) to still be in his post come 2015……

      Does *anybody* out there like him?? OK, apart from his mum ;)

  • Amber_Star

    Ed & Ed know that most of the UK population doesn’t like big ideas unless we believe we’ve had them ourselves & they’re ‘just common sense’. e.g. By 2015, we’re hoping that it will be ‘just common sense’ for people to be paid a Living Wage.
    If you are a writer who thinks in terms of scoops & good copy, it is disappointing but the electorate is what it is…

  • Amber_Star

    Ed & Ed know that most of the UK population doesn’t like big ideas unless we believe we’ve had them ourselves & they’re ‘just common sense’. e.g. By 2015, we’re hoping that it will be ‘just common sense’ for people to be paid a Living Wage.
    If you are a writer who thinks in terms of scoops & good copy, it is disappointing but the electorate is what it is…

  • Amber_Star

    Ed & Ed know that most of the UK population doesn’t like big ideas unless we believe we’ve had them ourselves & they’re ‘just common sense’. e.g. By 2015, we’re hoping that it will be ‘just common sense’ for people to be paid a Living Wage.
    If you are a writer who thinks in terms of scoops & good copy, it is disappointing but the electorate is what it is…

    • aracataca

      Correct Amber.

    • aracataca

      Correct Amber.

  • Open_Palm

    I share Mark’s frustration. Yes, it is prudent both politically and economically for Labour to remain cautiously silent (a good thing, logically, given the uncertainties), but I fear the rate of despondence is rising fast amongst angry voters and patience is running thin. When they feel there is no end in sight to the cuts, their desperate frustration may well turn into resentment for the party that has not a scrap to offer (yet) on matters fiscal. It will soon become a case of “Prudence be damned. We want an alternative now!”. How long can Labour continue on its present trajectory before goodwill evaporates into thin air?

  • aracataca

    The record of making premature policy decisions proved disastrous for our party in the 1990s (see the 1992 General Election Campaign for details). Furthermore, such a move is unlikely to appease our critics – see for example the response of Alan Giles and Dave Stone to our ‘One Nation’ theme on here.All such a move would do would be to provide the Tory Press with an unnecessary and ample opportunity to tear our policies to bits.

    • AlanGiles

      “One nation” is merely a slogan (like “Big Society”), and like all slogans are worthless and meaningless, especially when a party (and some of it’s supporters) are so terrifield of offending the Tories and the Tory press, that they say nothing but just keep parrotting the slogan.

      • aracataca

        Who are you trying to kid? It wouldn’t matter what Labour said or did you’d be against it.

    • AlanGiles

      “the response of Alan Giles and Dave Stone to our ‘One Nation’ theme on here”

      “OUR”, Bill?, so you are helping to devise, define and develop it?. Good, then perhaps you can help me out. If you truly believe this “one nation” cobblers, perhaps you’d care to explain this?

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2252353/Expenses-MP-Margaret-Moran-keeps-25k-golden-handshake-cheating-taxpayers-53-000.html

      If you or me effectively stole £53,000 we would at the very least be expected to stand in the dock, and in all probability would here the words “take him down” from His Honour at the end of it.

      And, just for balance, how comes Duncan-Smith got away with faking his CV and “Betsygate” and now, instead of skulking off in shame at his antics and leadership failure is now an “important” igure, the very model of probity, making a misery of the lives of countless numbers.

      One nation?. Never has been, never will be. Get over it.

    • AlanGiles

      “the response of Alan Giles and Dave Stone to our ‘One Nation’ theme on here”

      “OUR” Bill?, so you are helping to devise, define and develop it?. Good, then perhaps you can help me out. If you truly believe this “one nation” cobblers, perhaps you’d care to explain this?

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2252353/Expenses-MP-Margaret-Moran-keeps-25k-golden-handshake-cheating-taxpayers-53-000.html

      If you or me effectively stole £53,000 we would at the very least be expected to stand in the dock, and in probability would here the words “take him down” from His Honour at the end of it.

      One nation?

    • AlanGiles

      “the response of Alan Giles and Dave Stone to our ‘One Nation’ theme on here”

      “OUR”, Bill?, so you are helping to devise, define and develop it?. Good, then perhaps you can help me out. If you truly believe this “one nation” cobblers, perhaps you’d care to explain this?

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2252353/Expenses-MP-Margaret-Moran-keeps-25k-golden-handshake-cheating-taxpayers-53-000.html

      If you or me effectively stole £53,000 we would at the very least be expected to stand in the dock, and in all probability would here the words “take him down” from His Honour at the end of it.

      And, just for balance, how comes Duncan-Smith got away with faking his CV and “Betsygate” and now, instead of skulking off in shame at his antics and leadership failure is now an “important” igure, the very model of probity, making a misery of the lives of countless numbers.

      One nation?. Never has been, never will be. Get over it.

    • AlanGiles

      “the response of Alan Giles and Dave Stone to our ‘One Nation’ theme on here”

      “OUR”, Bill?, so you are helping to devise, define and develop it?. Good, then perhaps you can help me out. If you truly believe this “one nation” cobblers, perhaps you’d care to explain this?

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2252353/Expenses-MP-Margaret-Moran-keeps-25k-golden-handshake-cheating-taxpayers-53-000.html

      If you or me effectively stole £53,000 we would at the very least be expected to stand in the dock, and in all probability would here the words “take him down” from His Honour at the end of it.

      And, just for balance, how comes Duncan-Smith got away with faking his CV and “Betsygate” and now, instead of skulking off in shame at his antics and leadership failure is now an “important” igure, the very model of probity, making a misery of the lives of countless numbers.

      One nation?. Never has been, never will be. Get over it.

    • AlanGiles

      “the response of Alan Giles and Dave Stone to our ‘One Nation’ theme on here”

      “OUR”, Bill?, so you are helping to devise, define and develop it?. Good, then perhaps you can help me out. If you truly believe this “one nation” cobblers, perhaps you’d care to explain this?

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2252353/Expenses-MP-Margaret-Moran-keeps-25k-golden-handshake-cheating-taxpayers-53-000.html

      If you or me effectively stole £53,000 we would at the very least be expected to stand in the dock, and in all probability would here the words “take him down” from His Honour at the end of it.

      And, just for balance, how comes Duncan-Smith got away with faking his CV and “Betsygate” and now, instead of skulking off in shame at his antics and leadership failure is now an “important” igure, the very model of probity, making a misery of the lives of countless numbers.

      One nation?. Never has been, never will be. Get over it.

      • aracataca

        Don’t remember ever defending MPs claiming fraudulent expenses?

        To iterate: IMHO the ‘One Nation’ theme will provide an important thematic envelope for the next General Election campaign as it challenges some key policy errors of the current government around the reduction in the top rate of tax and the limit on benefit rises to 1% a year. Detailed policy will have to wait because of reasons given above. Conversely Alan you are not (regrettably) offering an alternative narrative instead you are offering a disjointed and eclectic attack primarily aimed at the Labour Party which is often highly personal in tone and content. IMHO this isn’t what the British people want at the moment nor does it address the issues that they currently face in their everyday lives.

        • AlanGiles

          I am merely making the point – we have not got, never had and never will have, thanks to the timidity of modern politicians, a “one nation” society”. Many politicians are no better than criminals, many ARE criminals but apart from a token few (and then only for a few weeks) they are allowed to (as the judge last week so rightly said allowed to “get away with it”).

          Today we have the unpleasant sight of Andrew Mitchell complaining that “the police tried to ruin my career”. He did that all by himself, but no doubt, because he denies using the word “pleb” (though it is noticeable he has never denied telling the officer to “remember your place”, just as snobbish a statement) Doubtless he will crawl back through the front, back – or side door, before too long.

          Until politicians – including Labour ones – stop regarding themselves as special, or allowed to operate under different standards of behaviour, it is otiose for them to witter on about “one nation”. That is but one example of the vacuousness of this latest slogan.

          As for offering alternatives – I have suggested many times scrapping the Trident replacement, non-involvement in wars trying to pretend we are the world’s policeman and, as we live on an island, concentrate on harvesting power from the sea, a vastly unexplored idea for sources of alternative energy. They are practical ideas, not just a silly little catchphrase. You might not like them, but they are, I put it to you, IDEAS.

          Your apparent holier-than thou ” highly personal in tone and content.”, is laughable, considering some of the abuse you hand out to some of us on here who are sceptical of Labour 2012. Glass houses and stones, Bill.

          • aracataca

            ‘never will have………… a “one nation” society”. Ah those psychic powers again. How is Meg?

          • AlanGiles

            If you cant think up new jokes, at least stop repeating the old ones ad nauseaum.

            I don’t know what is more embarrassing, that or your peevish obseqious Labour–can-do-no-wrong. patter.

            WE NEVER WILL HAVE A ONE NATION SOCIETY. That is beyond dispute. Especially when you have wet behind the ears “politicians” who know nothing about working in the real world, beyond a few holiday jobs between terms at an Oxbridge college, and people who should know better encouraging them in their delusions.

            And – FYI – Burnham, who now wishes to save the NHS was very proud of NHS Global (which he set up, though now appears to be against?) always makes great play of the fact that the 1997-2010 Labour government introduced “competition” (a nicer word than privatisation) into the NHS

          • aracataca

            As you know it’s the easiest thing in the world to slag everyone else off. Harder to turn up to marches for example and put forward positive ideas for change.
            Besides which neither you nor anyone else can see into the future- what arrogance to suppose you can!

          • AlanGiles

            “One nation”?. Don’t make me laugh. Labour can’t even manage to be one party. You have Jack Dromey being elected – ON AN ALL WOMEN SHORTLIST (amazing what a bald man can do with a henna rinsed wig and an off-the shoulder ballgown in gold lame’), you have young inexperienced candidates being foisted upon CLPs, usually a list of two to make sure the “right” person gets selected…..but what’s the point?. No sense in arguing with you because you are just too naive Bill.

            Happy Xmas. Get better soon…… Well, anyway you can’t get much worse! :-)

          • aracataca

            As I’ve said before there is nothing nicer than being patronised by you Alan. Happy Xmas.

    • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

      “tear our policies to bits”

      Krugman (and others) have set out their opposition and no one has been able to tear their suggested policies to bits.

      On the contrary, Krugman has taken the Tories apart*.

      But I understand the situation. Labour’s well-organised and influential Tory cuckoos will get upset if Ed offers an alternative to Tory austerity – and then, come the general election, Labour’s Tory cuckoos will do to Ed what they did to Ken Livingstone.

      * http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_r-AKruzmkk

      • aracataca

        .It must be great to be able to tell the future. Who are you Mystic Meg’s less successful twin brother?

        • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

          Sorry, I’m afraid that’s a one oink response: Oink.

          It’s not even political. Try again.

          • aracataca

            ‘Labour’s well-organised and influential right-wing cuckoos will get upset if Ed offers an alternative to Tory austerity – and then, come the general election, Labour’s right-wing cuckoos will do to Ed what they did to Ken Livingstone’

            You’re foretelling the future here- Incredible. The clue is in your use of the word ‘will’. I only wish that the rest of us had your astonishing psychic powers.

      • aracataca

        Agreed Krugman is brilliant- just finished ‘End this depression now!’

        • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

          Well, at least you might now agree that a strong argument for an alternative is possible and the opportunity for making the argument should be relished.

          The flagship One Nation policy should be a defence of the NHS, particularly now that the airwaves are filling up with NHS horror stories – plenty of examples of lack of care but no mention of thousands of nursing jobs lost. The loss of nursing staff is bound to have consequences – unless you think nurses previously spent their days tinkering with their i-phones.

          As happened when British rail was deprived of investment – a “privatisation is the only solution” response is being prepared.

          But hang on, privatisation of the NHS is a New Labour policy – will Labour’s well-organised and influential right-wing cuckoos be prepared do a u-turn and save the NHS?

        • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

          Well, at least you might now agree that a strong argument for an alternative is possible and the opportunity for making the argument should be relished.

          The flagship One Nation policy should be a defence of the NHS, particularly now that the airwaves are filling up with NHS horror stories – plenty of examples of lack of care but no mention of thousands of nursing jobs lost. The loss of nursing staff is bound to have consequences – unless you think nurses previously spent their days tinkering with their i-phones.

          As happened when British rail was deprived of investment – a “privatisation is the only solution” explanation is being prepared.

          But hang on, privatisation of the NHS is a New Labour policy – will Labour’s well-organised and influential right-wing cuckoos, with a powerful parliamentary presence, be prepared to do a u-turn and save the NHS?

        • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

          Well, at least you might now agree that a strong argument for an alternative is possible and the opportunity for making the argument should be relished.

          The flagship One Nation policy should be a defence of the NHS, particularly now that the airwaves are filling up with NHS horror stories – plenty of examples of lack of care but no mention of thousands of nursing jobs lost. The loss of nursing staff is bound to have consequences – unless you think nurses previously spent their days tinkering with their i-phones.

          As happened when British rail was deprived of investment – a “privatisation is the only solution” explanation is being prepared.

          But hang on, privatisation of the NHS is a New Labour policy – will Labour’s well-organised and influential right-wing cuckoos, with a powerful parliamentary presence, be prepared to do a u-turn and save the NHS?

        • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

          Well, at least you might now agree that a strong argument for an alternative is possible and the opportunity for making the argument should be relished.

          The flagship One Nation policy should be a defence of the NHS, particularly now that the airwaves are filling up with NHS horror stories – plenty of examples of lack of care but no mention of thousands of nursing jobs lost. The loss of nursing staff is bound to have consequences – unless you think nurses previously spent their days tinkering with their i-phones.

          As happened when British rail was deprived of investment – a “privatisation is the only solution” explanation is being prepared.

          But hang on, privatisation of the NHS is a New Labour policy – will Labour’s well-organised and influential right-wing cuckoos, with a powerful parliamentary presence, be prepared to do a u-turn and save the NHS?

        • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

          Well, at least you might now agree that a strong argument for an alternative is possible and the opportunity for making the argument should be relished.

          The flagship One Nation policy should be a defence of the NHS, particularly now that the airwaves are filling up with NHS horror stories – plenty of examples of lack of care but no mention of thousands of nursing jobs lost. The loss of nursing staff is bound to have consequences – unless you think nurses previously spent their days tinkering with their i-phones.

          As happened when British rail was deprived of investment – a “privatisation is the only solution” explanation is being prepared.

          But hang on, privatisation of the NHS is a New Labour policy – will Labour’s well-organised and influential right-wing cuckoos, with a powerful parliamentary presence, be prepared to do a u-turn and save the NHS?

        • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

          Well, at least you might now agree that a strong argument for an alternative is possible and the opportunity for making the argument should be relished.

          The flagship One Nation policy should be a defence of the NHS, particularly now that the airwaves are filling up with NHS horror stories – plenty of examples of lack of care but no mention of thousands of nursing jobs lost. The loss of nursing staff is bound to have consequences – unless you think nurses previously spent their days tinkering with their i-phones.

          As happened when British rail was deprived of investment – a “privatisation is the only solution” explanation is being prepared.

          But hang on, privatisation of the NHS is a New Labour policy – will Labour’s well-organised and influential right-wing cuckoos, with a powerful parliamentary presence, be prepared to do a u-turn and save the NHS?

          • aracataca

            Hang on I think there’s an acceptance here that you are unable to tell the future after all. An acceptance of Joe Strummer’s dictum that ‘the future is unwritten’ perhaps? Obviously I disagree with the implied premise of your argument, ie that Labour is in favour of the privatisation of the NHS (see the unanimous vote by Labour MPs against The Health and Social Care Bill as evidence of this). Of course preventing the further privatisation of the NHS must be a priority for an incoming Labour government.

          • http://twitter.com/waterwards dave stone

            Oink, oink.

            They may have opposed the Health Bill while in opposition but what would they do instead and what did they do when in power?

            As you’ve now finished Krugman’s interesting tome here’s some further reading:

            Leys and Player: The Plot Against the NHS

            Pollock: NHS plc

            Shaw: Losing Labour’s Soul?

            All three books detail Labour’s pro-privatisation custodianship of the NHS.

            Merry Xmas!

          • aracataca

            ‘what would they do instead?’
            Only you (and Alan Giles) can answer that because, as you have stated above, you can see into the future.

          • milliboot

            Please provide evidence of “thousands of nursing jobs lost “

  • Daniel Speight

    Nah, she doesn’t like him either.

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