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…