Five reasons for Labour to be cheerful after the Budget shambles – and five reasons to be fearful

24th March, 2016 6:21 pm

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The Good….

  1. The Budget has officially unravelled. For any Opposition, who in Budget week can only stand back, watch and protest as the Chancellor re-arranges the economy to suit his Government’s political ambitions, this is the default expectation. For Labour MPs facing George Osborne, it is also becoming the norm.
  2. Labour has a one-point lead in the opinion polls (see below). For the first time since Jeremy Corbyn was elected in September, the party has inched ahead of the Tories, according to a Times/YouGov survey, due in part to a chaotic Budget and weeks of Tory in-fighting over the EU referendum.
  3. The £4.4bn of planned disability cuts have been scrapped. Of course, the angry resignation of Iain Duncan Smith played a significant part in Osborne’s decision to perform a u-turn, but Labour can still chalk it up as a major success. The impact goes way beyond Westminster politics – 640,000 people have been spared a cruel cut.
  4. Criticism of the Labour leadership from the backbenches has reduced, although not disappeared. The unjust measures contained in the Budget, Corbyn’s (lukewarm) embrace of the pro-EU campaign, and the impending local elections have given MPs of all stripes some causes around which they can rally.
  5. David Cameron is still intending to retire. Cameron has been an electoral asset to the Tories and his would-be successors are struggling. Osborne had another terrible Budget. Theresa May looks a reluctant sign-up for the pro-EU campaign and was ridiculed by Eric Pickles as “Tricksy Belle of Marsham Street”, according to David Laws’ new book. As for Boris Johnson, well the controversies just carry on coming. Yesterday a Tory colleague told the Brexit supporter his claims the EU had issued rules on the sizes of coffins were a “figment of your imagination”.

And the Bad…

  1. The “hostility” list cuts through to the public. Corbyn’s office has vigorously denied responsibility – but whichever supporter compiled the list on the basis they were helping the leader has actually done him a great disservice. A leaked table ranking Labour MPs from “core group” to “hostile” enraged the PLP and opened the leadership to accusations of being paranoid and distracted from the task of fighting the Tories.
  2. Labour has a one-point lead in the opinion polls (see above). Ed Miliband achieved a lead of up to eight percentage points in a YouGov poll in the last parliament – before being crushed in the General Election by seven points.
  3. Labour is being repeatedly attacked over claims of anti-Semitism. This should be a real worry. A handful of relatively minor activists have been suspended and Corbyn has rightly condemned anti-Semitism on seven occasions since becoming leader. But, when Cameron is highlighting the row at Prime Minister’s Questions, it is clear that even more must be done. Baroness Royall’s inquiry into claims of anti-Semitism at Oxford University Labour Club, part of a review of broader review of Young Labour, should provide some of the answers.
  4. Borrowing and spending remains a problem. John McDonnell has rightly instituted a “fiscal credibility” rule – but the commitment to balance day-to-day spending is paired with scope to borrow more for investment in infrastructure, which is remarkably similar to the plan on which Ed Miliband and Ed Balls lost the General Election.
  5. The huge and very serious challenges facing the Government – tackling terrorism, winning the EU referendum and reducing the deficit – may crowd out Labour once the May elections have passed. It is always difficult for an opposition party to get a hearing some four years before a General Election and it must demonstrate it understands public concern over Britain’s approach to these three key issues. The hard work is only just beginning…

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