We can be winning the economic arguments, right now

Dave Cohen

Watching our earnest contenders debating exactly how many pro-business credentials they have to display to make Labour electable makes me almost nostalgic for May 2010. We seem to enjoy wallowing in the self-deprecating, self-pitying comfort zone of defeat, happy to leave the Tories to dismantle our public services (again), while we studiously beat ourselves up in public about Ed’s deficit blankout and Liam’s silly note.

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We’ve forgotten how on that fateful Thursday evening, no-one was more surprised with that exit poll than the entire Tory party. We forget how quickly during their election campaign they ditched talking about the economy.

We forget, crucially, that the Tories are also not trusted on the economy.

George Osborne is incompetent. Every day brings a new gift. Last month the man who promised to wipe out our debt but is already the century’s most profligate chancellor, suggested creating a budget surplus. This would be funny if he wasn’t the most powerful person in the country.

This weekend we were asked to believe that the Tories had no idea their great massively-advertised rail links to Mr Osborne’s northern powerhouse had suddenly been ditched, rather than the more likely suggestion that the date of scrapping had merely been moved until after the election. Sorry guys, you’re back to being a northern poorhouse.

Days earlier, HSBC, who had ‘threatened to leave if Labour got in’, surprise, surprise axed 8,000 jobs anyway. Shortly after that story broke, a GMB leadership hustings happened in Dublin. Here was a great chance to show pro-business credentials, express solidarity with small high-street businesses suffering as yet another local bank closes and becomes a charity shop. Instead of using the event to express rage at the substantial unemployment caused, and a blatantly political stunt involving the Telegraph, the Tories and a bank at the centre of a massive scandal, our earnest wannabes rambled about where they stood on the latest Tory benefit cap.

Osborne is a debt addict, he lied repeatedly about decreasing the debt and his party added more in five years than Labour did in 13. And that’s just what his supporters say: here, here and here.

What is it about this useless, pasty-taxing, backside-covering, nakedly ambitious economic lightweight that scares us so? Every move he makes is described as ‘a trap for Labour’, like he’s some evil genius, and he’s compared to Gordon Brown. It’s true Brown was often politically motivated, but his moves, right or wrong, were always backed by a basic grasp of economics.

Why are we so unconfident? On those all-too infrequent occasions when Ed set the agenda, such as energy prices and attacking the Daily Mail, he would send the Tory press machine into a tailspin. As Linda Grant says, we have numbers on the ground, ready to attack. What are we waiting for?

Instead of asking the questions set by our enemies, we should be asking our own: why are so many businesses nervous about David Cameron’s Europe dithering? Where’s the economic sense in removing small subsidies from the growing green economy,  even as the taxpayer is being forced to make up the huge losses that will be accepted by the dumping of RBS? And never mind Labour being pro-business, why is this government so anti-worker?

Five years ago, when Osborne and Laws began dismantling the state, and laying the blame for the economy on Labour, we were busy having a leadership debate. We let them get away with it. This time Osborne has no one to blame, and there’s 75% of the population out there who didn’t vote for him. Leadership wannabes: stop talking in Tory language to yourselves, and start addressing the majority, in ours.

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