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Ed Miliband landed a blow yesterday. Now bigger arguments have to be demolished and built

Posted on 4 January 2011 | 12:01pm

There was a tiny hint of desperation in the voice of George Osborne’s response to Ed Miliband’s rather effective attack over the Tories’ VAT rise yesterday.

‘The question Ed Milliband faces is this: if you’re not raising VAT, where are the extra £13bn of spending cuts coming from? The NHS? Schools?’

Now that deficit reduction moves dramatically from the stuff of theoretical political debate to real impact every time anyone fills the car with petrol, buys household goods or does a business transaction, the space opens for Labour to get back properly into the economic  debate that is always at the centre of politics.

And there are two points in the Tory attack that have to be challenged. First, the line that every difficult decision they make is forced upon them because of the so-called mess left by Labour. ‘Clearing up the mess’ is an easier line to get over than ‘it is a lot more complicated than the Tories say, that Labour delivered considerable prosperity, that a problem started in the US created mayhem for the economy around the world, that Labour actually dealt with the fall out pretty well, and are now developing a strategy for growth and jobs alongside deficit reduction that would be more sensible and steady than Osborne’s kamikaze plans’. But it can be done over time, and yesterday has to be seen as the first step in laying down the building blocks of a bigger argument.

Second, the argument has to be made that the choices made by the Tories are exactly that – choices born of what they believe and the values they hold. They have thus far done a pretty good job in persuading people (and certainly the media) that the choices made are made of economic neccessity. They are not. They are choices made by a party that believes in shrinking the state, believes in a society based largely on privilege, and is using the economic circumstances, and the political cover of the Lib Dems in the coalition, to go for it.


    The most frustrating thing has been the Tory soundbyte “mess” which has been used consistently and effectively it seems to denigrate the last 13 years of Labour government. The media whether it is t.v, radio or media fail to challenge the word as it is so quick and so easy to say and the Condems are being able to say this freely, cementing a distorted version of events; when as you write the situation is far more complicated.

    The Tories have failed to put across their message of a big society. It is a vacuous idea and again covers up the lack of fairness in the necessary measures needed to reduce government spending. “Fairness” soundbyte seems to have been dropped because Cameron and all know this line is no longer sustainable.

  • Chris Addison

    Problem is the leadership contest went on so long and while it did the Tories got in their message about Labour’s mess, and none of the Labour contenders realy stood up for the record in the way they should have done. Worryingly the one who did most to decry the record was the one who won

  • Hilary Hyde

    Osborne at least believes in what he is doing – his mate Dave just loves being PM amd his mate Nick loves being DPM even more.

  • George Harper

    The failure to challenge this Tory soundbite has been really depressing. I hope you are right and they now start to fightback properly

  • Mark Wright

    Repeated ad nauseum since the election the ‘clearing up this mess that Labour created’ line is already starting to lose its impact.

    Regardless of who is perceived to have created the mess in the first place when the clean-up begins nobody wants the rubbish to be dumped in their back yard.

    The blame game has reached the end of its natural cycle.


    Yady, yady yady! It would be good if politicians stopped trying to score points and got on with the job of serving the country. Labour left the country in the most appauling state but you will never, never admit to that. Get real.

  • Jacquie R

    I think the arguments are going our way. The Tories’ delight in blaming our enomic woes on Labour is now looking so disingenuous and has been repeated so often that it’s beginning to attract pantomime groans. They seem to be aware of this themselves, finally, and have had to update their blame on Labour to its present policies, or lack of.

    As for the ideological motives behind the Tory cuts, these will become more apparent as they unravel. The Tescoisation of public services and the return of Victorian philanthropy? What could be more unjust, ideological and, frankly, backward?

  • Dave Simons

    Both points are dead right and the sooner Labour starts putting them across the better. The media could make a good start by asking Cameron and Clegg what they would have done if they had been faced with the banking crisis of October 2008. Nothing? They could also ask whether the public sector created the present economic crisis or was it the private sector in the form of unregulated financial organisations.
    The UK electorate can criticise New Labour for the Iraq invasion, the expenses scandal and student loans. The Tories however can’t. They would have backed George Bush Junior with much less inhibition than New Labour (Michael Howard admiited as much before the 2005 election). They were up to their necks in the expenses scandal. They introduced the debate about student loans in 1970 when their supporters were horrified by students taking to the streets about the Vietnam war.

  • Peter Farley

    I think you picked a pretty weak argument to kick off 2011 Alastair. It’s all well and good opposing something, but Red Ed needs to offer an alternative. There are only two if he doesn’t want to cut spending or put up VAT – he either borrows a heck of a lot more (which got us into this mess in the first place, not demon bankers or global credit crunches) or he puts up NI (which was only just halted by Darling last year.) But you are right in that the Tory’s do believe in shrinking the size of the State (which has morphed out of control), but wrong in thinking it has anything to do with privilege. It is all about creating opportunity, which you do by vast improvements to education standards (that used to enable people like you access to Cambridge but which is failing most working class kids today) and lowering taxes so business can flourish and create growth and employment. It ain’t rocket science – despite some people trying to overcomplicate it and cling to economic ideologies that have long been discredited. Happy New Year…. Peter (But that doesn’t mean I agree with all the coalition’s decisions and there are some pretty weak ones where you really could start taking them to task – try red tape and bureaucracy which they pledged to purge but which continues to multiply.)

  • Frank

    Why are Ed and team not challenging this at every opportunity? Why aren’t they asking whether Labour was responsible for the economic downturn in the rest of the wold too? What on earth are they scared of? It has become accepted by non Labour voters that the Bank collapse was Labour’s fault. Brainwashing works, repetition works. Time to be heard – or do we have to take to the streets to be noticed by anybody?

  • Top post, Alastair. Come on Ed!

  • Top post, spot on. Come on Ed!

  • Max Headroom

    I received Tony Blair’s autobiog for the Festive Holiday. He details a savage and sustained attack on John Major, his Premiership, and the hated Tories. That’s what we need to get back to and David Milliband would have done such an attack so well. Labour must pour the heat on this discredited shambolic lying coalition. NO STUDENT FEES – PLEDGE NO PLANS TO INCREASE VAT Yeah riiiight.
    They must be attacked verbally and vigourously. It will crumble before 5 years and Labour must again be ultra ready to take back power before the Public Service, Welfare State and any sort of decent living standard is dismantled Ordinary People. Deieel has gone from £1.12 to £1.30 in a matter of weeks, not months all while my Pay is frozen for 2 years, my Pension attacked and when I made redundant by this Gov’t from my Public Sector job , they reduce the pay-off when they happens, ’cause they know there will be mass layoffs of Civil servants, cynical liars they are. Council Tax up, VAT up hitting the poorest the hardest, Food inflation soaring, wait till mortgages go up,all while Philip Green hides £1.1bn yet advises Tory axeman haow to shred Public Services
    Recession, we haven’t seen anything yet

  • Max Headroom

    You can’t even spell apalling, never mind make a reasoned comment.

  • Olli Issakainen

    One of Alastair Campbell´s cardinal rules is that a message can only be assumed to have been heard by ordinary voters when the political journalists are fed up with it.
    A lot of journalists now understand that the “mess” can only partly be blamed on Labour – if at all.
    According to Larry Elliott the mess of Britain´s finances was caused by weaker than expected tax receipts during the boom years, depth and duration of the recession and by the help for the unemployed. The economic crisis was, of course, caused by banks.
    No one should believe the claims made by the coalition that Labour caused the biggest economic crisis the world has faced since 1930s by overspending on public services. There is not a shred of evidence of it.
    Britain´s debt will peak at 70% of GDP creating no big problems. Interest payments on debt are not a problem as long much of the debt is owned by Britons.
    The Tories are not competent on the economy. Britain was not bankrupt in the spring of 2010 as George Osborne said. Governments are not like prudent households because they can print money and tax people.
    There is no economic rationale to cut £81bn. No economic theory supports cuts on this scale.
    The Tories are using the deficit as a pretext to shrink the state. About £30bn of cuts are ideological and completely unnecessary – as a matter of fact they are harmful as they shrink the economy.
    The debt was taken to save banks, jobs and homes. Alternative would have been depression with banks collapsing and people losing jobs and homes. Labour and Gordon Brown prevented this disaster from happening and now get blamed for it!
    The Tories opposed fiscal stimulus, QE and bank nationalisations which helped to prevent depression.
    There is a rise in VAT so that the Tories can cut corporation tax.
    Ed Miliband is playing a long game. He has a clear plan which will work. Patience!
    Big structural bear markets take 19 years on average and have four recessions. We have had just two. So the danger if far from over. Eurozone problems will affect also Britain in 2011.
    The coalition believes that it will wipe out the deficit and then win in 2015 by cutting taxes. But its reckless approach condemned by Nobel-winning economists will not work.
    It is time now for the general public also to understand that Labour did not create the worldwide “mess”. And that the cuts are ideological because they will not be reversed when the books have been balanced.
    All is fair in love and war, but not in politics. In 2011 the coalition must stop telling lies!

  • Richard

    Was it you, Al, who wrote the lines about “17 years of Tory misrule….”? Very effective at the time, for sure, but coming back to haunt you now, as applied to 13 years of New Labour. When the varnish has set at the end of an extended period in power, no amount of spinning of past deeds works. You should know that. The only thing the voters want to know about is the future and the limp showing of your boys since the election, and by Moribund in particular, means that the coalition is working in a vacuum.
    If you are going to take five years to develop some policies, the centre/centre left ground will be full………leaving New Improved Labour to turn to the left, and oblivion.

  • Steve Cooke

    And of course you can’t spell it either….Classic !!!

    For the record, it’s spelt “appalling”

  • Chris lancashire

    At least the debate is now about HOW to reduce the defecit, for far too long Labour has denied the need to address it. And I note you try to perpetuate the lie that “it all started in America” – the USA didn’t run a £50bn structural defecit for us before the banking crisis.
    However, if you substitue “merit” for “privilege” your last paragraph on the Tories is absolutely correct.

  • Steve Cooke

    You know it’s times like these that I wonder why the Labour Party is not in power in perpetuity in the UK. I mean, do we really need to worry about budget deficits etc? Why can’t the UK just keep on borrowing as much as it wants/needs? We can then be able to have all the welfare schemes we want. Bookstart, free education, scrapping tuition fees for university, So, it might push interest rates up, inflation will probably stay in double-digits forever and the top rate of tax will probably be at 90% . But all we need is to just pay people more to cope. I mean a newsreader at the BBC already earns £92k / year and the D-G earns £800k+ and God only knows what Paxman is paid. So, if the rest of the U.K. could keep up with the BBC pay scale, then the UK will perfectly fine.

  • Richard

    In the light of your criticism, below, of “” perhaps you would like to re-read your contribution above,; but wait are you”Two Shags, Two Jags, First Class Stateroom on the Upper Deck” Prescott, in which case your weitten English is improving greatly, My Lord.

  • Poppy Williams

    Of course it all boils down to ideology- a set of values, beliefs and a vision of how the world works best. Is it critical that this now/newer/back-to-our-roots Labour define what it is they stand for, rather than against. Specific policy proposals are largely unnecessary at this early stage- but a refreshing vision to inspire the down-hearted masses and bolster the voice of opposition is essential. Come on Ed- let’s give Labour its mojo back.

  • Anonymous

    As ever Olli will answer you — not with opinions, but with facts.

    Our borrowing did not cause the world wide deficit which would have become much worse without Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling.
    Shrinking the state does not create opportunity —it is needed to provide education, sanitation,law and order, etc and the sooner we pay our taxes to provide them without so much girning the happier place this will be.

    How many computers were in schools in 1977 and where is there a school now without them? How many new school buildings? All were needed but the children who use them are only half way through their education.

    Only 1 example of the difference having a Labour Government made.

    Happy New Year to you too.

  • Quinney

    Ally, some of us have been saying this for months, the Tories have been getting away with murder of their lies about the economy aided by the press and a craven BBC. Our leadership contest went on way too long and the tories made the most of it and the hard fact is that we have never replaced you in the attack dog position since you left.

  • Lusina

    I agree. The “mess” cry by the Condems is fast losing its preliminary effective impact. It was bound to happen, more so if it is repeated so often. This is the natural course of things – like when you cry ‘wolf’ too often. It’s now up to Labour to turn its full guns on the shaky coalition.

  • Janete

    I am amazed that anyone seriously accepts the Tory and LibDem argument about an absolute need to reduce the deficit within 4 years at whatever social cost.

    Millions of people see the sense of spreading the cost of large loans over a longer period in order to maintain a decent living standard during the repayment period. We pay mortgages over 20 – 30 years, so we have enough spare cash to eat and provide some comforts. Does that make us mortgage deniers? We only finished repaying the US a few years ago for debts incurred during the 1940’s but managed to build health, education and welfare provision in the meantime. Even the coalition argues a tripling of tuition fees is not a problem because they can be paid back over 30 years.

    This obsession with deep cuts in public spending is pure ideology designed to do what they always want to do, shrink the state. They are exaggerating the dangers of not re-paying the debt quickly enough, they are misrepresenting Labour’s position in claiming we want to ignore the problem, but worst of all they are making the poorest shoulder the biggest burden. The Tories are protecting the interests of the wealthy and privileged as usual, and as usual, they are using their influence in the media to try to make us believe otherwise.

  • Anonymous

    Excuse me. Please compare both interest and inflation rates between
    Tory and Labour Governments. Unfortunately the coalition seems to be following the Tory path. Shame on the so called Liberal Democrats — living up to neither title!

  • Pam

    Is Olli Alastair Campbell?


  • Dave Simons

    No Chris, let’s emphatically restore the word ‘privilege’. I don’t think one of the Tory party’s supporters, the Duke of Westminster, owes his title and wealth to merit. One of his ancestor’s – a ‘fat hunter’ (Grosvenor) – claimed to hold Duke William’s shield or sword at Hastings in 1066, or some variant on the tale. Nearly a thousand years later the current descendant and title-holder is one of the richest men in the UK. That’s disgraceful.
    The politician I mostly associate with meritocracy is Harold Wilson – there was a lively debate about ‘the rise of the meritocracy’ in the 1960s and I can assure you that Sir Alec Douglas-Home was not a typical example of the meritocrat. The Tories have never been the party of meritocracy, always privilege. The privileged have of course always been happy to let meritocrats like Ted Heath and Michael Gove climb to positions of prominence in the party – it makes for good PR in these relatively-franchised times (the Tories having resisted the extension of franchise at every step). But let’s never forget that the Tories are the party of the rich, the powerful, the privileged and the advantaged, and their concern for ‘the poor’ is nothing other than a vote-catching ploy and a foil against other political organisations genuinely concerned about making the poor not poor – against the odds.
    Also Chris, Labour has never denied the need to address the deficit, only the speed at which cuts are made. Too great a speed risks jeopardising a fragile recovery and taking us back into recession. However I don’t think George Osborne need worry too much about that – he’s another untypical example of a meritocrat.

  • Dave Simons

    Point of information, Richard. It was 18 years of Tory misrule. I counted every one of them. May 1979 to May 1997. That’s 18 I think. Also ‘Moribund’ was applied to Ralph Miliband by revolutionary socialists in the late 1960s, so please stop repeating the nickname as if you invented it. It’s over forty years old!

  • Nicky

    I think if you were to ask the man or woman on the street what they thought about the Tory mantra of ‘Labour’s mess’, they might reply that they don’t believe much of what politicians say about anything. This cynicism – fed by the press – can be damaging, although also there’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy scepticism. Most people aren’t actually as thick as the Tories would like to believe. They don’t meet many normal people at all, they tend to just meet their own kind. That gives them the false impression that their own tribal beliefs are shared by the population at large.

    Most people remember that the years under Labour were pretty good years, not the ‘Broken Britain’ dystopia that the Tories like to pretend they were. Likewise, most people are quite aware that there was a global economic crisis, and that many other countries seem to have experienced worse situations than we have (so far).

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  • Chris lancashire

    Blimey Dave, there’s nothing like a bit of blind class hatred.

  • Richard

    If your memory was so good you would recall thet the pre electon 96/97 anthem was coined :”17yrs of Tory misrule….” Geddit? !8 yrs was not completed until May 1997, after which 18yrs would apply. Geddit?
    Tetchy, tetchy, where did I say I invented the nicknamet Moribund? And now your Harriet & Co are no longer in power the thought police cannot stop the use of the nickname which clearly irritates some people.