Left triumphs in Chancellors’ Debate

8:29 pm - March 29th 2010

by Don Paskini    

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I imagine most of the analysis of Channel 4’s Chancellors’ Debate will be about which Vince politician Cable “won” it, analysis of any “gaffes”, and what it means for the Leaders’ Debates.

But what struck me about the debate tonight was how much Darling, Osborne and Cable agreed on. They all supported higher taxes on the rich, dismissed the idea that high taxes would lead to a “brain drain” of high earners, and saw an active role for government in helping people into employment and reducing economic inequality. They were competing on different ways of taxing bankers more, and different ideas for regulating the City of London.

Osborne angrily denied Cable’s claim that the top Tory priority was to cut taxes for millionaires, and said that the priority had to be to help “the many, not the few”. And unlike the media elite, who analyse changes in the budget in terms of how they affect the top 10%, they all presented their tax plans in terms of how they would affect people on middle incomes of around £20,000 per year.

And the biggest applause from the audience was for Cable’s attack on Thatcher’s policy of demutualising the building societies.

Five years ago, all of this would have been deemed unthinkably and electorally suicidally left-wing. And now, whether the politicians really believe it or not, it is the new political consensus. So the instant verdict on the debate – clear win for the left.

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About the author
Don Paskini is deputy-editor of LC. He also blogs at donpaskini. He is on twitter as @donpaskini
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Economy ,Elections2010 ,Labour party ,Libdems ,Westminster

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Reader comments

As ever, Don, you are a more optimistic man than I. If by “the left” you mean an extraordinarily limited version of social democracy, still operating within a neoliberal globalised consensus then, well, maybe. But the real story of this debate was the total lack of radical suggestions – it’s all so much tinkering at the edges, even when the global economic system has been revealed as based on a total fantasy. If this is what a victory for the left looks like – god help us all!


Don Paskini: “And unlike the media elite, who analyse changes in the budget in terms of how they affect the top 10%, they all presented their tax plans in terms of how they would affect people on middle incomes of around £20,000 per year.”

Like you, I guess, I’d love to think that they all mean it. I think, though, that we can enjoy a less mendacious reporting period by the Daily Mail. In times like these, there is increased awareness that social mobility is not always upwards.

@1 Matt Sellwood: “But the real story of this debate was the total lack of radical suggestions…”

Given the budget timing, radical solutions weren’t going to be announced. We only have to wait a month to be appalled and disappointed by the manifestos.

4. Luis Enrique

well speaking as a fan of social democracy operating within a liberal consensus*, or something like that, I’m with Don on the modestly positive assessment.

Matt Selwood, I know hyperbole is enjoyable but really, the global economic system has not been revealed as “based on a total fantasy”. The bulk of the banking system was revealed to have built its balance sheets on fantasy, causing a recession that’s cost millions of jobs, but the economic system based on producing and trading goods and services within a mixed state and market economy is as real as ever.

* I don’t know what neo means

That’s an interesting reading. An editor on Conservative Conspiracy might equally applaud the consensus around severe cuts in public expenditure just as the threat of a double-dip recession looms. Someone out on a wing, like Matt Sellwood, might cynically point out the gulf between public opinion on the one hand, and the cosy political/media consensus on the other, which LibCon has highlighted a few times of late.

I thought it was interesting that all three ducked the second part of the question: “will you guarantee me a job and home ownership” – so much of that political/media consensus is thoroughly detatched from the realities of average people under 40 that they seemed to assume home ownership is merely a matter of getting a job.

Hi Tom,

All good points.

Over on ‘Conservative Conspiracy’, the main mood is relief that Osborne survived without being humiliated. But at least one of their commentators agreed with me (though from a different perspective) :


“I expected Darling and Cable to talk populist tripe but I’d hoped for more from Osborne.

Perhaps the three of them had done their demographics testing and represented “the majority public”. Who knows? I hope the crowd’s applause represented a left-weighted audience – because if that was a representative bunch of people then we might as well give up and hand the country over to the socialists.

I’d hoped to be excited by George’s words. I wasn’t. None of those speakers represented me. I listened to all three and although George came close once or twice none of them said anything I particularly wanted to be associated with.

In fact, they sounded frightening similar to one another. Where was the defence of self-determination? Of free market solutions? Of capitalism? Where was the opposition to the idea that government is here to make it all better and salve all wounds? Where was personal responsibility? Lost in one Big Government soundbite and Nanny Knows Best proclamation after another.

None of them sounded like economists, or indeed chancellors, to me. They all sounded like puppets, reading prepared speeches aimed at placating a frightened mob.

When asked “Is it the chancellor’s job to close the gap between rich and poor?” all three gushed about this sincere responsibility. Nobody said: “Of course it isn’t. It’s the chancellors job to balance the books, not to use taxation to socially-engineer the perfect society as I see it.”

I found it deeply despressing.”


That is why you will never get elected. You will ride the boat as it sinks, claiming that those trying to stop it from sinking aren’t doing enough and aren’t being radical enough.

It is very easy for far-left greens to criticise mainstream politicians. But you try moving into the mainstream and seeing how far-left you remain.

Umm, actually I’ve been elected before. Indeed, I cooperated with Don a number of times when he was an elected representative too, on various issues. But don’t let that worry you. 🙂


Elected to serious office, not some city council in a university town, thanks to smelly student activists.

When the Greens get enough MPs to influence legislation, then come back and criticise mainstream progressives.

37 years. 0 MPs. (AMs and MEPs are powerless). You do the math, geekboy.

Wow. Nothing like a reasoned argument, lacking in ad hominem attacks.


What’s not to like, Matt Sellwood?

Getting elected as a city councillor whilst still a student, in a ward full of students, can in no way be compared to being elected an MP of an entire constituency, something it has taken the Greens at least 37 years to do – and there’s no guarantee they’ll do it this year, they said they’d get it last time.

The Greens are bystanders. Not serious political players. Sneer at those who play the game all you want, but in politics, power is everything. You can use it for good, you can use it for ill. But you can’t use it if you haven’t got it.

Have fun sniping from the sidelines whilst the rest of us get on with actual politics.

12. Sunder Katwala

I agree. Good call. Caught up with the debate late, but I am struck by the difficulty of getting inequality mentioned in 2001 or 2005, and now all three parties say they are for narrowing the gap.

Have blogged a (non-sarcastic, mostly) two cheers for George Osborne on this point of consensus on the principle of reducing inequality

Sure there are good reasons to be cynical about whether it would happen, especially if the Conservatives got in.

But it matters that the rhetorical agreement in principle is offered, for those who then want to advocate that the next government (whoever is in it) is committed to that, and to test their policies at every budget as to whether they are meeting or breaking that commitment.

13. Alice Odwu

I think Vince Cable came out best and that is probably what we need, a hung parliament. It is better that than going from new(ish) Labour to new Tory

I didn’t watch the event on TV but the emerging consensus in press commentary seems to be that Vince Cable came out best of the three and that matches the online vote:

“Viewers who voted online during the programme awarded victory to Mr Cable, who won 36 per cent of their votes, compared with 32 per cent for Mr Darling and 31 per cent for Mr Osborne.”

I have to admit the viewer vote accords with my own prejudices. Cable made a career as a professional economist and became chief economist at Shell: it shows. Osborne is rated poorly even in papers disposed to be nice to the Conservatives:

The left didn’t win. A hattip to the left won.

That Osborne and such like feel the need to use words like “fairness” and other leftish buzz words, doesn’t mean the left has triumphed. It means the right have stolen our clothes.

But when in power, the rhetoric will not be enough to disguise the fact that Emperor isn’t wearing those clothes any longer.

“Have fun sniping from the sidelines whilst the rest of us get on with actual politics.”

That’s a bit rich coming from someone who is…errr… sniping from the sidelines, anonymously.

So which constituency are you running for then? Or are you too cowardly too put yourself in front of the voters the way Matt does?

Stop hijacking threads and get back to the task at hand. I can’t help but be alarmed that there are so few differences between the economic policies of the three main parties, even if it has been nudged slightly to the left over the last decade. We still seem to be in the proverbial handbasket.

I would have thought that endlessly recycling the clip of Cameron talking about how expecting savings by cutting waste is a fantasy would do wonders to nail the Conservatives as two-faced.

All of this praise for Cable, when he went out of his way to scurrilously attack trade unions. He even trotted out the old Alf Garnett cliche about unions ‘holding the country to ransom’. It tells us something about the Liberals’ utter contempt for working people and organised labour, when even today’s emasculated, hamstrung, timid, cowed unions are regarded as hotbeds of dangerous radicalism by Cable.

It’s probably a bit much to expect anything overly radical to come out of programmes like this! It’s a sign of just how sterile the terms of debate have become, and how deeply illiberal the past Tory and “New” Labour governments have been, that the faint tinge of social democratic concern ..even consensus.. on so many issues seems surprising!

The best policy for the LD’s is not to do anything to scare the horses, and pray for a hung parliament. Cable’s view about the Unions are simply echoing the unease of the puclic about disputes like that at BA, and on the railways, and in the Post Office… where both sides come across as intransigent and extreme.

Let’s hope a hung parliament can deliver the kind of radical solutions we need.. not more of the same with the crypto Tories of New Labour, or voodoo economics from Camera-on and his pals!

As a supporter of Geoffrey Howe with his 60% higher rate tax, CGT equal to income tax, and a much lower rate of employment tax (aka NI contributions) I find the whole debate frighteningly reminiscent of IngSoc policies

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  7. Madatory Leaders’ Debate Blog « Bad Conscience

    […] hard to map onto underlying ideologies. But I’m sad to say that whereas Don Paskini could call the Chancellors debate for the left, the first leaders debate was a victory for the […]

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