Unfortunately, more cuts won’t help Labour in the polls


12:51 pm - February 2nd 2012

by Sunny Hundal    


      Share on Tumblr

George Eaton at the New Statesman says that ‘Labour has reason to hope’ because ‘new data shows that 88 per cent of Osborne’s cuts are still to come.’

To be blunt, having looked at the polls over the last 18 months, I now think this is hopelessly optimistic.

I say this for several reasons.

For one, the public mostly blame Labour for the spending cuts. This hasn’t shifted much at all over the past year.

But that shouldn’t be surprising from a left-wing or right-wing perspective – the party presided over the crash and since most people don’t pay enough detail to public finances – they will carry on believing Labour must be responsible for this.

You may want more spending on public services but still believe there’s no money to spend on them for the time being (because we bailed out the banks), and therefore cuts have to be made.

At the next election it will be harder for the Conservatives to carry on cutting and blaming Labour, but in the run-up to the 2015 election I highly doubt enough of the public will see these cuts as ideologically driven in order to lift Labour.

Or to put it another way: even if all Labour supporters and half of Libdem supporters think the cuts are ideologically driven (which isn’t the case yet) – Conservatives could still be in power at the next election.

The other problem is that polls over the last 18 months show too many people still believe Labour spent too much money. Even polling and focus groups done by the unions (who are opposed to the cuts) show this. And that too from Labour voters!

This is partly a political disconnect – people see how their local NHS hospital and schools have improved but they didn’t equate this with national government spending. Even while they appreciate the improvement in public services, the narrative that Labour ‘wasted too much money’ is quite pervasive – especially when you take into account the countless stories of wasted money on gigantic IT projects.

Put simply – Labour cannot rely on more spending cuts, I think, to see an improvement in the polls. That doesn’t mean they should accept the cuts – I think they should oppose harmful cuts.

But it won’t help their polls, if the last 18 months are any guide. Even if the cuts continue, and public opinion moves against those cuts – that doesn’t mean a lift for Labour.

In other words, even if people think the cuts are harmful (as most do now) – it doesn’t mean they’ll see them as unnecessary or give Labour any credit for opposing them.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Fight the cuts

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


Ultimately the macroeconomic question of simultaneously deleveraging households, the private sector and the public sector while our trading partners do the same thing will dominate. Labour has failed to take out an unambiguous, clear alternative to the central project of government, and will not benefit no matter what happens at this point.

Labour should consider alternatives to the proposed cuts, such as a £60k cap on local government salaries and removing the food subsidies from the Commons.

It should never have supported the Olympic bid either. I know it took place before the recession but it’s not like public money can be chucked away like that even in the “boom years”.

3. Biffy Dunderdale

“The other problem is that polls over the last 18 months show too many people still believe Labour spent too much money. Even polling and focus groups done by the unions (who are opposed to the cuts) show this. And that too from Labour voters!

This is partly a political disconnect – people see how their local NHS hospital and schools have improved but they didn’t equate this with national government spending. Even while they appreciate the improvement in public services, the narrative that Labour ‘wasted too much money’ is quite pervasive – especially when you take into account the countless stories of wasted money on gigantic IT projects”

If all your enemies pointed at a huge grey animal with a trunk and said that’s an elephant, and then large numbers of your supporters started to do the same, and then lots of people who were neither your enemey nor your friend did the same – why would you choose to persist in believing it’s a mouse?

All these people believe that Labour were irresponsible with other people’s money because…..they were. You can pin your hopes on false conciousness all you want but it is much more likely that they are all just right. Admit it and move on. The longer you deny it, the more untrustworthy you appear.

“The other problem is that polls over the last 18 months show too many people still believe Labour spent too much money.”

You already said this five paragraphs above.

“For one, the public mostly blame Labour for the spending cuts. This hasn’t shifted much at all over the past year.”

No wonder so many won’t take you as a serious, rigorous commentator.

“You may want more spending on public services but still believe there’s no money to spend on them for the time being (because we bailed out the banks)”

Ah, this old lie being trotted out again. Apart from the fact that bank bailouts have been accounted for by government already, at about £10bn net, they were also in previous years budgets.

Which doesn’t really help to explain why we have a £150bn (~10% GDP) budget deficit THIS year.

The truth is, Labour did massively increase spending, and there were some improvements in services, but not commensurate to the amount of extra money spent. A lot of money went directly into civil servants wages packets, a lot more went on welfare and a lot was simply wasted.

No-one can see Labour cutting heavily unionised civil servant wages or jobs, or can see them cutting welfare (with a heavily Labour voting franchise there too) enough to make a difference, so what have they got left?

6. man on Claoham Omnibus

@5 Tyler

Can you break the overspend figures down for me and show how spending was out of whack with’ pre banking crisis’ Britain.
Labour spending levels seemed to be OK for the Tories who endored them publicly before the crash so ,to my mind, this all hinges on the banking industry and the 2008 disaster.

Sunny.

I think the problem is that whilst people generally appreciate that Labour did pump much needed extra money into public services, the much mooted Blair reforms never really happened in any serious way. So we ended up with things like the grotesque pay increases for GPs where they completely out-negotiated the government and ended up with more money for less work. That is one example of many where more money was spent to little or no change in “front-line” services.

It is possible to simultaneously think that public services were under-invested in before 1997 (and that increased spending was necessary) and to also think that Labour wasted money. You seem to imply that people erroneously hold this belief but I don’t think this is true. I think the public have essentially got the measure of the situation. And the more Labour bang on about the cuts, the more they will appear to be untrustworthy with the nation’s finances at a time of necessary belt tightening.

This continuing narrative that the cuts are “ideological” also seems to cut little ice, because again it fails to recognise reality. The fact that Labour would have made most of the cuts the government has done shows that deep cuts (deeper than Thatcher? (c) A Darling) were the only game in town.

I think that there is a further problem. So much campaigning has been about persuading the public that the cuts were actually happening last year that it will be very difficult to turn around and say “When we said last year we were mis-spoke, we actually mean next year.”

Not very credible is it?

@ MOCO

Firstly, let me just say that the Tory party were pretty blind to economic risks pre-crash as well. At least now they’ve been forced to swallow a healthy dose of reality, which the Labour party and many of their supporters seemingly haven’t.

We could look at spending

http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/charts.html

Or national debt

http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/downchart_ukgs.php?year=&chart=G0-total&units=b

which was convieniently masked by good GDP growth in the boom years.

Labour’s big problem was a huge increase in non-productive spending. A huge pro-cyclical increase in spending when we should have been paying down debt, which has left no room for Keynesian style spending when we have experienced a recession. More so, this spending was increasing at a FASTER rate than GDP growth and growth in tax revenues.

Yet Labour types now want MORE spending, when we have a 10% budget deficit, with no guarantees this spending will close that deficit, but with a very real risk of losing any kind of fiscal crediblilty – massively important when you have to borrow the aforementioned 10% of GDP (or more importantly, another ~25% on top of all tax revenues) EVERY YEAR.

“the public mostly blame Labour for the spending cuts. This hasn’t shifted much at all over the past year.”

Huh? In November you ran this piece:

http://liberalconspiracy.org/2011/11/14/for-how-much-longer-can-the-govt-blame-labour-for-the-cuts/

Edited highlight: “In June last year, Labour were seen as to blame by 31pts more than the coalition. Now that lead is just 14pts”.

That suggests a clear direction of travel, surely? And the number of people blaming both Labour *and* the coalition has also increased; 50% of people now think the coalition are at least partly to blame.

And those figures predate the latest GDP figures. As you suggest, when there’s a crash or recession, most people tend to blame whoever’s in power. So it’s reasonable to expect people’s inclination to blame the coalition for our woes will increase if (e.g.) we are indeed in recession.

In hard economic times the public tend to stay with a government unless there has been a serious crisis, such as black wednesday. Better the devil you know. Things can get pretty bad without it inherently or necessarily benefiting Labour.

Labour needs to present a clear alternative to austerity. Without such a clear, unambiguous and unequivocal alternative, it won’t matter if the government succeeds or fails, Labour will gain precious little. After all, the public will not be convinced they had a credible alternative. By credible I don’t mean austere, I simply mean a compelling argument as to why austerity would produce a downturn in macroeconomic terms.

It may not be deemed credible initially– however, as we’ve seen, there is an increasing movement back towards the keynesian appraisal as the data moves to confirm it. The question is whether Labour has courage or sincerity in its economic convictions, and whether it is able to produce a cogent message, something it has so far failed completely to do.

As to waste. Every government wastes money, every opposition pledges to remove waste, and nobody *intends* to waste money. Clearly you always want to improve procedures, and improve safeguards without adding bureaucracy, and clearly there’s a lot of negotiation and compromise which sometimes leads things astray. It’s even true that there are systemic and continuing failures, as the issue with ‘tax efficiency’ arrangements with the Revenue makes clear.

But it’s absurd to treat that as special. What matters is a proper examination of debt to GDP over time, spending levels, government spending as a proportion of GDP, private debt, etc.

Private debt is the real problem, and it’s a very long term problem, going back to before Labour. Government debt has increased primarily because of reductions in revenue caused by unemployment and lost growth, the cost of unemployment benefits etc, and saving the financial system. The tories matched Labour’s spending targets for a very long time, almost up to the brink, in fact, and they wanted less regulation of the banks– though that issue gets more attention than it deserves.

So let’s not pretend we should be giving ground on this. It’s a hard issue to fight, but it’s also irrelevant to the central ground of the british political situation, which is the macroeconomic outlook, and macroeconomic policy. The short and long term effects of a protracted downturn, here and in Europe are the key issue. There are many other fine and important things to do and deal with, to oppose, moderate, regulate and change, but Labour’s success is going to come down to its ability to show that the government is culpable for economic data going forward, not that it fits some imaginary template of responsibility cooked up by the coalition since the election.

Did Labour waste a lot of money? Yep. Did they make a lot of mistakes? Yep. Did they do things that, one way or another, most of their supporters disagree with? Almost certainly. Is that the central issue right now? No.

By credible I don’t mean austere, I simply mean a compelling argument as to why austerity would produce a downturn in macroeconomic terms.

Agreed, but what is this?

“people see how their local NHS hospital and schools have improved but they didn’t equate this with national government spending.”

Yes – it’s baffling to anyone rational, isn’t it. Propaganda, the big lie, continues to prevail. Spending the country’s money on the country’s people is spendthrift. Allowing businessmen to run away with huge salaries, bonuses and tax dodges isn’t. But what do you expect of a country that believes Thatcher “saved us” and that greed is good. We now share the American opinion – capitalism is democracy and allowing the winners to take everything and the losers to lose, be discarded and crushed, is the way to run a society.

You might also like to give some thought to the apparent deathwish of the Scottish Labour party in recent weeks. They have just polled their lowest EVER recorded rating of 23% in Scotland according to ipsos Mori:

http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/2915/Satisfaction-with-First-Minister-slips-though-the-SNP-remains-dominant.aspx

This would result in 73 SNP MSP’s at Holyrood (+4 on current), with Labour on 29 (-8).

If replicated for a Westminster election, this would reduce Labour to a rump in Scotland of 3 seats, with the LD’s on 1 and no Tories at all.

Looks like New Labour Lite advocating a slightly ameliorated Coalition approach to the cuts, twinned with their negative campaign on the referendum and supporting the Tories on that issue, isn’t really working out too well is it?

Our primary goal should be to come up with a radical socialist program and propagandise for it in the long term. Immediate polling performance is less important.

@15 Chris

“Our primary goal should be to come up with a radical socialist program…”

I think that’s already been tried; all it resulted in was the longest suicide not in history, 18 years of Thatcherism and the nauseating New Labour experiment. If you want to frighten the horses and ensure “middle England” keeps voting the Tories in, then by all means start advocating re-nationalisation… but be prepared for a long time in opposition.

The Labour party is about as far from radical and progressive as you can get; the prospects of changing it into such a force don’t look particularly good, so you’re either talking about a “new” party of the left, or overhauling the existing party which is likely to be quite a task given the New Labour bitter enders who still seem to infest it, and the likes of the current leadership who have all the charisma and political nous of a sea cucumber.

It doesn’t TAKE a return to the failed political stance of the 1980’s, Foot and Scargill to make Labour electable; the SNP in scotland have shown that it can be done, arguably in more difficult circumstances given the 4 horse nature of Scottish politics. I agree the project to “re-invent” Labour may be long term… I disagree that radical socialism is going to achieve your result…it’s an electoral cul-de-sac.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. sunny hundal

    More cuts are very unlikely to help Labour in the polls http://t.co/EJIe66cT – my reply to @georgeeaton today

  2. CAROLE JONES

    Unfortunately, more cuts won ’t help Labour in the polls http://t.co/52qDrL4X

  3. Harry Scoffin

    More cuts are very unlikely to help Labour in the polls http://t.co/EJIe66cT – my reply to @georgeeaton today

  4. Michael Smith

    Sunny Hundal tells it how it is: http://t.co/jN3dVLE5

  5. Leon Paternoster

    .@sunny_hundal's pessimistic (but seemingly accurate) view on how the public views Labour and debt: http://t.co/g2pfQ4xA

  6. Tom Miller

    More cuts are very unlikely to help Labour in the polls http://t.co/EJIe66cT – my reply to @georgeeaton today

  7. BevR

    Unfortunately, more cuts won’t help Labour in the polls | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/KH8atNpQ via @libcon #WRB#SPARTACUSREPORT#ATOS#UNUM

  8. Tim Easton

    More cuts are very unlikely to help Labour in the polls http://t.co/EJIe66cT – my reply to @georgeeaton today

  9. sunny hundal

    .@sunny_hundal's pessimistic (but seemingly accurate) view on how the public views Labour and debt: http://t.co/g2pfQ4xA

  10. Martin Paul Hume

    .@sunny_hundal's pessimistic (but seemingly accurate) view on how the public views Labour and debt: http://t.co/g2pfQ4xA





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.