Thursday, January 29, 2009

The old lines were always doomed to eventual failure

The Speccie CoffeeHouse blogger, Peter Hoskin has written an interesting piece about how Labour's strategy is stuck in the past. It's a good point really, that the when the Labour Party essentially believe that the Tories are "retreating" to where they were in the early 1990s they should therefore argue along the lines of "Labour investment versus Tory cuts".

As Hoskin points out though, the news from the likes of the IMF about the depth of the UK recession, and also from the Institute for Fiscal Studies about how spending must be reined in, you have to wonder whether this strategy will have any chance of working. More so though for me, there is aparticular demographic that Labour are missing a trick on, and that is the first time voter at the next General Election.

Think about it for a moment. Unless you're born inot a deeply politically active family, you don't really become politically conscious until what? Ten years old at the very earliest perhaps? There is going to be a great swath of new voters out there who will only ever have really known Labour in power, the memories of the early 1990s will not ring for them, so the salience of the term "cuts" will not conjure up the same disingenuous images.

This is something that I have argued with Labour friends for some time now. That the tried and tested arguments of the 1997, 2001 and (at least in some respects 2005) are not going to work when they go for a fourth term, precisely because the "remember what the Tories were like 20 years ago" line just won't resonate anymore. This should be obvious to the Labour strategists given the clear evidence that the Tory brand has been, as it were, decontaminated.

This self-evident change, and also demographic change appears to be passing them by though. They have failed to notice, as Peter says, that there is a contradiction between the "belt-tightening" argument they acknowledge and make towards the many, with the profilgate Government spending argument made by the few. Meanwhile, the generation born in the late Tory years, but becoming politically aware in the the Labour years, stand there and shrug their shoulders when they get told how evil the Tories are.

The once simple mantra of "after 18 years of Tory rule" is going to replaced by "after 13 years of Labour rule", and for some reason the Labour Party just don't want to see what is coming and instead fight the battles of the past which have no credence for so many anymore. UK Plc is verging on bankruptcy, we all know it, and everytime we hear Brown tell us otherwise or boast about how he is leading the world we just laugh at the absurdity of it all.


Lord Snooty said...

"UK plc is verging on bankruptcy"

What? You've been reading Dave's press releases too much, Dizzy - I thought you were supposed to be an independent thinker, not a party mouthpiece like Dale. This is absurd hyperbolic guff. Do you actually know what 'bankrupt' means?

dizzy said...

I don;t get Tory press releases.

Anonymous said...

What Labour also miss, is that 'remember 20 years ago' also used to apply to them, 'winter of discontent' etc yet they still won in '97.

Just proves these things only have a traction for so long even for those voters who remember 20 years ago.

Lord Snooty said...

Not too bothered whether you get the press releases or not. I just thought it was interesting that you would trot out one of Dave's crasser lines.

I repeat my question: do you know what 'bankrupt' means? In what way does this term apply to the UK currently?

dizzy said...

I am of course referring to debt, both Government, personal etc in connection with the recession, and the lie that we are "best placed". It's not just a Dave line, try being more widely read, even the WSJ has made references to Britain being a basketcase economy on the brink of total collapse.

Lord Snooty said...

Being in debt and being bankrupt are not the same thing. Not even similar. The 'bankrupt' line that Dave is peddling and that you've repeated is nonsense.

What do you mean by "on the brink of total collapse"?

dizzy said...

Brink = close to
Total = in whole
Collapse = falling apart

Note that I was referring to the WSJ and not myself saying that.

Lord Snooty said...

Very funny! I guess I asked for that!

But, joking apart, what do you mean when you talk about an economy 'falling apart' 'in whole'? What specifically would that look like? My point is that as soon as you starting taking those terms seriously, it's obvious that it's a fairly silly piece of hyperbole.

You mentioned the 'lie' about the UK being 'best placed' to weather the recession. Being honest, I really don't know whether this is so or not. Probably unlikely that we are the very top of the pile but it seems plausible that we might be towards the top end. I heard the Nobel prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz saying on Newsnight, for example, that we are in a much better position than the US because of the way we've managed debt here over the last 10 years.

dizzy said...

I am basing this on the IFS, the IMF, the ONS (who say a different thing to Brown), etc etc

Miller 2.0 said...

I think you make a fair point here Dizzy.

The wider problem though is what will happen to unemployment in the short term, if the tories do actually get in. It could mean a fast return to unpopularity.

Menelaus said...

"Labour investment versus Tory cuts".

The other thought is that it had long been my view that Labour had taken a strategic decision to say "investment" when what they were really describing was revenue expenditure. It sounded good and worked for a decade. Blair was a master at it.

I am now no longer sure that Brown remembers that this was a device. Or maybe he is just "investing" in something else. What can that be, I wonder?

dizzy said...

"The wider problem though is what will happen to unemployment in the short term, if the tories do actually get in. It could mean a fast return to unpopularity."

Well considering unemployment, or more correctly, worklessness, is above 5 million, I;m not sure. however, why should there be an assumption that unemployment will rise?

Lord Snooty said...

I know that some reputable bodies have contradicted Brown on the 'best placed' line (e.g. IFS). I'm just pointing out that some equally reputable and credible voices like Stiglitz have given it some support. Not being an economist, my response to that level of disagreement amongst the experts is to say that I don't know. Yours is to say it's a 'lie' - I think you are just hearing what you want to hear, rather than making an analytical judgment. And I think Dave is spouting hot air on this like the good PR man he is.

Lord Snooty said...

All the evidence we have from previous downturns is that they tend to involve, in broad terms, a substantial redistribution from labour to capital. This is for a number of reasons. Capital tends to get a disproportionate level of government money (e.g. the banking bailout), whilst wages go down and unemployment rises. Recessions are bad news for the poor and good news for the rich. Perhaps that's why in the Thatcher/Major years, there was such a penchant for creating them.

dizzy said...

I say it is a lie because I beleive it is a lie. Simple as that. You forgot to slag off Vince Cable incidentally, because he said it was lie as well.

Lord Snooty said...

I am more than happy to slag off Cable as well. He has earned an almost entirely unjustified reputation for being ahead of the game on all this. I don't think he has any more of a clue than anyone else.

Barnacle Bill said...

Lord Snooty open your eyes, use that mouse to do some independent searching of t'internet, and not just believing the drivel spouted by NuLabor apologists.
I went thru the last recession, had my company bankrupted under me by a very understanding Inland Revenue, which in turn led to the loss my house.
I've just returned from three weeks out of this country on business, and I can tell you I am frightened by the way things are going this time.
Talk about sleep walking into disaster!
Getting back to Dizzy's point, I have two daughters who have only ever known NuLabor, they look at me as if I am spouting rubbish when I try to tell them about the last big recession.
My youngest daughter will be a first time voter at the next General Election, now what yardstick is she going to use?

Lord Snooty said...

Barnacle Bill:

I'm well aware that we're in a very bad situation economically which is going to get worse before it gets better. I don't think I've said anything here that contradicts that. I was just questioning the use of phrases like 'on the verge of bankruptcy' and 'on the brink of total collapse' which seem to me like silly fear-mongering exaggerations.

I remember the last recession as well. I ended up leaving the country for a period in order to get a job because things were so bad here. Fortunately, there were jobs elsewhere then because it wasn't really a global downturn in the way that the current one is - it was something largely created at home by the reckless incompetence of Lawson and, to a lesser extent, Lamont.

Sam Duncan said...

It's a good point. Electorates' memories are short.

And for those voters who do remember the '90s, I'm sure quite a few will be telling themselves that - Labour rhetoric both today and back then regardless - the Tories weren't this bad. (Not necessarily my own view; much of a muchness, I'd say if pushed.)

Perhaps that's why in the Thatcher/Major years, there was such a penchant for creating them.


The early '80s recession was a creation of the '70s. The British economy was in a far worse state in 1979 than it is today and these things take time to fix. Mistakes were made, no doubt, but to suggest it was deliberate is absurd.

The early '90s one was a result of pegging the pound to the D-Mark in preparation for EMU and spunking vast amounts of taxpayers' cash at maintaining the exchange rate; measures which had solid cross-party support, not least from one G. Brown. (But not, strangely, from most Tory voters. Which is the real reason the Tories lost in 1997.)

Lord Snooty said...

I don't agree with you about the two Tory recessions (I didn't say there were more, incidentally).

1. It is true that the British economy was in a dire state in 1979. But the length and depth of the recession was caused largely by the disastrous monetarist experiment that Howe et al indulged in. And within that warped and discredited economic view, things like unemployment were indicators that the medicine was working - so in that sense it was 'deliberate'.

2. You are right that the exchange rate business was an important factor but the recession was also strongly rooted in the boom that Lawson unwisely created in the late 80s.

trevorsden said...

Lord Snooty (12.32) - what a load of garbage.

The recession in '80 was entirely due the Labours hopeless management of the economy. Howe's budgets were necessary and created conditions for future growth. The word you should use is not 'deliberate' it is 'inevitable'. Just as we had a change of govt in 79 we need one now , one to face up to the inevitable consequences of 12 years of Labour disaster.

The second recession came from Lawson shadowing, and subsequent entry into, the ERM - a policy fully supported and demanded by Labour; Smith Kinnock, Brown et al.

We know now of course that the fact that Brown was in favour of a policy is a good reason not to touch it with a barge pole. Sadly we can be excused for not realising it then.
The time to be afraid, very afraid, is when a clever idea pings into Brown's head.

Lord Snooty said...


These things are always a matter of interpretation rather than 'fact' but I think you are wrong.

I've already agreed that the economy was in bad shape by 1979. My point is that Howe's policies exacerbated the length and depth of the recession. So whilst economic bad times in the early 80s may have been 'inevitable', it was a 'deliberate' policy choice to make them worse (in the misguided belief that this was essential).

On the 90s, again, I've already said that obviously the ERM stuff was a factor. I'm happy to add, if it pleases you, that Brown was completely wrong to support that. But Lawson overheating the economy in a grotesquely reckless way was also an important causal factor in the recession.

dizzy said...

Foreign Policy looks at five countries on the verge of following Iceland to economic ruin and political meltdown.

Rexel No 56 said...


Another thought to add to your interesting post:

I was a student leader during the time of the Education Cuts. The NUS was leading a fierce campaign against "the Cuts" and I did my bit by helping to occupy the Admin block at Hull College of HE.

Oh what militants we were in our army greatcoats sat out all night on the roof waving banners and generally having a good time.

We hated the government for what they were doing to our Education service.

The year: 1977

So maybe there are others like me who remember the Cuts, when they actually started and because of whose economic mismanagement they became necessary.