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Hundal’s hubris

Sunny is in triumphalist mood, and thinks Labour’s fiscal conservatism has had its day:

The UK’s AAA downgrade wasn’t just a nail in the coffin of Osbonomics, it was also a much-needed kick in the groin to those on the right of the Labour party who thought opposing austerity was political and economic madness……Let’s not forget Black Labour – who published a pamphlet in 2011 saying Labour should ‘place fiscal conservatism at the heart of its message‘. How’s that working out for you guys?

Sunny is also completely wrong.

Labour’s fiscal conservatives are not quiet now because they know they have lost the argument.  They’re quiet because they came out in 2011, won the argument hands down, and have gone home, put their feet up and relaxed for a bit with a nice glass of red.  They simply don’t need to engage with people like Sunny (or me) because we don’t count.

Sunny needs to take a look beyond the media-heavy environment which he now inhabits, and see what’s going on when it comes to the Labour’s policy formulation.

Progress, the real party within the Labour party, is hosting regional events around the country to debate “the options and choices the party will face” if it comes to power in 2015.  But fiscal expansion is not even on the table as an option:

An incoming Labour government in 2015 will not be able to countenance such increases in spending. Instead, the challenge of closing the deficit and tackling some of the long-term fiscal pressures the country faces will require some tough choices and radical thinking if Labour is to bring about progressive change.

(When I asked Progress if they’d set up an event in my area, they declined, pleading lack of resources.  But look at it from their side. Why go through the hassle of being challenged by a nobody, especially a nobody who might be able to construct a coherent case against the parameters imposed on the debate?)

Similarly, Labour’s favourite think-tank, IPPR, argues its case for childcare from a determinedly fiscal conservative perspective; there will be no overall increase in spending:

Investment in childcare will help boost the employment rate, ease living costs for families with children and reduce child poverty. But finding the necessary funding will involve some difficult calls: should Labour seek to freeze child tax credits and child benefit or reform wealth taxation to generate additional revenues?

Everywhere you look, Labour is apparently preparing its own form of austerity: a little looser round the edges than the one that emanates from the Tories’ ideological drive for a smaller state, perhaps, but still very firmly in the fiscal conservative mould.

To what extent the In the Black Labour crowd (one of whom is from the aforementioned IPPR) are the cause of Labour fiscal conservative turn, or  simply a reflection of a what was already developing, is an open question. I tend to think they have been the beneficiaries of (Dowding’s) systematic luck, whereby their “social location” made it more likely that what they wrote just the right nerve at just the right time within the just right bit of the party.

As for Sunny, he needs to get out more.  First, he thinks people hate him for his “nuanced” approach to interventionism, when in fact the decision-makers didn’t even notice he wanted a say.  Now he thinks he’s won the argument, when the argument was won months ago without him even being there.

  1. donpaskini
    February 28, 2013 at 10:28 am

    The person who controls Labour’s economic policy is Ed Balls, and I don’t think he’s interested in Labour’s ‘fiscal conservatives’. Bit weird that Sunny wants to get rid of him, but that’s a different subject.

    The key thing about these fiscal conservatives is that it is one thing talking about the need to make ‘tough choices’, which is emotionally very satisfying and all that. But the actual content of what this might mean in practice is straight out of la la land – e.g. Hopi’s fiscal plan.

  2. March 2, 2013 at 12:04 am

    Assuming you are right Paul, and people like you don’t count, and Progress don’t have to take cognisance of you (or, presumably those like you, organised on the left of the Labour Party), then why are you in the Labour Party?

    Not to harp on an old theme but I actually totally agree with this article. I think it is incisive and accurate. It describes a typical philosophically idealist determinism, common to writers like Hobsbawm, when people postulate that events will win arguments for them. Organisations must give force to arguments. Within the framework of the Labour Party, the argument is not won until people like you control the Labour Party.

    But I see no circumstances in which you might. The case of the Southampton two indicates that the Progress-inspired Labour leadership are not just unwilling to surrender their desire to impose slightly smaller cuts than the Tories but will expel anyone who has the temerity to disagree and vote their conscience. More councillors are putting themselves in the same position because they cannot betray the people who elected them and vote for cuts.

    This leaves the left two choices, neither appealing from your point of view. Either undermine their own connection to the anti-cuts movement and the working class base of the party, or face expulsion. In such circumstances, the Right will remain dominant.

    • paulinlancs
      March 3, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      Dave, Ill answer this in a blog post in a couple of days

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