One of the reasons why I suspect Labour will win the next general election here in the UK is that they are showing impressive discipline. This was on show yesterday at a fringe meeting at which both John Cruddas and Andrew Adonis spoke, alongside Jo Swinson and Menzies Campbell. Amid warm words there was a disciplined message about the urgent need for “Plan B” to rescue the economy. Neither is close to the centre of power in Labour, but both were impressively on message. How are Lib Dems responding?
The Labour narrative is this. The Coalition’s economic plan, if it was ever valid, has now clearly failed. It is time for something else, unless you are an evil Tory who simply wants to use the crisis to dismantle the state and don’t care at all for the less well off. It helps them that quite a few, even most, respectable economists support something like this point of view. This allows many to portray Nick Clegg in particular as economically illiterate. These feelings are quite widespread in the Lib Dems – hence the Labour pressure. How are the Lib Dem leadership responding? With equally impressive discipline at this week’s conference.
At several points, and from several different members of the parliamentary party we got a consistent message, but one that had clearly been crafted for the occasion. The economic plan, they said, was always flexible, and it is responding to the changed economic circumstances by putting off the target date for eliminating the deficit by two years. This sounds to be an ingenious way to make a virtue out of necessity. I don’t remember anybody touting flexibility last year – except, to be fair, for Chris Huhne, the former energy secretary who does not appear to be here in Brighton. And so far that discipline is holding. The party overwhelming backed a supportive motion on the economy this morning, rejecting a wrecking amendment from Plan B supporters. The message was helped by lots of warm words and promises about investment in housing and infrastructure.
As readers of this blog will know, I don’t think that the government’s economic policy has failed, but that expectations of how quickly growth would return were too high. And I don’t think that Mr Clegg is economically illiterate, though I have some doubts about George Osborne, the Conservative Chancellor. Far too many economists are basing their views on aggregate statistics, without asking deeper questions about how the economy has been evolving, in a sort of imperial arrogance worthy of Russian Tsars. More on that another time.