Plan B

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.

2 thoughts on “Plan B”

  1. Why is Danny Alexander lambasting Labour in his conference speech? What a negative view on the previous administration – yes there were problems but he was ridiculous just now! He sounds like a proper TORY! It is agony following the Lib Dems! It is almost as if they are trying to align themselves with the Tories and put as much distance as possible between themselves and Labour!!

    1. Thanks for posting Graham. I think a number of things are going on here. First many Lib Dems are exasperated with the large number of supporters they have lost to Labour since the election, when they don’t feel that Labour have changed that much. They want to remind those voters why they originally rejected Labour. Second the party underwent a period of virulent attack by Labour (less noticable now, it is true), so it is instinctive to fight back. If Labour couldn’t forgive Lib Dems for suporting the Tories in 2010, many Lib Dems, especially those that had to deal with Labour on a daily basis, can’t forgive Labour for the unreasonable (as they see it) vitriol that they displayed. Third, many Lib Dems can’t forgive Labour for the hubris over the economy of the Brown years; they feel (as I do) that there were fundamental flaws in the way Labour leaders were running the economy, which Labour still haven’t admitted to (or in the case of many, such as Ed Balls, accept at all). Finally with Danny Alexander there may be a bit of a Scottish thing going on. The Tories died north of the border in the Thatcher years, so the Lib Dems in some parts took over the space in the ecosystem left by them. It was notable that the two Scottish MPs in the fringe I attended struggled with the premise that Lib Dems were closer to Labour than the Tories, which is common currency south of the border. Of course the Lib Dems are now in the throes of the same Scottish death experience that the Tories suffered, with the SNP taking over that niche, but no doubt Mr Alexander hopes for a resurrection.

      But I agree it must rather tiring for outsiders to look at, and this sort of rhetoric in practice is unlikely to win those lost voters back. Labour are being nicer to the party for a reason, and it isn’t warmth and generosity. Vince Cable has got the balance much better.

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