Ian Aitken

Written By: Ian Aitken
Published: July 13, 2013 Last modified: July 13, 2013

What really gets up my nose about Ed Miliband’s volte face on the Tory-led coalition’s spending plans (yes, I know I wrote about that in my previous column, but it really does matter) is that it has involved a tacit acceptance of Chancellor George Osborne’s claim that overspending by Gordon Brown and the Labour Government was directly to blame for the 2008 economic crisis. Miliband knows perfectly well that the accusation is totally false, and
so do most independent observers with any knowledge or understanding of economics.
Unfortunately, the people who matter – the voters – evidently don’t. They believed Osborne’s claim when he first made it back in 2010, and most of them still seem to believe it in 2013.
Nothing Miliband or his Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, have said in the intervening three years seems to have shifted the public’s conviction that the economic catastrophe from which we are all still suffering was caused by grossly extravagant spending by Brown, Balls and Miliband.
The decision by the two Eds to abandon their campaign against Tory austerity measures and to embrace the spending cuts being imposed across Whitehall by Osborne’s Treasury clearly marks a despairing conclusion that they are never going to shift voter opinion on this matter, and that they might as well acknowledge the mistaken public view as if it were actually true. And act accordingly.
In other words, they are now adopting policies they know to be wholly wrong in order to respond to an analysis they know to be utterly false, so as to go along with the voters. It is the most disgraceful piece of political defeatism I have ever witnessed in a long career in political journalism.
Even in the days of the great political splits inside the Labour Party, no one ever imagined that their opponents didn’t have any belief whatever in the stand they were taking.
Hugh Gaitskell certainly believed that we should keep our nuclear weapons. So did Jim Callaghan. And even Tony Blair seriously believed in the need to go to war in Iraq, even if his reasons were not quite what he said they were.
Yet now we have a Labour leadership which is preparing to go to the country with a plan of action on spending that they are quite certain will produce the opposite result to the one they say they are seeking.
In their heart of hearts, they know that continued cuts in government spending will strangle the economy, dry up tax revenues and increase the deficit rather than reduce it. Yet they still say this is what they have to do.
One possible explanation for this extraordinary tactic is that the Miliband and Balls don’t actually intend to carry out their new promise to stick to the Tory spending plans, and once they get into office it will be spending as usual for a Labour government.
This was the idea being suggested to me by some colleagues after my previous column. I don’t really think it can be true – and I devoutly hope it isn’t, for would be almost as bad as faithfully keeping the promise. I don’t think Miliband is that cynical.
But he does seem to be rather ignorant –which is surprising for someone with his family background. Speaking to The Guardian, he insisted that there would be plenty of room for good works by a future Labour government, even if it stuck to strict austerity spending plans.
Clement Attlee’s post-war administration had been forced to pursue a stringently austere economic policy in order to cope with the gigantic war debt, he argued, yet it had still been able to launch the National Health Service and build the welfare state.
And that is absolutely – indeed, magnificently – true. Yet Miliband fails to acknowledge that Attlee was armed with a vast array of economic, financial and physical controls established by the wartime coalition.
They made it much easier to keep the lid on the inflationary stewpot and hold off attacks on the pound on foreign exchange markets.
It will be much harder for an austerity Labour government to do the same in the de-regulated, free-for-all world of the 21st century