Sunday 21 October 2012

Silly Ed and his austerity-lite speech

It seems that Ed Miliband is a hopeless Labour leader. The only thing that is keeping his party ahead in the polls is the Tory led coalition's combination of elitist venom and their abject incompetence (the "omnishambles" in popular parlance or "this dog of a government" as Tory grandee Norman Tebbit describes them).

The sheer scale of Ed's incompetence is perfectly illustrated by his poorly chosen words at the October 20th demonstration against Austerity in Hyde Park, London. There was so much wrong with his speech that
if I offered any kind of comprehensive criticism this blog post would swell to an enormous size so I'll stick to two criticisms, one criticism focuses on the sad rhetoric of austerity-lite, for which he was roundly booed, the other focuses on the cheap political points scoring, for which he was actually cheered by the partisan crowd.

I'll buzz through the partisan political point scoring comments first before getting to the more important austerity-lite comments. Having a dig at George Osborne's fare-dodging might get a cheer from the crowd, but as a stand alone argument is is actually quite weak. He should have said something along the lines of "Osborne's team can't even buy a train ticket properly, this surely reflects badly on their ability to run the economy of the entire country". 

Miliband got a few cheers for his lame digs at the general conduct of the Tory party but the political story of the day was surely the sight of a Labour leader getting roundly booed by a bunch of Trade Unionists, public sector workers, left-wing activists and Tory critics (people that should be an important part of the Labour demographic). Here's a transcript of what he said to provoke the boos and heckling.
"There will still be hard choices and with borrowing rising, not falling, I do not promise easy times. You know it's right that we level with people; that there would still be hard choices. I have said that whoever was in government now, there would be some cuts, but this government has shown that they're cutting too far and too fast. Self-defeating austerity is not the answer. It is not the answer to Britain's problems. We would make different, but fairer choices..."
One problem with this kind of approach is that millions of people don't want to hear austerity-lite from the Labour party, they want to hear a viable alternative to the ideological agenda of "cut, cut, cut". A much more obvious problem is that you will never be able to sell your austerity-lite agenda to a partisan crowd of anti-cuts protesters, no matter how much you dress it up as "levelling with them". It should have been absolutely obvious to Ed and his PR team that getting booed for using phrases like hard choices and some cuts would be a PR disaster. The Tories and the right-wing press were always going to attack him for even having attended the event, whilst anyone looking for a viable left-wing alternative would be given a clear moment of political drama to concrete the idea that Labour certainly isn't any kind of alternative to orthodox neoliberal pseudo-economics. What Ed managed to do by making an austerity-lite speech at an anti-austerity demonstration was to leave himself open to criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.

I'm not saying that Ed's idea of "levelling with people" and admitting that some areas of spending may have to be cut is a completely terrible one, in fact the poll results (that modern politicians put so much faith in) probably show that he may even get significant traction using it with a centre ground audience. However to a partisan anti-austerity crowd he needed to focus more upon the ideological nature of the Tory austerity agenda and present some of the concrete economic evidence that Osborne's austerity has driven the UK back into recession.

Firstly he should have presented the new evidence from the IMF that in the current economic climate, government spending is vastly more beneficial to the economy than it normally is. Secondly he should have presented the evidence from George Osborne's own brainchild, the OBR, that if the returns on government investment are as high as the IMF are claiming, then their research shows that the double-dip recession was actually caused by Osborne's austerity.

If you are unfamiliar with this new evidence (hardly surprising given the mainstream media have avoided it like the plague) here are a couple of articles to get you clued up on it.

What is... Fiscal Multiplication?

An entirely avoidable "Obsbornomic" recession

Next he needed to make the case that the continuation of austerity when the economic evidence (even from right-wing organisations like the IMF and the OBR) shows that it is damaging the UK economy would be an absolutely clear demonstration that these measures are not even intended to deal with the deficit, but actually form part of an ideological agenda to smash the welfare state and sell off the pieces. If the economic evidence says that these cuts have harmed, and are harming the economy, the continuation of these policies must therefore be ideological.

The problem is that Miliband's team seem to have completely missed the importance of the new economic evidence coming from the IMF and the OBR, and instead of nailing David Cameron to the wall with these damning reports during Prime Minister's Questions, a few days before this speech, he actually feebly allowed Cameron to repeat some time worn economic fallacies and even get some sly digs in at Labour's economic policy

Perceived economic competence is now the only area in which the Tories retain even a slight advantage over Labour and the way for Labour to remove this advantage is for them to change the assumption that indiscriminate austerity is necessary. This is the fundamental point Labour need to hammer home, and that Miliband should have made in his speech: 
The economic evidence (from the IMF and the OBR) demonstrates that austerity is far more destructive than the Tories had assumed, and in light of this new evidence, any attempt to continue with indiscriminate austerity must be considered an ideological, not an economic decision.
After presenting the evidence that Osborne's austerity is harming the economy, Miliband should have moved on to present what Labour should do instead; which should be to devise an evidence based policy on government spending. He should have told the crowd that Labour would actually increase spending on areas that can be shown to promote economic growth, (and provide positive social and environmental outcomes) whilst cutting spending and implementing reforms in areas that have demonstrably poor economic, social and environmental outcomes.

Thus the final conclusion should have been that the Tories are ignoring the evidence to push on with their socially and economically destructive ideological austerity agenda, whilst Labour are committed to instituting evidence based spending reviews to ensure that government spending provides the best possible value for money to the taxpayer.

That is the kind of message even a partisan crowd would lap up, but in reality it is almost exactly the same message as "hard choices" and "some cuts", only the choices wouldn't be "hard", because they would be evidence based and any cuts would be balanced out by increased spending in areas where the taxpayer gains significant returns on their investment.

See also

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