You came and you gave without taking…


Peter ‘Mandy’ Mandelson apparently wowed the Labour Conference today. I’ve never been a great fan of the guy, going back to the moustached days when he was running election campaigns, through my days as a student when he came to speak to us, to his career in the early Blair governments, through to his return in the last year or so.

Still, the extension of the car-scrappage scheme is good – it’s cost neutral and it is keeping the car industry in the UK away from total disaster, so it should be a no-brainer. Of course the Tories would still oppose it, because that’s their way at the moment (and reinforces the ‘no-brainer’ aspect).

And I am also glad to see some fighting spirit at last. The leadership has looked too resigned over the past few months, to scared to come out battling and too easily caught up in pointless weasel words. A bit of fire in the belly is good. Of course, it’s easy to make a stirring speech to Conference. Well, I mean that it’s easier than it is to stir up the British public in the run up to an election – a public that is being trained by the media to despise you and to discount anything you say while they fluff up anything that the opposition says*.

I agree that the election is not a foregone conclusion – after all, anything can happen in the next 8 months – but it looks very bad for Labour at the moment. If anything is likely to have any major effect, I would say it would have to be some visible sign of recovery in the economy combined with some spectacular show of idiocy from Cameron and/or Osborne. But absent that, the only way is to keep pressing the case for a continued Labour government.

And why should Labour remain in power? Well, I happen to think that they have handled the economic crisis very well. The investment that has been made – particularly the co-ordination with international partners – has at least stopped the financial system from total collapse following the downfall of Lehman Bros, and now is definitely the time to run an increased deficit in order to stimulate the economy. Cuts too early could stall any recovery, and national economic growth will have a far greater positive outcome on revenue than taking the knife to budgets will.

Yes, there will need to be areas where budgets are cut – or at least frozen. That’s relative to current spending, which is high because of the recession, not relative to normal levels. The timing of such moves should be carefully considered, with a weather eye on the wider impact. Cuts in budgets will often mean redundancies, which means more people looking for jobs. Not really a good idea when unemployment is already high, surely?

Brown and Darling may not be exciting characters, but I do have trust in how they are dealing with the economy. I don’t get any measure of comfort from the idea of Osborne or Cameron being in the same positions. These are the guys who had three different policies on Northern Rock in as many weeks, who can’t tell the difference between an income tax hike and increased projected revenue caused by GDP growth, and who seem to think that it’s helpful to continually give the impression that the country is almost bankrupt (which it is by no means – the interest payments on our current level of debt at lower than they were in the 1980s).

* and yes, I am aware of the parallels with 1996-7, when Blair could promise to slaughter the first born and get a glowing write-up, while Major could have single-handedly cured cancer and still have been reviled as a bumbling grey fool.

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