A Labour government will not grow the economy or make the welfare cuts needed to stave off crisis
With the Conservatives set to be routed at the next general election, the idea that Britain couldn’t sink any lower than it has under this inept Government is rapidly becoming received wisdom. It’s a tempting attitude. Unfortunately, it is also dangerously untrue. Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour will be significantly worse than the current lot.
Understandably, most would prefer not to engage with the idea that Britain may not yet have actually reached rock bottom. Instead, they cling to the comforting delusion that our politics is self-correcting and cyclical. More and more often, I hear swing voters insist that “the Right needs time in opposition”, with the exasperated tone of a parent consigning their child to the naughty step. Others shrug: “The Tories have had their chance. Let’s give Labour a go.”
But to vote Labour is not merely to take a punt with a tenner one can afford to lose. It is to gamble one’s last pennies on an ailing and erratic horse with a lethal buck, and a track record of falling at the first hurdle.
It is one thing accepting a Labour government when economic conditions are reasonably rosy. But voting in a Left-wing regime that manifestly lacks even the most basic plan at a time when the country is in the grips of a deep stagnation – and sleepwalking into a debt crisis – is another story entirely. To swing behind Labour in such circumstances is a stupendously reckless roll of the dice.
The Tories’ economic record is obviously indefensible. Sadly for the British people, however, it does not follow that Labour is then a lesser evil. Far from it: a vote for Labour would propel the country even further down the road to national bankruptcy. This is not because Starmer is plotting an “unfunded spending spree”. Ironically, the threat that Labour poses to the country lies in the fact that it has shifted too far the other way.
To understand this point, it is vital to grasp Starmer’s cynical style of politics. Eager to replicate New Labour’s 1997 landslide, he has copied and pasted Blair’s strategy of reassuring the middle classes with cast-iron guarantees of fiscal prudence. If anything, the Liz Truss debacle has encouraged him to double down on this strategy, as he seeks to rebrand his party as a restrained, market-friendly alternative to the Tories.
Some plans are so fundamentally stupid that only a self-consciously clever politician could ever conceive of them. Such is the case with Starmer’s ploy. In taking ruthless aim at the Conservatives’ reputation for fiscal credibility, he has seen his own growth plan killed in the crossfire. After months of sustained Tory pressure, last week he finally dismantled his £28 billion Green New Deal.
Yes, Starmer’s flagship project to rekindle growth by investing big in green jobs and infrastructure was flawed. Rather than a big renewables splurge, Britain would do better to focus on the kind of targeted tax cuts and investments in skills and reliable electricity generation that would attract the likes of Google or Amazon to build the infrastructure that will be vital to transforming Britain into an AI superpower.
Still, at least underlying Starmer’s old green plan was a recognition of precisely the point that Truss tried to make in office: namely that, just to maintain public services at current levels, Britain needs massive economic growth. And to grow, it needs to invest, and to invest it must find a way to borrow quite large sums without blowing up the markets.
Labour’s abandonment of this position – having never dared to openly articulate or defend it – is a disaster. It reflects the centre Left’s cowardice, its refusal to confront voters and the markets with the reality that our present course is not just a recipe for misery – but for fiscal catastrophe, in which the rock of ever-expanding demands on the state meets the hard place of economic stagnation. It means that, in the next Parliament, massive new tax rises or spending cuts are surely inevitable.
To be fair, the Tories are proving little better at grasping this particular nettle. After the Truss experiment, they have fled back to their comfort zone of short-term fiscal prudence. But the crucial difference between Labour and the Tories is one of emphasis. Indeed, we can safely assume that Labour would choose a higher ratio of tax hikes to spending cuts than the Conservatives would opt for.
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