If the economy is the big indicator of who is likely to win a General Election (and all serious market research suggests it is), then the British Labour Party is in serious trouble.
Already burdened by a Leader seen as thoroughly weird and a Shadow Chancellor who is a joke figure, Labour now finds itself without a core message. Yesterday’s key economic indicator was not declining unemployment (although that was good enough news for the UK Government), but that wages growth is now outpacing inflation. The “squeezed middle” is no longer squeezed.
I referred in yesterday’s post to an intellectual dishonesty at the heart of all parties’ offerings, but Labour’s is perhaps the most serious as it is the only one of England’s three main parties not currently in Government. Labour has refused steadfastly to say it will raise taxes, and has targeted all its policies on swing voters (the “squeezed middle”) rather than on the poor. Its entire message has been about the “squeezed middle” since Ed Miliband became Leader. This is catastrophic – because it is fundamentally dishonest and it leaves the poor entirely unrepresented.
Just to be clear, factually: the people who have borne the biggest burden in tax rises since the 2008 economic collapse have been the very rich; and the people who have borne the brunt of reduced rises in public spending (note the phrasing by the way – public spending has actually risen) have been the very poor. Yes, a few suburbanites have had to go without the second holiday or have had to put off the new car purchase by a year, but fundamentally their standard of living has remained secure (not least because employment rates remained relatively stable).
Labour in fact created the myth of the “squeezed middle” to suit its own electoral purposes – not least because it’s what their (actually extremely rich) Leader relates to. When is the last time you actually heard them caring about the poor and coming forward with new proposals to break the cycle of poverty? Think tanks like the New Policy Institute, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation or indeed the supposedly centre-right Centre for Social Justice do this all the time – but when did you last hear Ed Miliband on the subject? There are no floating voters among the poor you see; actually come to think of it a lot of them don’t vote at all…
Now Labour has been somewhat hoist by its own petard. The economic recovery in the UK has turned out to be a lot faster than anyone, including the Government, had predicted or even dared hope. This may well, frankly, simply be incredible good fortune, but now that it has seen wage rises overtake inflation the myth of the “squeezed middle” has been exposed. In response to the latest indicators, Labour was left flailing – having to pick specific age ranges and so on to try to find some negative aspect in them; it would almost have been better to admit they were very good!
It is remarkable how lacking in self-awareness all political parties are, but you cannot help but think that Labour has now completely lost contact with its own core purpose. Actually the welfare system doesn’t work (i.e. not for poor people) – so where are Labour’s reform plans, the ones we could actually trust shorn of the centre-right’s benefits cutting zeal? Actually the Health Service cannot just go on as it is – so where is Labour’s reform programme to promote general well being and healthy living to lift the burden from the Service itself? Actually English schools are no better than average – so where are Labour’s reforms towards a more skills-led, vocational system? Nowhere to be seen because they’ve spent four years inventing the “squeezed middle” and doing nothing else – an appalling indictment of its Leader and its front bench.
Some polls now indicate, incredibly, that the Conservatives are ahead of Labour a full year ahead of the General Election. We shouldn’t be surprised. Labour is a party which has completely forgotten its purpose.