Why is Labour so vulnerable? ‘You caused the crash in 2008 by spending too much’ (no we never, but from now on we will be ‘responsible’). ‘Are you in favour of a benefit cap’ (it’s complicated, Andy Burnham). ‘Will you support a legislative commitment to budget surpluses?’ (we await details of what the government proposes [World at pm, 10th June 2015]). The Tories set the terms of the debate and Labour falls in line.
How about: the crash was created by irresponsible financial institutions who will be made to pay the price; we will have a benefit cap when we put a cap on rents and on poverty, we certainly won’t punish families with a lot of children for our failure to tackle the core issues; tax and spend goes to the heart of what the state does and we will not let you tie our hands in this way. Let’s add another, ‘We are not anti-business, we are anti the people who own and mismanage business; we are against the failure to invest and raise productivity.’
Now these are just arguments and they can go either way; on the evidence so far you have to change the way the people think but unless the people dump the politicians that means changing the way the politicians think. To make an impact they would have to connect to a larger argument about the economic chaos and inequality that surround us and an ambitious alternative to it. Labour shows no sign of even recognising the problem. They are the prisoners of a political culture that is slowly but surely squeezing the life from them.