Jon Cruddas’ independent election review finds that voters were economically radical but fiscally conservative; they agreed that the economic system unfairly favours powerful interests but also thought that we have to live within our means and make a priority of paying down the deficit. Cruddas announces these findings with a certain drama, describing them as ‘hard truths’ that Labour must confront.
Two questions: why should anyone be surprised by this? Runaway inequality is provoking a reaction of sorts to powerful interests, while the common sense of household economics dictates balanced budgets. And this common sense was reinforced at every significant point by Labour who only disputed the pace of deficit reduction and played fast-and-loose with the cuts they would endorse to achieve it.
Second question: what does Cruddas think Labour should do with this new knowledge? Is it a ‘hard truth’ because Labour must now get closer to voters by becoming frankly pro-austerity? Cruddas may not mean this but the language and presentation of the research suggest it. Conclusions of this sort would, however, be as flimsy as the research seems to be.
There has never been a good argument for piling up debt only because we don’t like the consequences of cuts. There is a serious argument for short-term, counter-cyclical investment to kick-start growth, common sense notwithstanding. There is an even better argument for wrenching the whole debate out of the framework dictated by the Tories and carrying it way beyond the currently unfashionable but thoroughly conventional criticism of the ‘austerity delusion’ by economists like Paul Krugman.
Maybe we will get to that debate but the sort of ‘findings’ released so far will not help much. What were the terms of reference for the independent inquiry, anyway? Are they engaged in post-election opinion polling or conducting an inquiry into the political car-crash more generally?