Jon Cruddas has today argued, as part of his independent inquiry into Labour’s election loss, that ‘the Tories didn’t win despite austerity, they won because of it. Voters did not reject Labour because they saw it as austerity lite. Voters rejected Labour because they perceived the Party as anti-austerity lite.’
As with others trying to assert this political line, Cruddas is engaging in an impressive feat of political spinning to reach this conclusion based on the questions and the findings so far published.
The question that ‘we must live within our means so cutting the deficit is the top priority’ is the kind of leading question that leads people to mistrust polling. But even taken at face value, broad agreement with such a statement does not lead to the conclusion Labour lost because people believed it was anti-austerity. Lord Ashcroft polling on the day of the general election produced results that people wanted an end to cuts, and did not believe any further should be made.
It is the article – rather than the independent inquiry – that reveals the Labour front bench still believe the deficit is the key issue, despite running a losing election campaign focused on it. They are as yet unable to break the mould set by the Right and provide a new focus for debate. Other questions include, ‘I am most likely to vote for the political party that redistributes wealth from rich to poor’, ‘I am most likely to vote for the political party that puts my financial interests first’ and ‘the economic system in this country unfairly favours powerful interests’.
Cruddas does not indicate that the panel was asked anything as simple as, ‘Do you believe Labour lost because it was anti-austerity?’ or if Labour were trusted to improve peoples’ living standards at the same time as they were saying they would make deep spending cuts.
From the data published, he has chosen a particular analysis, although one I think is difficult to substantiate. Alternatively, and based on his findings, I believe Labour should show how the government’s economic agenda, which can be summed up as austerity, ‘unfairly favours powerful interests’ and ‘redistributes wealth from poor to rich’, which the panel suggests is unpopular – and convince them how it would approach the economy differently to the Tories.
I would argue that these results demonstrate the need for a clearer anti-austerity and more progressive redistributive agenda from Labour.
Labour need to show it is putting individuals financial interests first – that it will improve peoples living standards – and that it will do so with by investing in a growing, sustainable economy that delivers good jobs, higher pay, better public services and transport as an alternative to the Tories insecure, low pay and sub-Living Wage, and cuts.
What Cruddas has effectively demonstrated, and where I would agree with him is that Labour’s message on austerity and fiscal responsibility was not very clear. Labour made good individual pledges in this year’s election, largely those that emphasised intervention into failing markets, but they were lost in a media message that focused on the deficit and – lest we forget it, or fall for the line Labour ran an anti-austerity opposition over the past five years – frontbench repetition of the need for cuts.
However, with his interpretation of the panel findings and their early but partial publication, Cruddas leaves himself open to criticism he has already reached a conclusion for his ongoing inquiry.