I have just attended my party’s monthly General Committee meeting in my constituency and the mood was more despairing than any I can remember. They simply cannot understand how the party leadership can be accepting time after time whatever callous and unjust cuts Osborne throws at us – bedroom tax, withdrawal of benefit for the first 7 days of unemployment, and now a welfare cap which hasn’t even the Tories themselves haven’t yet defined. Is there no limit to how far this surrender goes, they ask? When is the pain of what is being inflicted on our supporters going to register some passion in Parliament? They don’t want to talk of betrayal, but they are bewildered, hurt, disoriented and despairing. There are some in the party – Blairites – who feel that Labour has to show it is just as determined to take hard decisions as the Tories. But that is a grotesque misreading of the mood of Labour voters. None of them want Labour to out-tory the tories over cuts. They want three things: that Labour has a positive vision for the next Labour Government that they can believe in, that Labour has a plausible alternative to endless austerity, and that Labour campaigns across the country with bold policies to build the alliance to throw out the most vicious Tory government in modern times.
So why doesn’t Labour do it? Why are we so cautious and defensive, locked like rabbits in the Tory headlights? Why do we allow Osborne, presenting the most dismal CSR since the war, to get away with saying: yes, it’s awful, but it’s the best that can be done after the legacy of gross Labour over-spending, and you wouldn’t want them back in power again with a record like that, would you? Why do we never exorcise this canard by pointing the finger at the real cause of the debt – the bankers’ unforgiveable greed and recklessness? Why do we never say, when there is a pile of debt which has to be reduced, there are two ways to do this, either by cutting expenditure (the Tory way) or by increasing income (the Labour way) through public investment to kickstart the economy, cutting the dole queues, boosting tax receipts, and thus paying off the deficit far more quickly? Why do we allow ourrselves to be mesmerised by their narrative of unending austerity?
If Labour doesn’t change course on these fundamentals, the next election is going to be a lot closer than it should be.