Last month’s Labour Party conference should have given the government the opportunity to spell out more precisely what its – increasingly unlikely – fourth term would entail. Instead – perhaps, in fact because of this – details were scarce and policy suggestions were nothing more than unaffordable extensions to pre-existing legislation. Even Dr “Mandy” Frankenstein recognised this when he began his thinly disguised leadership bid ‘if I can come back, we can come back’, promising – in his own inimitably cunning choice of words – ‘my full undivided loyalty until we win this next election’.
What you cannot deny however is the Labour Party’s ambition – which comes as a light relief in comparison to Osborne’s pessimistic speech in which talk of recovery was outright forbade. Unviable or not, spending promises, coupled with policies outlining the need for further state intervention have at least served to bring our attention to what the next five years’ Tory administration will lack. Low income earners and public sector workers – often the most susceptible in these type of circumstances – will inevitably be squeezed out of employment, especially if they – or rather local organisations as opposed to the state – fail to provide corresponding job opportunities.
This is where New Labour will be missed the most. Despite Cameron’s confidence in restoring a more collectively conscious and charitable society, there’s not nearly enough private money going around to facilitate the localised help that the Tories want society to provide. Although you have to admire Osborne’s cold-hearted attempt to make work more attractive and more accessible, one gets the sense that plans have been drawn assuming a complete 2010 recovery plenty and that the immediate humanitarian effort of keeping 2.47 million unemployed people fed and watered has been somewhat ignored. Those recently made redundant haven’t failed to get jobs out of lack of trying. In which case, Osborne may find it harder to reduce Labour’s welfare bill just yet.
It’s curious that despite the ease in which commentators use the current economic circumstances to naively inject their articles with an underdeveloped discussion of ideology, parties are still confronted by consensually agreed problems that share the same consensually agreed solutions. In this way, it’s unfair to criticise the ‘tyrannical’ and ‘socialistic’ Labour Party for their supposedly ‘heavy handed’ approach. The nationalisation of Northern Rock and the injection of several trillions of pounds have served to sustain a banking sector on the edge of collapse – to which both main oppositions parties agreed. In this regard, critics are misguided in trying to identify failure in the Labour project’s fundamental approach.
Rather, the government’s failure can be rooted in something a lot more political. Where Labour’s problem lies – and perhaps after twelve years in powers, understandably so – is in its inability to change with the times. As is the curse of a long-standing incumbent, when a party gets set in its way, it remembers to act only to its first electoral mandate – in fear of invalidating the very reasons why it came to power in the first place but also – after a third consecutive electoral victory – because of their arrogant self-belief.
In other words, the Labour Party isn’t going to be leaving office because of its failure to react to the credit crunch. They did precisely as the 1997 economic environment would proscribe them to do. Rather they’re going to be leaving because it doesn’t understand what 2008-09 has heralded. Where opponents can shift position without fear of contradiction (although Andrew Marr can certainly give them a run for their money) governments remain stuck. That’s the time when – having bailed out the banks – the taxpayer bailouts parliament as well.