Boring is best – Budget 2010
So, Alistair Darling has pretty much bored the nation to tears with the Budget. I, of course, would have liked to see more radical measures and particularly a Budget that showed we are prepared to invest in growth and not through in a way that relies on the private sector. Also, it would be nice if Darling saw the error of his ways on things like the increase in National Insurance Contributions; a decision that defies common sense. However, politically, boring was best.
Crucial to this Budget was the ability to deliver good news. Anthony Wells notes on UK Polling Report that:
The two most recent budgets have been disastrous in terms of Labour’s position in the polls. In both cases Alistair Darling was forced to deliver news about just how bad the economic situation was, and both turned a Labour deficit of around about 6 points into a Conservative lead in the mid teens.
Darling however, telling the nation that the deficit is not as high as forecast will undercut further any appetite for ‘slash and burn’ under the Conservatives. Another crucial fact here is that the economic optimism of people is increasing and this is why the Conservatives are having increasing problems commanding this argument as they are their poll advantage. Dreams of a Conservative ‘landslide’ are over – at this stage in 1997 Tony Blair’s Labour were 14% ahead and that is a low figure; a Harris poll in mid-March had them 31% ahead. Cameron’s crew cannot even manage half of Blair’s ‘low’ lead. Soon after the election is over the recriminations will begin and Cameron may well find himself swept aside.
This increase in optimism is what lies be behind the disjuncture noted by Sundar Katwala on Next Left between the call for swinging cuts by the media and the Conservatives and the public uncertainty that they are necessary. Darling should however be weary because what works for Labour now might well in the future work against them; the notion that they will accept swinging cutbacks from a Chancellor because he wears a Red Rosette as opposed to blue is naive in the extreme.
Investing for growth and a programme of radical changes should be the order of the day and if it isn’t then the electoral costs will be high. Hopi Sen, writing on Liberal Conspiracy, rates this as the most pressing challenge for the centre-left which it is but it is also Labour’s electoral fortunes that ride on delivery of this programme and its success.