Peter Hain, one of the earliest shadow cabinet supporters of Ed Miliband, has urged the shadow Treasury team to do more to make Labour’s case for growth in the aftermath of the local elections.
Hain, writing for Progress Online, suggests he would like the party to be less equivocal about its economic policy and warns that if the party is to win an outright majority at the general election it will need to be performing electorally better than at present.
He writes: “I’m confident Labour can win the economic argument if Ed [Miliband] has the support of a loyal team around him. It’s important that all members of the shadow cabinet play their full role in explaining and defending Labour’s policy and approach.
“Labour’s Treasury team need to get out on the stump now and work even harder. It shouldn’t just be left to Ed and Harriet to carry the heavy load, whether on the World at One, the Today programme or anywhere else.”
Hain, who resigned from the shadow cabinet to pursue other political interests, fears a caution about borrowing is causing voter indecision about Labour. He insists the results are encouraging and show “we have come a long way under the leadership of Ed Miliband since 2010”. But the party also has a way to go, he says.
“If a general election was held tomorrow, Labour wouldn’t win a majority,” he says. “This was always going to be a big ask – under any leader – after our terrible result in 2010.”
He adds: “We’re half way there, both in terms of time lapsed and progress made. I’m confident we’ve done enough to stop the Tories winning outright, and produce another hung parliament. But the truth is if we want a majority in 2015, we need to be performing better than we are now.”
The local election results, he suggests, mean Ukip will remain a political force right up to the next election – but he argues this will benefit Labour.
He writes: “The old Tory-Labour duopoly has been broken. Ukip will remain a force at the next general election, with momentum from next year’s European elections. The right will remain split, at the Tories’ expense. The Lib Dems will do badly in the national share of the vote but probably hold on to all or most of the seats where they are well dug-in and contesting with the Tories; where they are fighting us they will lose. Labour is well-placed in this new four-party arena.”
He argues that the debate about the economy, not welfare or immigration, will ultimately determine the election. “Labour’s focus for the next two years should be squarely on the economy and living standards,” he writes.
“We cannot afford to be equivocal about our economic policy. We need to be more upfront with the public about our intentions. Yes, we will borrow more in the short-term, in order to generate growth that will reduce borrowing in the medium-term. It makes sense to do so with interest rates so low. We will borrow to invest in new homes, major infrastructure projects, refurbishing schools, creating employment. Schemes that will stimulate the economy. But we will nevertheless run a tight fiscal regime.”
Concerns held among those further to the left in the party were also expressed by the veteran Labour MP Michael Meacher. Miliband’s leadership, he argued, had “rightly discarded New Labour neoliberalism, but not yet put anything resonant in its place”.
He added: “What is missing is not more policy, but two or three key exciting ideas which really resonate with the public and set the pulse racing a bit.”