Jeremy: You are right about austerity but you have a long way to go to win over voters

Jeremy: You are right about austerity but you have a long way to go to win over voters


Don Brind with some comradely advice

One Twitter user was apparently disappointed when she followed tag #LabEcon2016. She was looking for Labradors but what she got was Labour’s State of the economy conference.

The organisers were delighted that the event, hosted by shadow treasurer John McDonnell and closed by party leader Jeremy Corbyn was trending second on Twitter after the Cup Final.

The large and enthusiastic gathering heard Corbyn’s signature line “austerity is a political choice not a necessity” endorsed by the Cambridge based Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang who for many was the star of the day. He said “No sensible economist agrees with the way the Conservatives are handling the economy at the moment, so I hope this conference will play a major part in developing Labour’s alternative plans for a more dynamic, fairer, and more sustainable economy”.

Chang was in an impressive line up of speakers ranging from Unite general secretary Len McCluskey to Adam Marshall of the British Chambers of Commerce and Helen Walbey from the Federation of Small Businesses by way of the economists Linda Yueh, Jonathan Portes and Paul Mason.

Chang observed: “Perhaps if the Conservatives listened to a broader range of viewpoints the economy wouldn’t be in such a mess.” But as one speakers observed during a session on debt the Tories are still getting way with the Big Lie that Labour caused the crash in 2008.

The conference unfortunately clashed with the Fabians’ summer conference which meant Labour front benchers including Angela Eagle the shadow business secretary and Seema Malhotra the shadow chief secretary to the treasury were shuttling between South Kensington and Bloomsbury to chair workshops and breakout sessions. No great hardship — it’s six stops on the Piccadilly line.

For those of us who did both events we got two Labour leaders in one day.In a witty and passionate 45 walk-and-talk address to the Fabians Gordon Brown made the Labour case for Remaining in the EU. He said the party should appeal to the nine million Labour voters, to young people and to mothers who, he said “are worried about the prospects for their children in the future and want to know where the jobs will come from.”

Hearing the two men a few hours apart prompted the question of Team Corbyn’s attitude to the last Labour government. On his way the conference walked past the South Ken museums – he observed that they were free of charges thanks to the Labour government. Many Corbyn supporters are, however, lukewarm about Labour’s 13 years in power.
Yet those governments had many achievements – and they are part of the current case for voting Labour. Bright new radical policies only get you so far – especially if voters hear you trashing what went before.

A Twitter spat involving Ann Pettifor, one of the party’s economic advisers, provided an interesting example. He initial tweet suggested that John McDonnell’s commitment to a sustainable low carbon economy was a break with the past. Under challenge, she quickly conceded that Ed Miliband, as the first Climate Change Secretary, introduced the Climate Change Act in 2008. She claimed however these achievements and policies were “not part of Labour’s narrative & speeches.”

In piled John Ruddy in defence of fellow Scot Gordon Brown. An NHS workers tweeting from Montrose, 60 miles up the coast from Brown’s old seat Ruddy fired off a series of tweets:

“Gordon Brown introduced the Climate Change Levy, reformed company car taxation, introduced APD (advanced passenger duty), set up Stern Review.
“He also created Landfill tax (related to methane emissions), and escalated the tax, created the fuel duty escalator.
“He created differentials for vehicle excise duty, so that more polluting vehicles paid more, the aggregates levy.
“He cut VAT on energy saving materials & micro generation, and introduced Council Tax rebates for energy efficiencies.”

Quite an impressive list. For me, one of the mysteries of the 2015 election was that Ed Miliband, who would have become the greenest Prime Minister we ever had, was virtually silent on the environment. Did that matter? Well, look at these 10 ultra marginals seats where the Tory majority is less than the Green vote.

Seat Tory Majority Green vote
Gower 27 1161
Derby North 41 1618
Croydon Central 165 1454
Bury North 378 1141
Morley&Outwood 422 1264
Plymouth Stn & Dport 523 3401
Brighton Kempton 690 3187
Weaver Vale 806 1183
Telford 730 930

Without those ten seats David Cameron wouldn’t have an overall majority. Voted Green got Blue, was how it worked out.

Jeremy Corbyn’s has differences with his predecessors, especially Tony Blair but he should surely embrace the Miliband-Brown record on the environment. If you want voters to back you need to show them that when they vote Labour good things happen.

Don Brind

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