In the very pleasant surroundings of Chartered Accountants’ Hall, Ed Miliband appeared to have found the missing pages of his Party Conference speech and did what many of the Labour faithful have been willing him to do for some time: Confront the deficit head on.
The pre-speech reception was filled with scepticism. Tea and coffee was accompanied by raised eyebrows, sniggers and sarcastic comments about Ed’s – and Labour’s – inability to speak with genuine credibility on the economy, let alone to have an actual plan for tackling the deficit.
As the room silenced to allow Ed to speak, it was met with a Labour leader determined to be taken seriously on the deficit:
“There isn’t a path to growth and prosperity for working people which does not tackle the deficit.”
With Labour still trailing in the polls on economic credibility – despite a recent ComRes poll showing that 50% of the public feel the Government is cutting public services ‘too much and too quickly’ – Ed was clearly keen to come out swinging with a strong pledge:
“We will build a strong economic foundation and balance the books; we will cut the deficit every year while securing the future of the NHS; none of our manifesto commitments will require additional borrowing.”
Promising “unprotected departments” will face real cuts every year under a Labour government until the deficit is cleared tackled head on the criticism of Labour as not being able to control the urge to spend.
However, as for the actual plan on deficit reduction, Miliband refused time and again to be drawn on the detail. When questioned on the policy mix he would deploy to tackle the deficit, Miliband’s response time and again was that the “right place” to make such decisions was “when you get in government.”
Ed set out Labour’s stall as distinct from the Conservatives. While Osborne and co will tackle the deficit through spending cuts alone, Labour will make spending cuts and in addition will be levying taxes too – including the mansion tax – to pay down the deficit.
But was it enough to boost Labour’s credibility on the economy? The business community seem to think so. Both the IoD and CBI have issued broadly supportive statements and the initial media response has been kinder than usual. Though the usual critics remain.
Was everyone in the room convinced? I don’t think so. It isn’t easy to recover from a lapse in memory when £91 billion of budget deficit is at stake, but at least the sniggers stopped. For now.
Danny Wilding is an Account Director at PLMR and plays a key role offering lobbying and media relations advice to clients across a number of sectors, including transport, health and social care and the third sector. He most recently lead successful Autumn Statement campaigns on scrapping the tax on family flights and securing a significant investment for Croydon.
LABOUR PRESS: Full speech by Ed Miliband MP on the deficit – 11 December 2014
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