"We can unite in defence of our economic record, take the Tories to task and win back some precious lost ground. The fate of our party may depend on it"
t has been almost two years since that painful election night, the gut punch of that exit poll and the creeping realisation that the Tories were on course for a majority. Seasoned canvassers will recall the sheer number of times that voters associated Labour with overspending, debt and borrowing. The polls bore this out as well. People’s perception that they could trust Cameron and Osborne with the economy more than the two Eds never shifted. So we must set the public record straight.
When Labour came into power in 1997, the economy was sluggish, not long out of the recession of the early 1990s and Black Wednesday was fresh in the memory. The incoming government was faced with a large structural deficit, low net investment, rising public debt and falling public sector net worth. The Labour government inherited a national debt of 42% of GDP in 1997, which had to fallen to 35% of GDP by the start of the global financial crisis.
When Labour left office in 2010, it bequeathed the lowest debt in the G7, something George Osborne did not know when he was asked by the Treasury Select Committee. In fact, the coalition government’s borrowing (2010-2015) was higher than all the Labour Party’s borrowing between 1997 and 2007. In 1997, the Labour Party inherited a budget deficit of 3.9%, but ran more budget surpluses in our 13 years than the Tories had in 18. George Osborne said in 2010 he would eliminate the deficit in five years, but this government, nearly 7 years on, has only recently managed to cut the deficit in half.
Labour reacted in the right way to a global economic crisis – Gordon Brown and his team prevented recession from turning into a depression. We rescued a swathe of the banking sector from itself when the alternative was ATMs running dry.
We need to own our past to save our future. Just as our opponents pushed the “Labour’s mess” argument or the “maxed out the nation’s credit card” narrative at every opportunity, it is important to remind voters again and again that the Labour Party is not to blame for the financial crash, that our investment in vital public services in Britain has nothing to do with the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
We failed to convince voters we could be trusted to run the economy. If we can’t reassure voters of Labour’s economic competence, our path back into government will only become longer and more treacherous.
Demonstrating an ability to run the economy competently is all but impossible from opposition. All we have is our record, so we must resolve to defend it, to revisit and to change the narrative on the economy. If the economy takes a short-term hit from Brexit, we must be remorseless in pinning blame on the Tories for their poor economic management and resolute in our desire to shift trust back in our direction. We can unite in defence of our economic record, take the Tories to task and win back some precious lost ground. The fate of our party may depend on it.
Ava Etemadzadeh is a Young Fabian member. Follow her on Twitter at @avaet0809