We’d better get used to it. A continuing economic squeeze administered by a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. The only difference after the General Election will be that the Tories will hold most of their cards with the Lib Dems reduced to about 30 MPs.
The Chancellor was in confident mood on Wednesday.
He shouldn’t have been. In the rose garden days three years ago the Coalition didn’t expect to still be making cuts in 2015-16. Nevertheless George, or Geoff Osborne if you prefer, has managed to convince not only the British people but the Labour Party that there is no alternative.
Labour are in serious trouble. They have broadly signed up to the cuts strategy. Having lagged behind public opinion on the need for benefit reform, they are now lurching to the right to such an extent that we are not sure that basic pensions would be safe in their hands.
George Osborne was devastating when he used Gordon Brown’s old formula for mocking the Opposition. The Chancellor told MPs he had received representations to include pensions in the welfare cap, but had resisted them. Chris Leslie, one of Ed Balls’ Shadow Treasury sidekicks wasn’t even prepared to attack plans to make people wait seven days for benefits when the TUC were warning it could mean kids going without food.
Labour are in this position largely because of Ed Balls.
I’m afraid the Shadow Chancellor has to go. He is associated in the public mind with the Brown days and people still blame that administration, and not the current one, for the mess. It may be unfair three years into the Coalition, but it is a fact.
Alistair Darling should be the Shadow Chancellor. He is currently heading up the Better Together campaign against the Scot Nats, but he could do that part time because Scotland isn’t going to vote for independence.
Darling has a reassuring manner in contrast to the bruiser Balls. More importantly he was honest about the economic troubles ahead which nearly led to his sacking by Brown.
Even with Darling as Shadow Chancellor it is going to be difficult for Labour to become the largest party in 2015. Economic green shoots are appearing and house prices are rising. Public support for benefit reform and a smaller public sector has grown during the austerity years. This doesn’t mean that millions of people aren’t suffering but the majority back the Coalition and Labour is not going to be a socialist champion.
The Coalition shows no sign of breaking up as the election approaches. These cuts are for 2015. The Lib Dems could have made far more trouble about being committed to them for the year after the election. They didn’t and Chief Secretary Danny Alexander (a Lib Dem) received fulsome praise from George Osborne.
Osborne and Alexander have pulled off another trick. Amid all the cuts there is real commitment to northern infrastructure projects like rail spending in Leeds, fast track permits to frack for gas in Lancashire and the new Mersey crossing.
The biggest black mark for the Chancellor is the woeful failure to properly fund the Single Local Growth Fund. Lord Heseltine had urged Local Enterprise Partnerships to be allowed to bid for £49bn from the fund. It was given just £2bn a year.
For that you shall be called Geoffrey, Mr Chancellor!