Pat McFadden’s Fabian speech
Pat McFadden, the Shadow Business Minister, made a thoughtful speech to the Fabian Society this morning. He resolutely defended the last Labour Government’s economic record, questioned the Con-Lib decision to “cut faster and deeper than we (i.e. Labour) would”, rubbished the idea that the UK was in a similar economic position to Greece and made the case for active industrial policies in pursuit of growth. It’s well summarised by Sunder at Next Left.
It was all good stuff. The controversial bit came in the following two sentences: “‘Fight the cuts’ is a tempting slogan in Opposition, and there are indeed some that must be fought. But if that is all we are saying the conclusion will be drawn that we are wishing the problem away.”
True enough. But that is not all we are saying. Those arguing for an economic alternative to the coalition are saying that repaying the deficit now, before the recovery is entrenched, will risk a double-dip recession. When the recovery comes, the deficit must be tackled, in a timely and fair way. But as economic growth will make the biggest contribution to closing the gap, entrenching the recovery and rebuilding industry must be the first priority.
The problem with Pat McFadden’s speech is less what he said and more how it was reported. Perhaps it was spun this way or perhaps it was just journalists doing what journalists do. Either way, the Today programme reported that Pat would be making a speech saying that Labour must be prepared to talk about cuts and this was followed by an interview with Leadership contender Andy Burnham, who was then asked to pass a kind of virility test to show that he, too, was tough enough to promise cuts to the British people.
This misses what should be the main debate. How do we get growth back and secure it?
Either the coalition believes what was said in the Thatcherite handbook, that cutting taxes and public spending leads to ever-higher private sector growth, even in the current situation, in spite of the historical evidence to the contrary; or they have simply given up on growth in the short to medium term.
This is a political space that the opposition could and should occupy, especially as the impact of the cuts in the both the private and public sector starts to bite.