As the first anniversary of the Tory-Liberal coalition approaches, the government is proving itself to be not only mean, reckless, and ideologically-driven, but increasingly also incompetent and inconsistent.
We’ve had a budget that tried – but failed – to cut the price of petrol by a penny; we’ve had endless corrections and re-announcements of which schools were getting re-built and which weren’t; and of course, we’ve seen a government finally realising when the health professionals and the public said leave our NHS alone, they meant it.
But there has been one outstanding achievement, where the coalition have shown themselves to be united, consistent, and disciplined. At every single opportunity, every single Tory and Lib Dem MP has falsely claimed that the deficit is unequivocally linked to Labour’s overspending when in office. No matter which coalition minister or backbencher is talking, the line is the same.
How many times have you heard the phrase that Labour “maxed out the nation's credit card”? Or that the current government is “clearing up the mess that Labour left behind”? Or The Greek Excuse – that our economic crisis was indistinguishable from Greece, Portugal, and Ireland’s.
They’re wrong – we all know it was the international banking crisis that caused the deficit, not Labour’s spending on public services. Before the crisis, our debt levels as a nation were in fact lower than when we took over from the Tories. But the coalition’s message is getting through; YouGov polls show more people blame Labour for the cuts than the Coalition.
How are we going to strangle this lie? I propose that we have a pact between the frontbench party and the members of the party on the doorstep. Whenever someone claims it was Labour’s spending on public services that created the deficit, we will challenge them. We need to challenge their lie so that we can confidently assert that there is an alternative to slashing public spending. And that the alternative is us.
For the public to be confident that there is an alternative, we in the Labour Party must be confident first in ourselves. I am not suggesting that everything the last government did was right. And, as Ed Miliband’s recent broadcast made clear, we need to listen to the public to make sure we’re truly on their side.
But on that fundamental issue – the investment in public services – we were, and are, right. The public agree with us and we must not give an inch.