Labour is having the spending debate five years too late!

The post-mortem has well and truly begun in Labour ranks with many differing explanations and reasons being given for Labour’s comprehensive General Election defeat. There appears to be an acceptance that the party was not pro-business enough and did not reach out to aspirational voters. It is also clear Labour did not do enough to convince voters on the economy, notably failing to answer the question on whether Labour spent too much whilst in government.

This last question in particular is currently defining the leadership contest with each candidate trying to prove they are the one who can win back voters trust on the economy and show they have learnt the lessons from this election defeat. Both Mary Creagh and Liz Kendall have been fairly open from the beginning in saying they believed Labour spent too much before the crash in 2008. This is also a position Andy Burnham is also expected to endorse in a speech. Yvette Cooper has yet to make the same admission. Debate over this issue is clearly going to run and run throughout the leadership campaign.

The frankness of these admissions is in stark contrast to much of what we heard during the election campaign. Ed Miliband famously did not rebuff this question when it was posed at the last leadership debate, choosing instead to defend Labour’s spending record. To be fair no one in the Labour Party seemed to want to face-up to this question.

It is easy to look wise after the event and after a defeat but you have to question whether this sudden apparent change of mind from some leadership candidates is credible and is not simply a convenient about face.  Opposition to this view seemed scant in the run up to the election with seemingly little being done to advise the Labour leader to adopt a more convincing position

This debate feels five years too late. Labour had the whole of the last parliamentary term to come up with a more credible position on this issue and failed to take it. It should not have taken two election defeats to open this particular can of worms.  Questions over the economy constantly define elections, so failing to provide a compelling answer to the spending question was always going to be costly and so it has proved.

Article by Mike Hough

Photograph – Getty Images

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