January 6, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
Amongst the astonishingly negative start to the General Election campaign yesterday, as the Tories said that Labour would crash the economic car, Labour said that the Tories would destroy the NHS and the Lib Dems said neither should be trusted so you needed the good old Lib Dems to be in coalition with them to keep them from hurting us, a rather ingenious trap was set. It was by the Tories, and it was on the Labour Party, and it worked.
It didn’t look like a trap at first, it actually looked like the leadership hustings that will take place very soon if the Tories have a disastrous result in May and quite soon if the EU mess that David Cameron is getting himself into plays itself out. George Osborne, Theresa May, Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan and William Hague (just Boris missing, who would be there instead of Hague) called a press conference and stood at lecterns. They presented a red dossier, an 82 page document that accused Labour of having a 20.7bn black hole in their economic commitments. They argue that there have been £23.26bn of spending commitments but only £2.52bn.
Very quickly, the assembled press pointed out that many of the spending commitments Labour had made were not actual spending commitments but were in fact criticisms that Labour had made of Tory cuts. So for example they had criticized £3.35bn of local authority cuts and the Tories were saying that this meant that they would reverse them – making them a spending commitment. Sajid Javid went further – saying that “If Labour thinks that we’re wrong in asserting this, then it’s up to them to come out today and they can say ‘We will not reverse those cuts.'” Sure enough, the Labour press office quickly did, falling into the exact trap that the Tories had set.
By saying that they were against the cuts but were not going to reverse them they reminded the voters that they were going to continue the austerity policies that they were attacking. If you are going to vote for a government to continue austerity, the Tories are gambling, you may as well vote for the one which has more economic competence. Such is the Tories’ lead on economic competence that they can afford to play as fast and loose on facts like this and still come out winning. The result of today is that the left-wing voters Labour are apparently losing to the Green Party and the SNP will see that Labour don’t really offer a left-wing alternative, and will continue to leave.
It’s not edifying, but it worked.