Saturday 10 June 2023

Perhaps they don't want to win


When Labour first announced their plans to spend £28 billion a year, including in the very first year of a Labour government, on action to stop climate change, it was a bold step. It’s true that there was a certain paucity of detail (why is it that politicians and the media like to concentrate so much on the amount of money being spent rather than on what it’s going to achieve?), and the idea that they could get from a standing start to the whole £28 million in less than a year always looked more than a little dubious, but it was setting out a serious ambition to tackle the number one problem facing humanity and raise UK prosperity levels in the process. Or so it seemed.

In an amazing stroke of good luck, their own-goal announcement yesterday that it might actually not happen quite as quickly as they had previously claimed was overshadowed by the Tory own-goal scorer in chief announcing that he was departing in a huff because people were being nasty to him rather than accepting his lies and dishonesty as absolute truth. But Labour’s discharge of a firearm aimed unerringly at one of its own extremities deserves rather more attention than it has been given. The party could have backtracked gently, by saying that whilst the ambition remained unaltered they had always known that they could never deliver that level of spending as rapidly as they might wish, simply because, in practical terms, it would take time to set up schemes and put people and organisations in place. Instead, they chose to say that they would be deliberately deferring action on financial grounds, in order to abide by their self-imposed fiscal rules.

One of Starmer’s aides spelled it out in these terms: “If it’s a choice between the green prosperity plan and the fiscal rules, the fiscal rules would trump the former”. Aditya Chakrabortty of the Guardian has helpfully translated that as “In a choice between planetary life and some bullshit notion of fiscal credibility, we will always choose the latter.” It’s an entirely fair reformulation of what Labour are saying. The fiscal rules by which they insist they must abide are rules they themselves have written. They aren’t laws of nature or even laws of economics, they are rules which have been invented to convince the Tory press that the Labour Party will govern as though they were Tories, in the hope that the Tory press won’t be too hard on Labour in the run-up to the election. It would be nice, comforting even, to believe that it’s all a ruse and that Labour will abandon the self-imposed shackles once in government, but it appears as though they really do believe that they must abide by the rules which they wrote. They really do prefer austerity to prosperity; misery to hope. Perhaps they think that things are so bad they really don’t want to win.

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