Labour: Misunderstanding or division?

Len McCluskey Image copyright PA
Image caption Len McCluskey has been critical of Labour's stance on the public sector pay freeze

Compare and contrast the following two statements about Labour's approach to the economy:

"We are going to have to keep all these cuts."


"There is a big squeeze happening on budgets across the piece... We are going to have to start from that being the baseline. At this stage, we can make no commitments to reverse any of that, on spending or on tax."

The first is what seems to have inspired Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of the country's biggest union, Unite, to describe Labour's economic policy as "a victory for discredited Blairism... the last gasp of neo liberalism" which was dragging the party into "the swamp of bond market orthodoxy".

The second is described by the same Mr McCluskey in the Guardian today as "absolutely reasonable".

Starting point

And yet both are quotes from the same interview with the shadow chancellor on Saturday.

Ed Balls and Ed Miliband spent the weekend trying to regain some economic credibility by signalling that they understood the constraints that the deficit would place on the next Labour government.

As I explained in my last post they were changing much less than many people thought. This becomes clear when you see the first of these in its proper context.

What Mr Balls said was:

"My starting point is, I am afraid, we are going to have keep all these cuts."

Internal difficulties

And he went on to explain that he could not promise to reverse any cut and made one - just one - specific policy announcement - that Labour would not oppose continuing public sector pay restraint.

McCluskey objects to it, saying it disenfranchises the half a million who marched against the cuts.

A row with Labour's biggest union backer poses some internal difficulties but it helpfully highlights the very change the Eds wanted to highlight, while allowing the Labour leader to make clear that he is not in the pocket of the unions.

What should worry Labour's Eds, though, is the fact that their position is not widely understood.

McCluskey, like the coalition, is asking an important question: "How can you pledge to keep cuts in future while opposing them now?".

They have an answer. It is vital for the Eds that the public understand it.

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