With spending cuts ahead Labour must be honest with the electorate and follow three guiding principles to set us apart from the Tories

First published on Progressonline in the Young progressives column

The result in Norwich North is yet further confirmation that Labour’s Mr 10% campaigns and the investment vs cuts message is going down like a lead balloon. It finally appears that Lord Mandelson and others are trying to manoeuvre a new message, so what should it be?

The public have a strong sense that the public finances are in bad way (whether we got there for good or bad reasons) and that someone will need to make the difficult choices to put them back on track. Cameron plays to the reality for most British families who have to live within their means and resonates with those who personally borrowed too much and feel punished as they desperately try and bring their personal debt into manageable and sustainable measures. Their view is that the government should do the same.

The party’s and public’s gut reaction to the “investment vs cuts” debate is that it is fundamentally dishonest and the government looks increasingly in denial.

In the run up to the election we should be honest that much of our finances will be limited and that particular spending will be up for grabs. In these times, Labour will have three guiding principles:

  1. To do all that is necessary to get the economy back on track, create new jobs, return people to work and half national debt by 2014.
  2. To defend and extend measures that help people stay in work and prosper while there: transport investment, Sure Start, childcare facilities and family friendly policies and train to gain for example.
  3. That under a fourth term Labour government there will be no fewer teachers, doctors, nurses and police officers. If anything this is what there will be yet more of.

This sets us fundamentally apart from the Tories who are defending health and DFID budget lines and want to slash and burn all the rest including regional development agencies which are often doing more than anyone to save jobs and stop businesses go under in all corners of our economy.

If we get into a set of fights and pledges about which government department will spend what, have what budget etc it becomes a desperate scrap. We must not align ourselves with budget codes, government departments or certain structures in our public services but with the people who achieve the outcomes we desire.

We all know, when push comes to shove, that it is doctors and nurses that make people healthier, teachers who inspire our young people and police officers who tackle crime. So does the public.

The public know there are tough choices ahead. We need to win the case that Labour cuts will put all people first not the 3000 wealthiest families. We should be confident about the progressive consensus we have created.

12 years into a Labour government, the case for some public spending has changed. We have built 100 new hospitals, 3000 sure start centres and seen 1100 schools be rebuilt or newly built. Put simply, it is not mass capital spending we need. To be fair, we fixed the roof while the sun was shining!

We must be confident that our ideas and values are better than our opponents, that we have changed Britain for the better and when we are being honest with the electorate about the finances and our priorities we can reflect their concerns, share their aspirations and win a historic fourth term.

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Richard Angell is parliamentary and equalities manager for Community Union and a former national chair of Young Labour

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