While the Lib Dem’s last week coped with their position in the eyes of the electorate of being Tory human shields by… er… ignoring the problem, this week Labour face a not too dissimilar problem in that they have a negative public image of their party to deal with.
That’s not an entirely fair assessment of the Lib Dems’ conference. The problem with their policy announcements though is that several of them do fly in the face of coalition policy. The announcement of the recruitment of extra tax inspectors, for example, is more an exercise in the shuting of doors after George Osborne let the horses bolt away with the deal with Switzerland. The idea of raising the tax floor to the level of the minimum wage though is a good idea. Politicians, economists and bloggers wax lyrically about the Laffer curve affecting businesses and rich people, yet do not think about the positive consequences of cutting taxes at the lower level. Especially when you consider that low wage earners are more likely to buy goods that have taxes like VAT & various duties levelled on them. It’s certainly a better Idea than the temporary cut in the VAT rate floated by Milliband the younger yesterday.
This brings us to a party which was a definite looser in the May elections. They won council seats at the expense of the Lib Dems, but for a party to have aspirations to be elected into office come May 2015 the results were not good enough. They did return to minority government in Wales, but the worst results were the ones for the Holyrood elections. It is this result which has given them a huge headache, as it looks as if there will be an independence referendum at some point from 2014 onwards (7th May 2015 anyone?). This has resulted in a review, conducted by Sarah Boyak and Jim Murphy, which has made recommendations on the structures of “Scottish Labour”, because obviously Labour lost because of their out of date organisation and not because of their lack of policies.
Remarkably enough, Holyrood is not Labour’s biggest problem as they gather in Liverpool for their annual conference. Their biggest problem is that in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the last one, that Labour’s lead over the Tories in the polls is between 4-6%, with polling on various facets of Labour being less welcome. Most of these polls are concentrated on the performance of Ed Milliband in his first year. His overall approval rating is at -33, while only 18% of people questioned think that he has provided an effective opposition. Tellingly, only 19% think that Milliband would be up to the job as Prime Minister.
Being the opposition has not immunised Labour from the problems with the economy, with people still blaming Labour for the crash of 2007/8 (rather than blame them for allowing the conditions that led to the crash to arise). Yet Labour have failed to take the coalition to task for their scorched earth policy, perhaps because the Tories have plot a course similar to the course a re-elected Brown government would have taken. Whatever is the case, this week is key for Milliband, Balls and a host of other names in their quest to regain power in May 2015. Providing a viable alternative to Osborne’s scorched earth policy is something that really should have emerged by now, and probably needs to come out in the weeks ahead. Today, with Ball’s speech would be an ideal opportunity for this. Yet the signs are not good, with as I said earlier proposals for a temporary cut in the VAT rates.
In June, I spoke of the Milliband drift – where I argued that Milliband and his team do seem slow at trying to change perceptions of them and their policies. This is still the case despite Hacker-gate. I said that Milliband had at that point six months to turn his parties, and his fortunes around. Nothing has changed. Milliband & co still have at least until next years Budget to show that they can turn things around. This makes this week’s conference a key starting point for that revival.