Monday, February 26, 2024

Labour Party Tensions Grow As Election Looms

Rachel Reeves could not have been clearer.

“I can announce today Labour’s climate investment pledge, an additional £28 billion of capital investment in our country’s green transition for each and every year of this decade,” the shadow chancellor told Labour’s annual conference in September 2021.

“I will be a responsible chancellor. I will be Britain’s first green chancellor.”

But that “pledge” has now been watered down and, if the repeated off-the-record briefings are to believed, is on the verge of being ditched altogether.

Throw in Reeves’ surprise announcement this week that an incoming Labour government would not bring back the cap on bankers’ bonuses and it’s understandable why some voters are asking what do Labour stand for.

Not least because it is barely three months since Reeves herself said that the scrapping of the cap “tells you everything you need to know” about the Tories.

Luke Tryl of the More in Common think tank, which regularly tests public opinion through polling and focus groups, told HuffPost UK: “What has cut through with the public is the vacillation on the £28bn policy.

“People say Labour can’t seem to make their minds up – we heard it multiple times last week. No one is worried about the cost of it or the policy itself, they just want Labour to make their minds up about it.”

Labour’s crisis of confidence about one of its flagship policies has coincided with the Tories’ decision to go on the attack, claiming that the opposition’s plan to borrow billions would push up taxes and interest rates.

That in turn has fed into a belief that Labour is afraid to announce anything controversial, just in case it damages the party’s enormous poll lead.

“You can get away with making a thin offer to the electorate, but you can’t get away with offering nothing at all,” said one senior Labour source who said the green investment policy’s £28bn price tag has become “an albatross” around the party’s neck.

Luke Tryl said Labour’s approach is all the more baffling because opinion polls show the country is ready for a change of government.

He said: “The country doesn’t want the status quo. The risk for Labour is that, by being very cautious, voters don’t see them as presenting the change they want.

“Labour will say ‘why blow the lead we’ve got’, but if things do start to pick up for the government, the polls could narrow because voters end up deciding to stick with what they’ve got.

Now is the time for Labour carve out an alternative offer so they can win a mandate to change things in government.”

One former Labour shadow minister said: “The gap between winning an election and governing is growing increasingly wider. Sometimes it seems like our only motive is winning, and the danger is that the public think we’ll say anything because we believe in nothing – on bankers’ bonuses, on making Brexit work, on the £28bn flip-flop.

“The closer we get to an election, the more the voters will look at what we are actually proposing to do in government and how that will impact on them.”

The way the £28bn climbdown has been communicated has also revealed the tensions that remain at the top of the Labour Party.

“Some of our senior politicians and advisers are swanning around town holding court at every corporate cocktail party, when we’ve won nothing yet and are in for a brutally punishing general election campaign.”

HuffPost UK understands that Morgan McSweeney – Keir Starmer’s chief of staff – and veteran MP Pat McFadden, the party’s national campaign chief, are unhappy they are being blamed for killing off the policy, with allies pointing out that the final decision rests with the leader and his shadow chancellor.

And while Reeves repeatedly refused to even say ”£28bn” during an interview with Sky News on Thursday, Starmer was happy to declare: “We will ramp up to that £28bn during the second half of the parliament – subject to our fiscal rules.”

One MP said: “The key question still is: who is in charge? The debacle over the £28bn figure has managed to simultaneously show indecisiveness and inflexibility.”

Others believe that having such a commanding – and widening – poll lead for such a long time has led many in the Labour Party to believe that victory at the general election is inevitable.

A senior Labour insider told HuffPost UK: “There is a difference between confidence and complacency. We came back after Christmas thinking it would be a matter of weeks until an election and all we had to do was show up and prepare for the ticker-tape parade up Downing Street. That has led to a lack of focus and unnecessary mistakes.

“Some of our senior politicians and advisers are swanning around town holding court at every corporate cocktail party, when we’ve won nothing yet and are in for a brutally punishing general election campaign.”

One Starmer ally admitted the party had managed to make its green investment policy “confusing when it’s not actually confusing”.

“What we should have been saying is investing in the economy is the right thing to do, but fiscal responsibility comes first,” he said. ”But the problem is we put a figure on it and we haven’t been quick enough to squash that figure.

“We’ll eventually get to the right position on it, but the process of getting there has been a pain in the arse.”

Left-wing MP Clive Lewis, a member of the Green New Deal Group, called on the party leadership to stand by its pledge.

“Instead of backing down, it is time for Labour to face down the Tories and win the case for public investment in the climate transition – of £28bn and beyond,” he said.

A veteran backbencher said Labour’s recent policy agonies have been a useful reminder that the next election is not in the bag.

He said: “We have to be prepared for one final big plot twist between now and the election.

“The Tories are beaten up and dead on their feet, but if they get a couple of planes to Rwanda, if some of the economic figures point to recovery, if they corner us on tax and spending in March and if they keep landing attacks on Keir, then they still might have a bit of fight left in them as we enter the last round.”


Related Articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Articles