Could Tony Blair help to defuse the Tory electoral time-bomb?

Labour can make a compelling argument that the economic crisis in the UK was not principally its fault but the result of an international banking crisis with its roots in the US.

Tony Blair

Tom London is a London-based writer and blogger

The Tories have a plan to beat Labour in 2015, however dire the economic situation. They will tell the voters – “don’t blame us – it’s Labour’s fault”.

This could be highly effective. Polls show that more people still blame excessive spending by the last Labour government for the state of the economy than blame the policies of the coalition.

Unless Labour takes action urgently to change public perception, this issue is a ticking time-bomb set to explode to cause maximum damage.

The Tories have hired Lynton Crosby as their election supremo for 2015. He is known as the ‘Australian Karl Rove’ – a reference to the ‘evil genius’ who used highly aggressive tactics to help George W Bush. Crosby will have noted how Barack Obama used the economic legacy of the Bush regime against Mitt Romney in 2012. Obama’s pitch was – “Why hand the keys back to the guys who drove the car into the ditch?”  It’s easy to imagine Tory posters grouping Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls above that question.

Obama may have been right about the blameworthiness of the Republicans. However, Labour can make a compelling argument that the economic crisis in the UK was not principally its fault but the result of an international banking crisis with its roots in the US.

The central Tory charge is that Labour over-spending was to blame for the deficit/debt problem in May 2010. The ONS graph below illustrates very clearly that the facts do not support this. Immediately before the banking crisis struck in 2007/8, the UK’s debt was significantly lower as a percentage of GDP than it had been when Labour came to power in 1997.

It was only after the crisis and as a result of the ensuing economic mayhem that the deficit and debt increased very dramatically. Furthermore, the Tories’ criticism overlooks the fact that they were pledging to match the level of Labour’s spending right up until the banking crisis.

UK debt percentage GDP

Labour cannot escape all responsibility for the fact that the banking crisis itself occurred. The Labour leadership has already admitted fault and apologised for failing to regulate the banks tightly enough. However, here too, the Tory attack is undermined by their own actions – they were calling for even less ‘burdensome’ regulation at the time.

Labour can never hope to comprehensively win this argument – it was on their watch that the deficit rose to excessive levels. The best they can hope is to neutralise the issue so that the next election is fought on the record of the Tories post-2010 rather than of Labour pre-2010.

Labour needs to start the task of persuasion urgently. After the 2010 election, the coalition was highly disciplined in constantly reiterating that it was all Labour’s fault. Labour was deflated, disorganised and distracted by its own leadership campaign. The coalition’s version of history is now well embedded in the mind of the electorate. If Labour waits until the next election to challenge it, they will find that it’s far too late.

It will not be at all easy to tackle this issue. It is rarely enough in politics to be right or even to have the best arguments. Labour will need to grab media and public attention for what looks like a stale issue. They also need someone delivering the message who has credibility with crucial swing voters.

Ideally Labour would like someone who the media will cover, who is compelling and who has sway with crucial swing voters. Someone who can do a similar job to Bill Clinton at last year’s Democratic Convention when he took apart the Republican economic argument in language that the ordinary voter could grasp without feeling they were being patronised.

It will be difficult for Ed Miliband or Ed Balls or any of the shadow cabinet to even get a hearing. They may have to think outside the box.

Perhaps Miliband could approach someone like Eddie Izzard, the comedian rumoured to be considering running to be mayor of London?  Perhaps Izzard could make the point, not only with humour but also using charts like the maverick presidential candidate Ross Perot used flip-charts to great effect in the US in the 1990s?

Or perhaps Miliband could ask Tony Blair?

This would be a deeply controversial idea in the Labour Party, of course.However, if Blair agreed he could be highly effective. He may be unpopular on the Left but he still holds great sway with target swing voters. The issue concerns not only Labour’s electoral prospects but his legacy too. He wrote about it recently in the New Statesman – “Labour should be very robust in knocking down the notion that it ‘created’ the crisis.”  He was clear that the cause of the crisis was the “financial tsunami that occurred globally, starting…in the US.”

Asking Blair’s help would have an element of risk for Miliband who has been at pains to distance his party from Blair and New Labour.

Whoever he enlists for the difficult task, it is essential that Miliband ensures this Tory electoral time-bomb is urgently defused. The result of the next election could depend on it.

12 Responses to “Could Tony Blair help to defuse the Tory electoral time-bomb?”

  1. LB

    They flunked it. Hence labour has a chance (and the electorate gets screwed as usual).

    The Tories should have sent out personal bills to tax payers with their share of the state debts.

    Imagine the reaction of the average voter to a bill of 250,000 pounds dropping on the door mat.

    Still, that’s a bit better than finding out once retired, too late, that you won’t get a pension, you won’t get your heating paid, because all your money has been spent

  2. Robert Kaye

    Eddie Izzard? Good idea, he could reach out to vital swing voters just as he got people to support AV, Gordon Brown, Ken Livingstone. Oh, hang on. Well, at least he’d make Labour feel good about itself.

  3. MikeHomfray

    I don’t think that line will be credible 5 years on

  4. Kevin Leonard

    The labour party would be better served if they asked Eddie Izzard to become their leader

  5. Gumweed

    Good idea. Except for two things. 1) Labour has had three years to make this argument and has instead spent its time apologising for spending money on education, health, communities, crime fighting etc. 2) Tony Blair is a liar.

  6. Rob from Hull

    I was a Blairite, but that time has gone. Still like the fella, met him a few times, but he’s done his job, and made a pretty penny at the end of it, but life moves on and times change. Is this argument about the vacuum we feel now with Ed? Because pugging a gap with and old cork wont cut it.

  7. Rob from Hull

    *plugging

  8. Julian

    “Immediately before the banking crisis struck in 2007/8, the UK’s debt was significantly lower as a percentage of GDP than it had been when Labour came to power in 1997”

    This is disingenuous. The debt was starting to fall in 1997 when Labour came to power because of policies of the previous government. It continued to fall because Labour committed itself to Tory spending levels in order to help win the 1997 election. Once that commitment had run its course, the graph shows that debt started to increase (from 2001). For eight years it increased until the crisis.

  9. Matthew Blott

    How did that AV referendum go that Izzard was campaigning heavily for?

  10. Matthew Blott

    Ha, I’d already made that point before I scrolled down – you’d beaten me to it. I like Eddie Izzard, he’s a nice guy but he’s a luvvie and they tend to alienate as many people as they inspire.

  11. treborc1

    Two wars, nearly a third, IT like CSA, Airports, NHS, ID cards, and then DNA all costing billions all failed now dumped , aircraft carriers without planes Apache helicopters sitting for years doing nothing, troops needed equipment and got little.

    Labour spending and then arguing with a severely disabled soldier who won his case and Labour stated they’d appeal.

    No thanks….

  12. JakethePeg

    He should be tried and convicted for war crimes!

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