Labour is still struggling to leave the Brown era behind

A poll conduced at the end of February by Ipsos-MORI for The Economist shows that the economy continues to be the public's most pressing concern. This is potentially a double-edged sword for Labour. The public still blame Labour, rather than the banks for the deficit. Moving beyond that will be easier said than done.

A poll conduced at the end of February by Ipsos-MORI for The Economist shows that the economy continues to be the public’s most pressing concern.

This is potentially a double-edged sword for Labour.

With the increasingly influential presence of Lynton Crosby in the Tory camp, not to mention the loss of the Eastleigh by-election, David Cameron will come under increasing pressure from Tory backbenchers to shift policy further to the Right.

Nothing new here of course.

An excellent (separate) piece for the Economist today notes that in the run up to the 2005 election, an emboldened Tory Right sought to “shift…emphasis [in the party] away from public services towards immigration, crime and, of course, Europe…”.

They largely succeeded, resulting in a calamitous electoral defeat for Tory leader Michael Howard in a winnable election.

Backbench ideologues rarely learn lessons from history, so expect Cameron to face similar demands as worried MPs sense weakness on the back of humiliations like that in Eastleigh.

Labour can, indeed, take a degree of solace from the prospect of the Tories scrabbling around to prevent their core vote indulging Nigel Farage’s protest party.

No more than a degree of solace, though.

While Ed Miliband has been wise to turn his attention to economic concerns of late in the form of (largely symbolic) policy proposals on the mansion tax and the 10p tax rate, Labour is still suffering badly when voters are asked about the economy, as a poll for YouGov this week showed.

Q a) Which party would handle Britain’s economy best?

Q b) Who would you trust more to run the economy?

a) Which party? b) Which team?
Con Lab Other/ Don’t know Cameron/ Osborne Miliband/ Balls Not sure
% % % % % %
Apr 2012 28 27 45 36 28 35
Jul 2012 27 26 47 34 31 35
Oct 2012 26 28 46 n/a n/a n/a
Dec 2012 28 27 45 37 26 37
Feb 2013 27 29 44 35 29 37

As Peter Kelner phrased it:

“Almost three years after Gordon Brown left Downing Street, more people still blame Labour rather than the Conservatives for the state of the economy and the public spending cuts that Osborne has imposed. Secondly, when asked who they trust more to run the economy, more people still prefer Cameron and Osborne to Miliband and Balls.”

While Labour is right to focus on the economy – it is voters’ main concern and Osborne is the government’s biggest liability – doing so is a double-edged sword. It is potentially Labour’s strongest area of attack, but it also risks a damaging boomerang effect.

Moving beyond the fact that the public appear to still blame Labour, rather than the banks, for the deficit will be easier said than done.

In the public mind, the party is still stuck in the Gordon Brown era, and the failure to win the argument in 2009/10 that it was the banks rather than the government which was to blame for the crisis still hangs around the party’s neck like an albatros.

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