Once again on the myth of Labour’s ‘out of control’ spending

The Labour party got it wrong. Just not in the way you think


The Labour party got it wrong. Not, as is commonly supposed, by spending too much in government, but by allowing that charge to stick in opposition. After losing the election back in 2010, rather than effectively setting out the real causes of the financial crash Labour got itself embroiled in a lengthy leadership contest – it wasn’t until September, four months after the election was lost, that Labour had a new leader in place.

Similarly, despite backing Labour spending plans right up until 2008, George Osborne and the Conservatives were allowed to position themselves as the only prudent choice at the 2010 General election.

The hangover from Labour’s error persists today in the public’s continued reluctance to trust the party on the economy. YouGov’s tracker currently gives the Tories a 17-point lead on economic trust – 40 per cent to 23 per cent.

The argument was lost five years ago, and thus it might plausibly be argued that getting embroiled in the argument again is a fruitless task.

However it’s important to (repeatedly) set the historical record straight, especially when another egregious claim is also doing the rounds – George Osborne recently claimed that the “economy was contracting when we came to power” (it wasn’t).

And so here are two graphs which, while not exactly game-changing at this stage, are nevertheless worth looking at as a reminder of some of the nonsense emitted by the Conservatives over the course of this parliament.

Firstly, on the myth of ‘out of control spending’. As the graph below demonstrates, government debt as a percentage of GDP was well below average under Labour and rose, predictably, as aresult of the collapse in tax receipts when the economic crisis hit – as it would. In the years leading up to the 2007/08 crisis – the supposedly spendthrift years – UK net public debt was close to its lowest ratio to GDP in 300 years.

Nor was this ‘Labour’s crash’ – unless you think Labour was in power in the United States when the sub-prime housing bubble burst and Lehman Brothers collapsed. I’m sure you’re not that silly.

Debt graph


As for the spurious claim that the economy was contracting when the coalition came to office in 2010, in reality it was growing when Labour left office – and nosedived only after George Osborne’s ’emergency budget’ in October of that year, when he set out big cuts to public spending.

The country had to wait another two-and-a-half years before the economy started to grow again at the rate it had been growing in May 2010. In the intervening period we saw wage stagnation, ‘flatlining’ GDP and the loss of the triple-A credit rating.

GDP Labour

So yes, the Labour party got it wrong. Just not in the way you probably think.

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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