Monday, 14 September 2009

Can Mandy save Labour? Early reaction to public spending 'relaunch'.

Common wisdom holds that Lord Mandelson is the most powerful figure in the current government, since he returned from political wilderness in an attempt to save Gordon Brown. He has been charged with re-formulating Labour’s public spending message, and to that effect he appeared on the Today programme this morning and delivered a keynote speech this afternoon.

Andrew Sparrow has done a good job of assessing Mandelson’s success, or lack of it, in tackling both tasks. First the business minister failed to outmanoeuvre the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, who has consistently highlighted the incongruity of the Prime Minister’s ‘Tory cuts vs. Labour investment’ mantra, over a number of months. Point out a clear instance where Brown used this formulation, Mandelson challenged, ten minutes later Robinson did.

Second, the public spending speech was a proficient piece of politicking, notable for the resurgent New Labour language which it employed. Iain Dale believes the government is still not being honest about the ‘c’ word. And Liam Murray suggests that if cuts are going to be necessary, perhaps it’s easier to work with the ideological grain.


Kevinho said...

A good point, but it is true that the Tories are not very open about their plans. We need to reduce the size of the public sector, but the transition will have to be managed extremely carefully and the corresponding tax cuts delivered.

Matt Wardman said...

>if cuts are going to be necessary, perhaps it’s easier to work with the ideological grain

I don't see any *if* about that, but I think that everyone is being too timid when talking about cuts. I'd suggest that a significant productivity gain for services delivered per unit of money spent - partly from efficiency, partly from better management, partly from reforms which should have been on the agenda in 2000 or before (esp. pensions) - should be achievable.

Examples: target police overtime (why not before?), target the 60% jump in GP incomes in ~2004-2006 (why is that still in place?), target NHS productivity, target areas where the decade long boast has been "look at how much money we are spending"

My view is that Labour just can't do this due to historical roots and union links, anymore than a party founded by Peta would be able to support hunting.

On the symbols, I'd suggest that Mr Cameron's aim to reduce the cost of most of Westminster by 10% is playing very safe indeed. In the same speech he quoted the cost of Parliament as doubling since 1997 (not quite that clear cut due to exceptional items).

I'd be looking for a 40% reduction in the costs of Westminster, and perhaps a 10-12% cash reduction combined with a 10-12% productivity gain over 4 years for the public sector as a whole. Whether they have the management in place to do it intelligently is another thing.

And that is perhaps quite modest.

Matt Wardman said...

Oh, and on Lord Mandelbrot - he may relaunch something, but it'll be a question of convincing people to call it Labour :-)