A letter to the Labour Left

Dear Comrades

Labour’s more centrist wing talks a lot about winning elections. Given our dismal result last September, I admit we should show some humility on that score.

In summer 2015, members and supporters wanted an Opposition which opposed. They wanted someone to be unapologetically anti-austerity; to speak up for left-wing values without blushing; to refuse to triangulate or fudge in the face of a right-wing Conservative Government. Most concluded no-one would do that except for Jeremy Corbyn; they felt like they were being asked to choose to give up everything they believed in if they voted for anyone else.

People like me failed to grasp that, and we just ended up lecturing the membership. We told everyone else to meet the voters on their ground and take their concerns seriously, and we completely failed to take our own advice. We failed with the best of intentions, we failed because we wanted a Labour Government, but still we failed. We have to learn from that.

10 months on, I can understand the anger now that Jeremy is facing a leadership challenge. He won by a landslide: I accept that. He won a mandate to move the debate in Labour to the left. He has done that, but I can see why many feel cheated.

But please don’t think that Labour moderates are the main threat to the Labour Left. We were trounced in 2015: Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper won 21.5% between them. Corbyn supporters cite the old saw that Tony Blair was Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievement to illustrate the problems with Blairism. On that logic, Owen Smith is Jeremy Corbyn’s greatest achievement.

Owen is standing as an unabashed socialist, backed by all of Labour’s most centrist MPs. Labour members are not being offered insipid triangulation or Andy Burnham Mark II: Owen is putting forward an unambiguous, democratic socialist programme. He’ll also put flesh on the programme’s bones, which Jeremy never managed to do.

As Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Owen has led Labour’s opposition to the Tories’ welfare cuts. In the early days of his campaign, he’s set out 20 key policies to end austerity and make the wealthy pay their share. Bringing back the 50p rate; higher capital gains tax; a new wealth tax; raising corporation tax; £200 billion invested in a British New Deal: it is crystal clear which side of the fence he’s on. These are specific and costed, and they make a sharp contrast with 10 months in which, after last summer’s promises, practically no party policy emerged at all.

When Owen made his 20 pledges, Jeremy had set out one policy from our 2015 manifesto, one policy based on Owen’s pledge on investment, and one unworkable pledge on pharmaceuticals. Owen has now released a major programme for workers’ rights, too. We have heard a little more since then, but even then the difference stands out: one candidate translates the ideals into concrete policies; the other, unless pushed, does not. Now Labour has been jolted to the left, it needs to fight to make a leftward shift credible: Owen is the better candidate to do so.

Crucially, Owen will turn his fire on domestic policy. If you want to challenge the political consensus head-on, you need a clear target and a steady aim – not a scatter-gun assault on all positions at once. If we’re going to campaign from the Labour Left, we need a clear, overwhelming theme: Conservative cuts are not compulsory; working people shouldn’t pay for the hubris of a lucky few; the interests of those lucky few have railroaded everyone else’s for far too long. Owen will do that. If you wanted a clear, full-throated left-wing party, focused on taking the fight to the Tories: now you can vote for one.

Yes, Owen will stay nearer to the centre than Jeremy in some areas. In particular, Owen will not refuse to sing the national anthem, he will avoid foreign policy controversies (though he voted against military action in Syria), he will be a multilateralist on Trident and he will want to speak to people’s sense of national identity. I understand that these last two are a major compromise for many.

But once these are out of the way, Labour MPs and activists on all sides will rally round a radical domestic programme for government. Arguing about Trident, the Falklands or the IRA is a distraction. These issues alienate people who could otherwise vote Labour. Labour moderates like me will refuse to pretend we can accept them. The Tories will make hay with them. And all the while, the hope of an unequivocally left-wing government drifts further away.

I won’t lie to you: I would normally argue for a more moderate programme to take to the country. But in 2016, the Labour Left has won that battle within the Party, hands down. The biggest threat to that victory is not bedraggled Blairites. It’s crushing, repeated electoral defeat, with all the demoralisation that entails. Defeat will, if you let it, drag the Labour Party away from what you want. Jeremy Corbyn has done what members wanted him to do: to build on that, a new leader will have to take the message to the country, not just the party.

If Owen Smith wins the leadership contest, please don’t think Labour moderates won’t want to make it work. We will throw ourselves into selling him, and Labour, to the country, as we always do. If Labour wins on a manifesto substantially to the left of Ed Miliband, we will be delighted. We also want to tackle inequality – as slowly as we must, yes, but as fast as we can too.

There are two candidates from the Labour Left in this election. One has shown he cannot speak to the country as a whole; the other is champing at the bit to try. The second stands the best chance of showing what a more radical Labour can do.

Yours fraternally
A Labour moderate

If you want to help Owen’s campaign, you can sign up to volunteer.

Why Jeremy Corbyn cannot lead

Jeremy Corbyn was elected in September 2015 with a decisive mandate. Nonetheless, I am convinced that Labour needs a new leader and that it faces disaster if it does not have one. Those of us who seek to overturn that mandate must make our case now.

In doing so, I want to address the electoral damage to Labour, but that is not my main focus here. Corbyn cannot win: but nor could he devise a workable platform for government, even if he did. Nor is such a platform his priority. As long as he leads, Labour cannot do its job as a serious opposition and an alternative government.

Campaigning efforts

To take electoral efforts first, however: it is evident that Corbyn’s Labour is far from forming a government. He is the first Opposition leader ever to lose seats in local elections in his first year in charge. The Opposition he leads is the first to lose seats in local elections since 1985. The average of polls has never once put Labour ahead of the Tories since Corbyn’s election. This all points to a defeat much worse than in 2015.

Policy and positions aside, Labour’s campaign under Corbyn was unfocused and poor. As a slogan, ‘Standing up, not standing by’ appealed only to the already-converted, who took Tory sins as articles of faith. It said nothing to anyone who wasn’t already convinced – indeed, it had no policy content at all. Our whole local election campaign focused on issues which councils couldn’t affect. Labour won in London – where Sadiq Khan spoke to the majority of Londoners, focused on their priorities and kept Corbyn off the leaflets.

But those problems pale in comparison to our EU referendum effort. We don’t know whether a sharper Labour effort would definitely have changed the outcome. But our leader skipped the launch of Labour In for Britain to attend a CND rally. Even in May, less than half of Labour voters knew their own party’s policy. Our leader constantly referred to the Party line when asked about his own views. He took a week’s holiday three weeks before polling day. I co-ordinated campaign efforts locally and knew I couldn’t go on holiday: clearly Corbyn took a different view. We now know the Leader’s Office consistently weakened pro-European speeches throughout the campaign. It is in genuine doubt how he actually voted himself.

On its own, Corbyn’s failure to campaign properly in the EU referendum is damning. His current position entails responsibility far beyond his own party. This was a crucial vote. It is hard to think of a Leader of the Opposition who has helped inflict more damage on his country.

Competence: credible policy

This isn’t just about whether people like Labour’s policies or how Corbyn campaigns. It is also about whether he can put any coherent platform together or show any kind of judgment on policy. I never thought he could, and events since September have given me no reason to change my mind.

Take the Tories’ Fiscal Charter, with its commitment to deliver an overall Budget surplus. Members and supporters voted for Corbyn to deliver a meaningful ‘anti-austerity’ policy. They got a Shadow Chancellor who first said he’d vote for the Tories’ fiscal charter as ‘little more than political game playing’, then decided he’d better vote against, and then produced a set of fiscal rules pretty similar to Ed Balls’. There’s a good case for a policy of balancing the current budget while borrowing to invest. But trashing that policy, seesawing from one extreme to another and then returning full circle – to general confusion – is no way to advocate it. Instead, McDonnell made Labour (defeated in 2015, to a large extent due to a lack of fiscal credibility) look like a party with no serious understanding of what it even wants, never mind how to achieve it.

Corbyn’s lack of judgment extends to foreign affairs. Reasonable people took different views on Syria, and there were plenty of good arguments against intervention in December. But reasonable disagreement differs from total failure to grasp the nature of the problem. Corbyn’s call for back channels to talk to Daesh fell into the latter category. Daesh is committed to an Islamic caliphate as a prelude to waging jihad on a global basis: striking a deal is literal anathema to its leaders. Syria and Iraq’s territory are not the West’s to negotiate over, and in any case we have nothing we could ever offer Daesh. Millenarian, theocratic totalitarianism cannot be appeased – as anyone with even a basic understanding should be able to grasp.

Corbyn’s positioning on Brexit since the EU referendum has been damningly inept. The morning after the referendum, he demanded the immediate triggering of Article 50, starting the two-year countdown to leaving. We had just fought a whole campaign, one where he had (notionally) been a key campaigner, in which Remain had emphasised the complexity of Brexit, the lack of any plan and the difficult trade-offs if Britain voted Leave. Anyone with even a passing interest in the debate should have known that to start the process immediately, with no permanent Prime Minister, no set of UK negotiating priorities and no discussion with devolved administrations, MPs and others would have been as disastrous as it was farcical.

Our new Brexit Secretary’s stated policy on negotiating with EU partners is either hubris or bluff; a stronger Labour Party could fight to ensure Remain voters’ interests are taken into account by a Government which currently risks sleepwalking into a hard Brexit. Having argued for a disastrous, precipitate negotiation, we have now spent a month supporting single market access while accepting an end to free movement, with no understanding of the contradiction. It is sadly typical that we only got any more clarity once Corbyn faced a leadership challenge and had to explain it to members rather than voters.

We are currently proposing to put Jeremy Corbyn to the country as our candidate for Prime Minister, making crucial decisions at short notice every day. Faced with such decisions as Leader of the Opposition, he has not shown the slightest ability to handle them. And for all his vaunted principles, he shows no interest in how to put them into practice – even if he won an election.

Competence: Parliament, party and country

MPs and peers have said a great deal about Corbyn’s performance as a leader in Parliament. He appointed, sacked and reappointed a Shadow Arts Minister without consulting or informing her while she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer; his Shadow Health Secretary had to make camp outside his office to get a decision on NHS policy; his Shadow Transport Secretary found herself undermined on key issues where she had reached an agreement with him in person. He may have claimed credit for Lords victories over tax credits, trade unions and housing, but Labour’s leader in the Lords points out she didn’t even have a conversation with him about those votes: peers were getting on with the job themselves. It is hardly surprising that his MPs have no confidence in his ability to lead.

This partly points to simple incompetence – a theme running throughout Corbyn’s leadership. It also points to a fundamental lack of interest in Parliament itself and the business of Parliament – in government or in opposition. When explaining his refusal to step aside, it was not the country or the voters to whom Corbyn said he felt responsibility; it was the members. Whenever challenged about electoral success, he would cite a growing membership. MPs with concerns are instructed to respect the membership. And so on.

Of course, Labour members and activists are vital. But they cannot be the sole – or even, if I am honest, the primary – focus of accountability for Labour MPs. It’s not just that you can’t be elected without appealing to voters at large: it is a point of principle. We live in a parliamentary democracy. The route from an individual citizen to Number 10 is stewarded by their local MP. It is fundamentally wrong to subordinate that link to a small, though dedicated, subset of activists. MPs should of course listen to their members: but citizens must come first.

The poor management of MPs, the lack of interest in parliamentary change and the refusal to prioritise winning elections point to a fundamental failure to understand that priority – and a rejection of the purpose of the Labour Party. As set out in Clause One of our Constitution, that purpose is to elect Labour representatives to Parliament. We don’t exist for our own benefit: we exist to build a better country.


Like Corbyn, I want a more equal Britain. I want poverty reduced; I want investment in public services; I want the rich to pay a larger share. But I would be lying if I pretended not to have fundamental differences with him, too.

Above all, I reject his anti-Western worldview. It is possible to do this while opposing some recent interventions in the Middle East. I marched against the 2003 Iraq war myself, more than once. But I believe interest and principle point to a UK anchored in Europe and in the Atlantic world. I do not see the European Union as a bosses’ club to be regarded with suspicion: I see it, for all its faults, as the greatest attempt to govern the relations between European states by law rather than power ever seen. To me, the United States is not a country to be held at arm’s length – though of course we can disagree with its leaders – but a liberal democracy and a friend, far more benign than any other plausible world hegemon and essential to our security. I do not share Corbyn’s hostility to Israel: it has done some terrible things, and it should change its policies for its own sake as well as the Palestinians’, but it remains a broadly free, open society in the Middle East and a guarantor to Jews everywhere that, after millennia of persecution, there will always be somewhere to offer refuge.

Corbyn’s worldview has led to some terrible associations and decisions. Rob Francis has said more or less everything that needs to be said about the first: I’ll focus on the second. It leads him, for instance, to want to leave NATO. In fairness, he hasn’t said anything much about NATO since becoming leader (though he did appoint Ken Livingstone to co-chair a defence review, who did), but we have no reason to believe his views have changed. Corbyn refers to a policy based on international law and peace: no one denies these are good things, but Britain has to have an ‘if all else fails’ policy in a supreme national crisis. At present, that policy is based on the NATO alliance. Corbyn wishes to get rid of our current policy, with no alternative in mind. Even if he does compromise on NATO, how are our allies meant to have any confidence in him? Britain already looks like it is considering withdrawing from the world: how would this help?

The assumption that we are always wrong, that the West is always to blame and that the answer must always be for Britain to give ground puts Corbyn at odds with the British people on some of the most fundamental issues of all. Arguing the UK should find an accommodation with Argentina over the Falklands – never mind the views of the people who live there – was a case in point. The public may not think much about the Falklands, but the idea that British people living on British territory should be defended from invasion and have their rights protected by Britain is a red line for them. And they are quite right. A man who seems to place his own country in the wrong in every circumstance is not a man who will ever enter 10 Downing Street.

Finally, I just can’t ignore the minimising, tolerating and denying of anti-Semitism under Corbyn. I’m sorry: I can’t stomach his record. Associating with people any decent politician should shun, failing to take a single step to address anti-Semitic incidents unless forced, refusing to condemn anti-Semitism without qualification: this is not how the leader of a mainstream party should be. If Labour cannot recognise one of history’s most vicious, most insidious prejudices, what are we for? There are few things more shaming than one of our Jewish MPs, attending the launch of a report into anti-Semitism in Labour, finding herself accused of ‘colluding with the media’ – a classic anti-Semitic trope. Worse, she saw her Party leader do nothing and then found he apologised to the man who abused her.


Corbyn’s record exposes the essential unseriousness of Corbynism. Our current leadership has no interest in working out how to sell ‘anti-austerity’ or even what it actually looks like. If we keep a leader the British people will never elect, who we know could never be Prime Minister even if he won, who is incapable of responding to the problems the country faces and who doesn’t even see any of this as his priority, we fail in our basic purpose. Worse, we leave everyone in this country who needs a Labour Government to the mercy of the Conservatives.

Electing Owen Smith as Labour leader won’t fix all the deep problems Labour faces. How to keep enough middle-class liberals and traditional working-class voters in the same tent, make Britain more equal in economic circumstances far more difficult than those of the late 1990s, repair our shattered place in the world, appeal to older voters and speak to all the nations of the UK: all of these problems will remain, and some or all of them will still have to be tackled. But without a new leadership, we can’t even begin to do that.

That is why we need to remove Corbyn. Not to solve our problems, but to start to try and solve them. Not as a quick route to victory, but as the first step towards working out how we can deliver our values in government and persuade our fellow citizens. Not for a quick fix, but for a long, hard slog – gruelling, but the only way to help build the more equal, better country we all want.

If you want to help Owen’s campaign, please do sign up to volunteer.

How I voted for the Labour leadership

My reaction to the disastrous result in May was unequivocal. ‘Dear Labour: please do whatever you have to do to win in 2020. I will swallow whatever compromises I must. Just win.’

That was, of course, simplistic. I don’t apologise for being desperate to see the back of the Tories, but I want to see the back of them for a purpose. I want Labour to reduce the inequality of income, wealth, health, housing, lifespan, education and enjoyment of life in Britain today – through redistribution, good public services and supporting people to act themselves. I also want a competitive, prosperous economy, with better jobs for people – well-paid, skilled and fulfilling. I want my government to face checks and balances, to respect the liberties of the citizen and to protect human rights – including (in fact, especially) refugee rights. And I want it to act on the environment, too.

Abroad, I believe in internationalism. I am a passionate pro-European; I support our membership of NATO; I believe in a world governed by rules. But I also suspect a multipolar world will probably be more insecure rather than less, and I want my government to have an answer to what we do if the US ever decides to walk away from our defence. I want a hard-headed approach to Russia and China, but I want to work with them on climate change.

I am a liberal-minded social democrat, in short. But we almost certainly can’t deliver everything I want at once. Resources are limited; a policy can deliver one aim and undermine another; the UK cannot make other governments do what it wants; and change almost always takes time (it’s hard enough to change an office tea-making rota, never mind the NHS). So if Labour disappoints me from time to time, it’s because you can no more govern a country than win an election without trade-offs. Those trade-offs are worth making.

Jeremy Corbyn

It follows that I would prefer any of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall to Jeremy Corbyn. I’ve written about some disagreements I have with his pitch; there are many others. Quite aside from political realism, I have a fundamental problem with referring to members of Hamas as friends, tacitly equating the British Army with the IRA, arguing against allowing democracies to decide their future because Russia dislikes it and many other things besides.

Electorally, the evidence is overwhelming: a Jeremy-led Labour Party would have a headlong collision with the British public. We’re told that only 37% of voters voted Conservative, but 13% voted UKIP. An absolute majority of voters voted for the right. We gained an extra seven points from the Liberal Democrats this time, and still lost. Sections of the left have spent years adding Labour and Lib Dem votes together, pointing out that the total was over 50% and calling it a progressive majority. Well, the social democrats vote Labour now, and the theory has been tested to destruction. There is no automatic progressive majority: there never has been. We cannot win without persuading people who voted for the right.

The TUC’s survey data is clear: people who considered voting Labour, but didn’t in the end, were not generally looking for a more left-wing offering. Their biggest three factors were fears that Labour would spend too much and couldn’t be trusted on the economy, make it too easy for people to live on benefits and be bossed around by the SNP. (Non-voters are not a way around this: the evidence does not suggest they would turn out for radical socialism.) There is little evidence to suggest the public are likely to be swayed by the Corbynite big picture: when asked, respondents preferred ‘concrete plans for sensible changes’ to ‘a big vision for radical change’ by 74% to 15%. The research done for Jon Cruddas depicts an electorate which does want a fairer deal for most people, but wants to know the economy will be OK and the books balanced first.

Scotland is no better an argument for Corbynism. Social attitudes surveys are clear that there is either no skew to the left in actual Scottish attitudes, or only a very small one. The SNP knows this perfectly well and has governed accordingly. ‘Austerity’ was not the driving force behind the SNP surge: voters’ referendum decision was the defining divide, as shown by the British Election Study. If anything, the depth of Labour’s problems in Scotland means we have to reach even deeper into England to win next time. Anyway, even if Labour had held every Scottish seat in 2015, we would still have a Tory majority government.

The British are, mostly, a ‘safety first’ electorate. A very vocal minority would love Jeremy’s pitch – but as the Scottish referendum and the British general election have shown, loud minorities usually lose at the polls. A Corbyn pitch would scare off far more people than it would attract– and the people it would win over are disproportionately in safe Labour seats. With UKIP challenging in the north, the Liberal Democrats making a centre-left pitch under Tim Farron, the SNP dominant in Scotland and the Conservatives pitching to natural Labour voters, we would face disaster.

Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall are all moderate, pragmatic politicians; all of them have acknowledged some of the issues which Labour needs to face up to if it wants to win a general election. I prefer any of them to the self-destructive diversion of being led by Jeremy Corbyn, and gave all of them a preference.

Liz Kendall

Liz Kendall is the only candidate who has been telling the electoral hard truths, facing us with facts we’d rather not – but must – confront.

It is also clear what Labour would do under her leadership. It would make it clear from day one that it took sound finances seriously, identifying what it could and couldn’t pay for. It would prioritise: not lower tuition fees for the middle-classes, but support for the early years. It would be clearly pro-business and in favour of good jobs: and in return, it would support a living wage society and workers’ representation on boards. It would take devolution seriously, rather than simply advocating a larger central state. In short, it would aim to persuade people who could vote Labour, but (usually) voted Conservative or UKIP in 2015, that they can trust us on the economy and the public finances, while delivering social democratic values.

Liz is less experienced than the other two moderate candidates. Her media performances can be excellent, but they have varied. Her instincts are right: her implementation can be mixed. However, only she and Jeremy have been clear and consistent about where they would take the Labour Party.

Yvette Cooper

Yvette Cooper is tough, experienced and competent. When she took Jeremy on, she did a brilliant job – the most forensic exposition of why Jeremy’s policies would be wrong for the country, combined with passion and policies which inspired me. Her focus on families and on childcare could, I believe, appeal to the country in 2015. Her focus on new jobs and technological change could be important. I also believe she would correct many of Ed’s mistakes: his relationship with business, in particular. There is a very powerful case for her as leader.

However, I would have liked more clarity on her strategy for Labour in this parliament. I understand she wants to broaden Labour’s support – no one will argue with that. But her preferred hard choices have, until very recently, been almost invisible. They remain less defined than Liz’s. She mounted a brilliant challenge to Corbynism – but very late: possibly too late. Finally, she remains ambiguous about fiscal policy: and whatever line we take, we need a clear one.

Andy Burnham

Above all, I want to maximise Labour’s chances of victory in 2020. The polling generally points to Andy Burnham as the most appealing candidate when a straight question is asked. He is probably the most immediately personable of the candidates. He’s right that many former Labour voters have lost their emotional connection with the Party. Like Liz, he takes a clearer position on Labour’s fiscal record than Ed.

But I worry about how he’s already put forward a number of unfunded major spending commitments. We lack fiscal credibility: there is little point in saying so, only to commit to billions of pounds’ worth of spending on the back of a commission to work out how to pay for it all. His tone on the EU worried me, though it’s improved recently: point-scoring against the Tories more than making the case for Europe could endanger the referendum result (and make Labour look less credible). His tone on immigration risks sounding like we’re promising things we can’t deliver. I think the British people voted against our message, not just our messenger, in 2015: it is not clear enough to me how Andy would change that message in 2020.


I gave my first preference to Liz, because I think her electoral analysis is right. The British people didn’t trust us to manage the economy or balance the books, and we have to acknowledge that loud and clear. Further, any government would be fiscally constrained right now, so we have to decide what matters most. Actually, that’s always true: ‘the language of priorities is the religion of socialism’. For instance, Liz is right not to prioritise cutting tuition fees and to put money into early years services: you make the most difference at the beginning of childhood, not the end. She has done more than any other candidate to marry social democratic values to a genuine engagement with why we lost, and that deserves support.

I gave my second preference to Yvette, in the full knowledge that she is much more likely to make the final round than Liz. She has not been as clear on strategy, and it took her a long time to take Jeremy on. But when she did, it was passionate, forensic and convincing. I think that many of the areas where she is radical – childcare, in particular – are areas where we can gather widespread support. She would correct many of our 2015 failings and put us in a stronger position in 2020.

I seriously considered putting Andy second on tactical grounds. His speech two weeks ago decided me against it. I believe we have to draw a clear line between moderate Labour and Corbynism: Liz and Yvette are much more likely to do so. But whatever the result, the centre and right of the Labour Party need to engage with many who are considering Jeremy this time: and I understand why Andy is trying to win them over. I gave him my third preference.

I want a credible Labour Party to make Britain more equal, open and tolerant, playing a full and constructive role in Europe and the world. We can only do that in government: so we have to face up to why people rejected us and address their fears. I hope the Labour Party will remember that when we make our choice.

The case for gradualism (or why it’s worth taking Nuneaton with you)

One of the most infuriating memes of this leadership election is the claim that three out of four candidates are ‘Tory-lite’. The fact that the gap between Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron is titanic doesn’t mean the gap between Liz Kendall and David Cameron doesn’t exist. It’s real and it’s large: and people’s lives are transformed or wrecked within that gap. Jeremy came into the contest saying he wanted a broad debate: his supporters do nothing to help that by claiming that anyone to the right of Jeremy is the same as David Cameron.

Like Jeremy, the other contenders for the Labour leadership want to steer the ship of state in the opposite direction to David Cameron and George Osborne. They are talking about universal childcare, more rights for employees to influence the direction of their workplace, supporting union rights, supporting further education and finding money to protect tax credits. They want to both use state power and support others to narrow the gap between rich and poor in every sense: income, wealth, health, horizons, quality of life. They did not, however, go into politics just to wave a placard, or protest against a right-wing government, or preach the gospel to their activists and leave the public cold.

They’re right in that – partly because you can’t do anything if the voters reject you, and partly because life isn’t that simple. Changing anything is long, slow, gruelling: you have to set a goal, get people to sign up, repeat the same message constantly, check up on the delivery. It’s hard enough to get people used to a new company logo, never mind build millions of new homes. The bigger the task, the more undreamed-of problems you’ll encounter.

But with time and effort and will, you can change things – and Blair and Brown did just that. There is a tendency, when confronted by people to their left, for social democrats to reach for bar charts and graphs and tables of figures. I’ll make some apology for that, but only some. If you want to reduce poverty and put a stop to avoidable human misery, you have to care about the data and you have to be interested in the actual impact of your policies. If you aren’t interested in what’s actually happened to low incomes, don’t call yourself a leftist. If you care about the poor, you can find the time to look at some bar charts.

So let’s look. The IFS produced a chart showing the effect of Labour’s tax and benefit policies:

IFS graph of tax/benefit changes, 1997-2010

Corbynites would have you believe this chart is so unimportant you might as well have voted Tory. What it actually shows is a series of decisions taking money from the top 40%, but especially the richest, to give to the bottom 60%, but especially the poorest, on a large scale. That looks like pretty classic left-wing politics to me.

Now let’s look at their chart of Tory and Lib Dem tax and benefit reforms:

IFS graph of tax/benefit changes, 2010-19

You can see a kink at the top, due largely to keeping pre-planned Labour measures, but this is essentially taking from the poor to give to the fairly well off. It’s exactly the opposite of Labour’s record.

If you actually consider what Labour did, that’s not surprising. Working tax credit and child tax credit, higher National Insurance to fund public services (including above the upper earnings limit for the first time), more generous child benefit, pension credit, a 50p rate of income tax: these are exactly the sort of things social democratic governments normally do. The graph doesn’t, of course, show all the investment in health and education, Sure Start, the national minimum wage, the beginnings of childcare policy or a whole range of other things. And then there are all the other progressive things which wouldn’t show up on any UK bar chart – the advancement of LGBT rights, the Human Rights Act, doubling aid as a share of GDP and much more besides.

How can people possibly compare the last five years to the 13 years before that and then say there’s no point in a moderate Labour government? How can they possibly consider the most redistributive government in decades and then say it was just Tory-lite? Half the Corbynites’ rage is (rightly) directed at Cameron and Osborne’s attacks on the very things New Labour created: tax credits, Sure Start, extra help for families with children. But Labour was only ever able to do any of that because it met the electorate on their ground and won them over. If we cannot do that, raging is all we’ll have left to us.

When you win an election, you win political capital. Then you can use it to move politics your way. If you’re clever, you try and co-opt some of the areas where your opponents struck a chord too. Did the Tories call George Osborne ‘Labour-lite’ because he pretended to bring in a living wage? Did they lay into him for changing the rules on non-doms? No: they know they’re winning broader consent for shrinking the state. They get the art of democratic politics: a constant push-and-pull between what you ideally want, what the electorate will let you do and what’s practically possible.

And in government, Labour changed the weather too. Why did the Tories pledge to protect the NHS and not law and order – not just in 2010, but 2015 too? Why did they feel the need to raise the minimum wage? Why do we have 0.7% of GDP in aid now? Why do we have equal marriage? By 2010, it wasn’t OK not to protect the NHS; it wasn’t OK to sound openly anti-gay rights; protecting aid was a badge of Tory respectability. Labour governments made that true. Labour oppositions did not.

Owen Jones explains that the hard left is ‘defending New Labour’s legacy’. Great. So why is it simultaneously telling us none of it matters?

Corbynism (or why Nuneaton has a point)

I think Jeremy Corbyn would be an electoral disaster for the Labour Party from which it would take at least 10, probably 15 and quite possibly 20 years to recover. Too many of his supporters seem either indifferent to electoral success or utterly unaware of what that requires – but they’re right that the rest of us haven’t talked enough about policy. So here are a few of my concerns about his policies.

Jeremy says some things I support but don’t believe the British people will currently buy (a clear defence of higher taxes, though not necessarily his specific ones). There are also some I support and think they might well buy (universal childcare). But much of Corbynism isn’t just unelectable, but ill-thought-through, impractical and downright wrong.

Housing policy

Jeremy is calling for rent controls, with rent levels fixed in relation to earnings. Sounds wonderful: so why doesn’t Shelter buy it?

If you just cap prices in a situation where you haven’t got enough of something and too many people want to buy it, odd things start to happen. In this case, lots more people might sell rather than buy. Granted, we’ve all been saying we want more people to be able to buy homes. But what happens to people who can’t afford a deposit (or the still-uncapped mortgage payments) if the rental stock reduces too rapidly and the total housing supply doesn’t increase fast enough to match?

Will landlords just become more discriminating about people’s characteristics rather than the price they charge (‘No DSS’)? Will they cut back even further on things like repairs? Or will they subdivide properties more and more? More nuanced policies might be a different story (look at the rest of Europe, or the 2015 Labour manifesto), but just legislating a problem of supply and demand out of existence won’t work.

Jeremy is also proposing to extend some kind of ‘right to buy’ to the private sector. First of all, that seems a very odd spending priority for housing: our primary problem is insufficient stock, so why spend however much money on yet more subsidised ownership? (And since people in social housing have lower average incomes than private renters who can afford even a discounted property, isn’t it an odd distributional choice too?)

Second, how on earth would you control the cost? Right to buy may have done great damage, but at least councils actually owned the asset which was being flogged off: here, the state would have to pay the difference to landlords. (I suppose we could theoretically just take people’s property and give it to someone else at an enormous discount. Good luck getting that past the European Court of Human Rights.)

Third, why would you ever rent out a property if you could have it taken off you at any time? Like it or not, plenty of people can’t or don’t want to buy: they need a reliable private rented sector. By all means talk about how to improve it. But treating private rent with such abandon could really harm people who desperately need somewhere to live.

NATO membership

Jeremy has said he wants to leave NATO – our principal defence guarantee. Right now, our ‘if all else fails’ policy is NATO and, via NATO, the US commitment to Europe. We know that Jeremy doesn’t intend to raise defence spending way beyond 2% of GDP – it’s just about the only thing he’d definitely cut. There’s arguably an implicit defence guarantee in the EU treaties, and we have a European Defence Agency to co-operate on procurement, but these are a) pretty vestigial and b) exactly the kinds of things Jeremy won’t want the EU doing (assuming we stay in: see below).

So, given the rapidly rising costs of defence, Corbynism is offering us a radically reduced domestic capability, the abandonment of our key security guarantee and no replacement for either. That is not a defence policy. It’s crossing our fingers and hoping everyone will be nice to us forever.

EU membership

Jeremy has said he wants to fight for ‘a better Europe’, though we still don’t have a definite answer on how he’ll vote in the EU referendum.

Labour should, apparently, set out its own position on reform negotiations – which is fine as far as it goes. But almost nothing on David Cameron’s shopping list is going to appeal to Jeremy – and I doubt anything on Jeremy’s list will appeal to Cameron. The only real question is how much further Cameron will succeed in taking the EU away from Jeremy’s ideal.

If Jeremy might vote No, what would be his alternative? The European Economic Area (most of the free-market regulations without any say)? A Swiss model (slightly fewer regulations, slightly more say, but not a model the rest of Europe will ever offer)? No deal at all (and new tariffs on half our trade)? What makes him think Britain would discover the joys of radical socialism after voting with UKIP? And how does it help climate change negotiations to weaken one of the better players in said negotiations?

Again, this isn’t a policy. It’s a vague statement that the EU should be different, with no route map to change it.

The list goes on. You can’t talk about a ‘wealth tax on massive incomes’, fail to recognise that wealth and income are different things, conflate annual wealth taxes with one-off windfall taxes and expect to be taken seriously. You cannot talk about £50 billion of uncollected tax as though you can easily collect it in one fell swoop and expect anyone to think your sums add up. You cannot describe ‘not reducing our deficit as quickly’ as ‘funding’ free tuition and expect anyone to trust you not to wreck the public finances.

We’re not the Green Party: we’re supposed to be choosing a future Prime Minister. You cannot ask to govern a country with policies like these – not because they’re unelectable, but because they’re unworkable. Nuneaton wouldn’t buy Jeremy’s pitch: but we shouldn’t even be trying to sell it.

A plea for my three countries: Britain, Scotland and England

I have no vote in the referendum on Thursday. But the second of my countries may be on the verge of divorcing the third and abolishing the first. I make no apology for the emotional parts of this piece: nations are about shared affection and belonging. Here, I want to set down why I so desperately hope Scotland votes No, stays in the shared British family and helps to improve it.

Family and friends

For me, this question is deeply personal.

My father is a Scot. He went to school in Edinburgh; his parents now live in England. He fell in love with my mother, an Englishwoman, when they were both studying at Aberdeen. My sister and I have lived in both Scotland and England. My mother’s sister also went to Aberdeen to study, and married a Scot. The marriage ended, but my aunt still lives in northeast Scotland. One of her children lives in Aberdeen; the other is now in Leamington Spa. We are all children of the Union.

Countless families all over Britain can tell similar stories. Three centuries of common endeavour – of living, trading, travelling, fighting, negotiating together – have created them. Without the Union, there will be fewer. I’m not saying we’ll suddenly all regard each other as complete strangers and foreigners: but the nations of the UK will be less interested in each other, less involved, less intertwined. There are about 400,000 people from Ireland in the UK: but there are about 700,000 Scots in England and about 400,000 people from England in Scotland alone. It isn’t quite the same, and if it leaves Britain, in the long term the links with Scotland won’t be either.

We won’t become as foreign to each other as we are to anywhere else: but we will become more foreign to each other than we were before. Anglo-Scottish families won’t cease to be families: but fewer Scots and English will intermarry than before. Our horizons will narrow that little bit, and that would be desperately sad.

Scotland in the Union

Scotland is an extraordinary country. In population, it is small: about the size of Finland, Denmark or Turkmenistan. But its impact on the world has been out of all proportion to its size: in fact, I don’t think there is any other nation of five million people which has had anything like its influence. That’s down to Scottish talent, enterprise, efforts and ingenuity: but the Union also gave a platform for Scotland to project itself to the world. Scotland has always refused to be a ‘small country’, despite its size.

Scots have been at the forefront of Britain’s story, for better and for worse – as soldiers, diplomats, ministers, migrants and more besides. To take one example, James Watt’s steam engine played a vital role in the Industrial Revolution – which he commercialised, at least in part, through partnership with the English Matthew Boulton. Scots have served disproportionately in Britain’s Army for centuries. There is a reason why Canada has a province called Nova Scotia. Ships from the Clyde sailed the world. There have been 10 Scottish Prime Ministers – more than population would suggest. Scots invented penicillin, the telephone and radar, spread the British and Scottish presence around the world – and helped to shape that world.

In fact, Scotland didn’t just contribute enormously to Britain: in many ways, it created it. Ideas of Unionism, in the true sense, emerged in Scotland before England. Back in 1520, John Mair saw it as a way to prevent an English empire – an agreement to allow both to flourish. James VI and I wanted a full union, but one which took full account of Scotland’s story as well as England’s. And for all the talk of ‘bought and sold for English gold’ (which referred to Darien and not to the Union, by the way), Scottish negotiators honoured the Scottish unionist tradition. The Scots Parliament may have ceased: the Kirk Assembly, with its larger place in Scottish life in that time, remained. Scots law, education, religion: these were preserved too.

Scotland, in other words, made Great Britain too. England’s security imperatives were key, of course they were, but the Scottish conception of union was crucial. The result was that 1707 secured the Hanoverian succession and a Parliament at Westminster, but also ensured Scottish distinctiveness. And proud Scottish Unionists would go on to celebrate Bannockburn, the Declaration of Arbroath, the fight against English kings – and see them as the battles that made an agreed Union possible. Britain is an extraordinary Scottish success story.

Britain: a country worth celebrating

For all its faults, Britain is also a country which is worth keeping, and without which the world would be the poorer.

For a start, Britain was always multinational: you could never be British without being something else as well. Within our duffle-coat state, we have always had at least two legal systems, two national churches, at least two systems of education and more besides. Devolution in 1999 was, in many ways, a modern variation on a constant theme.

That means that Britishness has never been a narrow identity. It has always had to coexist with other senses of self. That is a very precious thing in a world where societies are multicultural, identities are overlapping and integration is indispensable. Because you’ve always had to be English, Scottish, Welsh or something else as well as British, it’s generally been easier to be British Indian, or Somali, or Chinese, or anything else. Scottishness is generally inclusive too, of course, but I think the arrival of ethnic diversity in a land where multiple identities had been officially sanctioned for so long helped make it that way.

Secondly, Britain has done a lot of good as well as bad, and has a lot to be proud of. It isn’t the first home of parliaments, but it has had an exceptionally long run of constitutional government. That has often been enormously influential in other democracies: and in countries where Britons played oppressor, it’s striking how their own values were eventually used against their rule and helped to inform the successor state. It is, in fact, a remarkable tribute to the British history of government by consent that this referendum is being held on an agreed basis: look at Catalonia or Quebec if you think that just comes with being a developed democracy.

Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish have also fought together, of course. However you qualify it – and we too easily cast aside the contributions of Canadians, Australians, Irish, Poles, Free French and many others – there was a period when Britain had to lead the fight against fascism, and hold the ring. It was one of the few democracies to fight the Second World War from beginning to end, and it mobilised an extraordinary amount of its resources to fight that conflict. Everyone always mentions this, and that’s because it really is something we all share, and something we can be proud of.

Since 1945, Britain’s role has continued to be large – and Scotland, as always, has played a part out of all proportion to its size. It was a Scottish Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, practising English law, who was vital in making the European Convention on Human Rights happen. It was a Scottish Chancellor, in a British Labour government, who worked with an English International Development Secretary to create Britain’s Department for International Development. DfID now has the second largest aid budget, and is arguably the finest international development ministry in the world. It was a Scottish Foreign Secretary who began to position the UK as one of the most active of anti-death penalty states. Britain played a major role in making the Arms Trade Treaty possible.

Scottish talent, ingenuity and enterprise has contributed a vast amount to our common home, and we are all better off for it. A separate Scotland would, of course, play its part in the wider world: but it couldn’t be on the scale of Britain. We do far more together than either of us would apart – and I don’t believe it would be true to Scotland’s story to turn away from that.

British social democracy

Domestically, we have built a welfare state together. I don’t think we always realise how unusual the NHS is. Even Sweden charges patients to visit their GP. In Britain, healthcare free at point of use is non-negotiable. No government would challenge it in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, because the social commitment to the principle is absolute. Far from being a case for Yes, it is a principle we all share as British citizens. It was a Welshman, Lloyd George, who steered through the People’s Budget and the National Insurance Act 1911; it was a Scotsman, Keir Hardie, who was the first leader of the Labour Party.

We also have a striking belief in the importance of a decent public culture. We have the finest broadcaster in the world, the BBC, and it was founded by a Scot in 1926. In communist eastern Europe, people listened to the World Service secretly, for real news rather than propaganda. The last Labour government also gave us free museums – and again, we have some of the finest in the world. Free museums aren’t typical: they’re exceptional. They have, in only 13 years, become another thing we all share as citizens.

I know our welfare state is much more threadbare than it was: I hate what this UK government is doing to it as much as any Yes voter. But I also know that Britain, a large country with a currency of its own and very slowly-maturing debt, had a choice in 2010. We had the option of running a looser fiscal policy than we did. A country of five million, without its own currency, doesn’t necessarily have the same fiscal options and can’t follow that particular path so easily.

More than that, I also know it’s happening to people in Gateshead and Glamorgan, just as much as Glasgow – and in fact, it’s happening more to people in Gateshead, because they don’t have devolution. And I believe in solidarity: I want to see us standing together for a better Britain – not turning away from each other, and still less entering some kind of race to undercut each other to attract the multinationals. The Salmond vision of corporation tax cuts to beggar the neighbours holds no charms for me. I want the bonds of solidarity widened, not narrowed.

The better option is to support greater devolution to Scotland, including serious fiscal devolution, to allow social democracy to be pursued there while preserving the best principles of the British safety net: social security transfers, smoothing of the spending impact of the economic cycle and guarantees of the ability to provide a common standard of services for common levels of taxation, whatever happens in future. That would allow Scotland to be a shining example of what social democracy could do – one for the rest of the UK to emulate.

Ideally, in fact, I’d have a federal state, with an elected second chamber to keep Whitehall in check and powerful legislatures within England to counterbalance the pull of the south east. With Scotland in the UK, that becomes much more likely: and wouldn’t it be appropriate if the country which did so much to create Britain before 1707 did the same in 2014?

Finally …

Without Scotland, Great Britain wouldn’t exist, and the UK would be vastly poorer for it. The most influential country of five million in the whole world would be leaving the most successful multinational state in history. Ties of family would weaken. Individuals would have to make painful choices about who they were, where they came from and how they chose to identify themselves.

It isn’t true that most Scots reject Britishness as an identity. It might be subsidiary, or used at some times and not others, but it’s there nonetheless. And that’s true for all the nations of Britain. We don’t always know exactly how our different layers of identity relate to each other, but then we haven’t needed to. Vagueness about identity is a British trait – not necessarily a flaw.

Voters in Scotland: rightly, the choice is yours alone. Please don’t make us all choose. Please don’t turn away from all the things we’ve done, enjoyed, suffered and endured together. Please don’t separate my father’s country from my mother’s. Please don’t place my English aunt in Scotland and my Scottish grandparents in England on opposite sides of an international border. Please vote No.

Immigration, political honesty and the limits of the possible

Despite being a leftist, I’m going to be fair-minded and make some kinder comments about David Cameron’s speech on immigration (initially). Firstly, he is of course entering into a legitimate debate about migration. While the question of asylum is separate, economic migration is a debatable good: it’s perfectly fair to ask how much migration is desirable and what the overall pros and cons are for Britain. Furthermore, Cameron was explicit that migrants can create jobs as well as filling them, taking on the idea that there’s some sort of lump sum of labour in an economy. And he did attempt to draw some key distinctions (e.g. about the speed of change, rather than necessarily the principle): this was not on a par with Michael Howard’s 2005 campaign.

The fact remains, though, that there are lots of straw men lurking in the speech. Anyone who’s listened to Jack StrawDavid Blunkett or Phil Woolas will be a bit surprised to hear that the last Labour government gave the impression that it was racist to talk about immigration, for instance. Nor is it particularly helpful to claim that the government which brought in a points system promoted the view that any attempt to control immigration was madness. And was there really a ‘mass relativism’ about sham marriages? This isn’t on the scale of 2005, but there are still nasty undertones here – in the run-up to elections, at a time when the economy is in a grim state and voters are angry. Politicians who declaim loudly about how ‘we aren’t allowed to say anything about immigration’ are playing a dangerous game.

Cameron was also making dubious use of statistics at best. For a start, while looking at EU migration, he got his figures wrong. Long-term net EU immigration ran at 57,000 from June 2009 to June 2010, not 27,000. The choice of year was also misleading at best, at a time when there has been partial unwind of the post-2004 migration from eastern Europe. Note, I’m not complaining about that migration: but in this instance, Cameron is underplaying it in order to argue that his proposed cap will be effective when, in recent years, it would have usually had little effect. And by the way, if you’re worried about destabilisation and impacts on local services, net long-term migration is not the only possible concern: the ‘churn’ of migration, causing rapid fluctuations for councils, can also cause problems – not to mention internal migration within the UK.

The statistical details matter because the misuse of figures contributes to a wider argument: that we can meaningfully control immigration, in the sense of reliably determining a net total migration figure for the UK. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to sidestep my views on preferred migration levels (fluctuating depending on economic circumstances, but probably on the liberal end of the spectrum, if you’re interested). As a simple matter of fact, irrespective of what we’d like to do, it is not the case that we can control immigration. We can, perhaps, manage migration, in the sense of knowing (broadly) who’s coming in and making sure the system works better. But EU migration is a very large part of the whole, and we can’t restrict that (transitional controls on new members are just that – transitional). Free movement of labour is, rightly, central to the EU Single Market – and we can’t have one without the other. So economically, we haven’t got much alternative in terms of EU migration.

Furthermore, our borders are always going to be fairly porous: how could it be otherwise in a country with quite so many visa waiver agreements, for example? (And one of the biggest categories of overstayers is from those countries, by the way.) The fact that we have something like 400,000 illegal residents in the UK says something about the difficulty of enforcing border controls. I’m sure we can do a fair bit to make them more effective, but I also suspect that there is a direct relationship between how restrictive our overall policy is and how much illegal migration we end up with.

Ultimately, Britain is a small island near a bigger continent in a world of mass travel. We are lying to our voters if we pretend that immigration can be fundamentally controlled: or at least, controlled without unacceptable consequences in terms of civil liberties and day-to-day life. We can affect levels at the margins, we can monitor what’s happening, we can try and affect the drivers of demand for migration – beefing up HMRC’s minimum wage compliance would be a start. But if we’re being honest, that’s about it.

That is a very unpopular statement, but it’s also true – and an honest conversation about immigration will, at some point, have to include an admission of that basic fact. How do we go about admitting that migration is, in this sense, ‘out of control’ and unavoidably so?  And where should immigration policy go from that admission? I don’t have anything like a full answer. I suspect we probably have to talk about pull factors in the UK: has immigration been encouraged by low wages at the bottom of the labour market, making it more difficult for UK citizens to leave the benefit trap? Would a living wage mean more British citizens could fill jobs in Britain? Would greater regulation of the labour market – in at least some areas, some of the time – play a role? And should we be thinking about ways of harnessing some revenue from immigration (work permit fees, in particular) and investing it in training British citizens?  (The Liberal Democrats had a policy along these lines at one point.)

I’m sure there are other, better suggestions to be discussed: these are mainly starters for ten. But sometime, somehow, we need to have a more honest conversation about this – and stop pretending either that the establishment is conspiring to shut us all up or that we could buck the trend if we wanted to, if only we were a bit more competent. Because if we carry on arguing that migration levels can be reliably determined as a matter of political choice, and keep failing to deliver a given level of migration, more and more people will reasonably ask why we’re not delivering. And those answers could produce some ugly results.

Taxes, taxes, taxes

I realise very few people see it as an interesting exercise to sit down and work out how the plans for £29 billion of net tax rises break down. But if you’re going to think about better ways to close the gap between what we spend and what we raise, then it’s not a bad idea to look at what we’re doing at the moment. And in rough and ready fashion, based on the Emergency Budget* figures, the planned breakdown of net tax rises in 2014-15 is about as follows:

Tax Net revenue raised (£ billion) Tax Net revenue raised (£ billion)
VAT and IPT 13.9 Green taxes 0.7
Pension contribution relief 4.6 Stamp Duty 0.3
National Insurance 3.3 Inheritance Tax 0.3
Income tax 2.5 Other tax rises 0.2
Bank levy 2.4 Other tax cuts -0.2
Other pension tax breaks 2.1 Council Tax -0.6
Capital Gains Tax 0.9 Various business taxes -0.8
Sin taxes 0.8 Corporation Tax -1.3

Those figures conceal significant tax cuts in terms of income tax (£3.9 billion goes to raising the personal allowance by £1,000) and National Insurance (£3.7 billion spent on raising the threshold for employers’ NI to offset some of the increased costs), as well as a number of tax hikes in Corporation Tax to help pay for a headline rate cut. But in terms of where the main burden is falling, you’ll get a fair idea here.

It shouldn’t take too much to work out that any attempt to raise another £26 billion, say, is going to be very politically difficult. Labour have argued for keeping the bankers’ bonus tax (£3.5 billion or so – assuming revenues don’t fall if the tax stops being a one-off), and they’ve pointed to their National Insurance plans too (£3.7 billion more). If you were to argue for, say, 5p on the higher rate of income tax (taking a very brave example), the Treasury’s Ready Reckoner suggests you’d raise about £4.6 billion. Lowering the starting point for the 50p rate to, say, £100,000 might raise £1.3 billion (or about half that, if you raise the 40p rate to 45p – otherwise you’re double-counting). The Liberal Democrats’ famous ‘mansion tax’ was intended to raise about £1.7 billion. If, in another act of extreme bravery, you were to raise Inheritance Tax to 60%, you might net about £1.4 billion. The exact amount of money you could get from tackling avoidance may very well be substantial – but it’s difficult to bank on, and I wouldn’t envy the Chancellor who tried to rely on it as a main tool for tackling the deficit.

This clearly doesn’t, even in terms of orders of magnitude, add up to a £26 billion alternative to the Coalition’s plans. So in the end, substantially higher taxes will mean that people on moderate incomes will also end up paying more – not just the wealthy and the banks. In saying that, I’m not arguing against the idea: in almost all cases, tax rises are more progressive than cuts to services – and of course, it’s quite possible to use some revenue to compensate the poor too. It’s no accident that Scandinavian social democracies pay substantially more VAT than the UK – if you’re serious about social justice, the volume of money for benefits and services will make much more of a difference than the exact degree of redistribution managed through taxes on their own, and the tax burden has to be fairly widely spread in order to be politically accepted.

So not only would a centre-left government almost certainly end up raising VAT at some point, for instance; it would probably be right to do so, though probably not right now. It makes sense that, in an economy which needs to move towards more saving over time, we might increase taxes on consumption. The debate over how progressive/regressive VAT is has run and run, but it’s certainly more progressive than even more service cuts – and if it’s difficult enough to find £26 billion extra, try finding £40 billion instead. In the same way, further income tax/NI rises would be pretty hard to avoid. Property taxes would be politically very difficult, but probably sensible as policy. And if the centre-left want to reduce the damage done to public services, welfare benefits and public investment more generally, then we’d better start learning how to argue it’s worthwhile for all of us to pay more taxes in a good cause.

How much of this does Labour need to spell out? Some of it, at least – at least as an indication. The Conservatives didn’t give much away on their plans in 2010, but they did highlight plans to raise the retirement age faster and taper tax credits more aggressively. Not an obvious route to electoral success, in a way, but a manifesto which made no mention at all of any difficult tax/spending changes wouldn’t have been more popular: it would just have made people think they either weren’t being given the full story (even more than they already did!) or that the party in question shouldn’t be trusted with the public finances. And in reverse, the same applies to any party of the left.

* Figures weren’t provided for revenue raised by the 50p rate, the restriction of the personal allowance from £100,000 or revenue raised from Labour’s changes to ‘sin taxes’ (alcohol, tobacco etc.) – I did find a Treasury figure for 2014-15 for the first, but the other two had to be extrapolated a bit from previous Budgets. But the broad outline stands.