‘Labour needs to be brave enough to shape the debate’

The Harold Wilson Room in Portcullis House was taken over by Next Generation Labour last night, where a packed meeting heard a powerful case for Labour rejecting Tory austerity and going instead for growth and jobs.

Opening the meeting, Cat Smith highlighted the scale of the current crisis when, even with the current period of economic stagnation and unemployment creeping towards three million, the vast majority of cuts have yet to be made. She said the failure of the Tories to reach even their own goal of reducing the deficit is because spending cuts are cutting off economic growth. Yet still there are some around the leadership of the Labour Party who accept and advocate austerity. The meeting was called to propose the alternative.

In the discussion, led by Richard Murphy and George Irvin, comparisons were made between the current situation and the post-1929 economic crisis, as Ed Balls has already done. We are experiencing the greatest squeeze in living standards of any period since then but said with the austerity agenda the Tories are pursuing, we are in no position to recover as fast as we did in the 30s. If we’re lucky, we will be back on track by 2014, six years after Lehman Brothers – far longer than the Great Depression. Irvin’s simple message that, ‘we can’t pay off debt without a growing economy’ is one Labour needs to use and use again. The simple message of the ‘death spiral’ of cuts and how investment is key to getting growth back on track – and so reducing the debt – was discussed at length.

There were illuminating contributions on the current economic impact on women and black communities from Anna Bird and Jyoti Bhojani. Apparently of 101 measures in coalition emergency budget only 1 was subject to gender impact assessment. Is it any wonder then that women’s unemployment is at a 25 year high? The point was made the point that black communities are already more likely to live on lower incomes, so are being hit by the impact of the cuts. But both women and black communities have higher levels of employment in the public sector, often because of its better, flexible working conditions public sector unions have won, so are suffering even more under the Tory cutbacks.

Political messaging was discussed at length with Owen Jones saying we need to get out on the doorstep and connect with ordinary voters. We still need to understand why we lost five million votes overwhelmingly working class voters between 1997 and 2010. Many of them gave up on voting altogether, certainly far more than switched to the Tories, who only increased their vote by one million in the same period.

Katy Clark gave a hard-hitting speech on the political impact of the cuts and Labour’s current stance. She said the spending cuts were Tory ideology rather than a necessity, and that the current government were simply fulfilling their desire to shrink the state, and hitting Labour’s core communities in the process. And because of that, each time Labour endorses spending cuts, our support takes a knock in the polls. Katy praised Ed Miliband’s performance as leader, saying he had been at his most successful when he had taken on Rupert Murdoch and RBS over bank bonuses, and that Labour was now winning on the NHS reforms. She urged him to be just as bold on the wider economy and reject austerity.

Perhaps the best line of the night came from Ellie Mae O’Hagan, when she said, ‘Labour needs to be brave enough to shape the debate – not be shaped by it’.

Whilst Labour fails to challenge it, there is a false consensus where even those at the bottom facing the pain of the cuts, accept them. For the livelihoods of ordinary people, and for our own sake as a party, Labour needs to be bold enough to provide the political leadership that that rejects austerity and offers a brighter future.