Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative must have been the thought running through Ed Miliband’s mind as he launched the Labour election manifesto in Manchester today.
For social conservatives, it is a deeply depressing document, blathering on about more state-subsidised childcare and more expensive paternity pay. Most amusingly, under the grandiose heading of Britain’s interests in the world, it promises the appointment of an international LGBT envoy – though presumably not someone who intends spending much time in Islamic State or much of Africa. As this site has pointed out many times, Labour is a lost cause when it comes to the family, marriage and traditional values. The Harmanisation of Labour is pretty much complete, though, if she is looking for a new cause, Harriet really ought to check out the startlingly batty “micro aggression” agenda about which Laura Perrins has written so forcefully on this site.
There is also talk of an “ambitious” (code for unbelievable) target of eliminating carbon emissions in the second half of this century. Don’t hold your breath – literally.
But the main event for Ed Miliband today was the economy. After the financial crash, in which the two Eds were deeply implicated, economic competence remains Labour’s area of greatest weakness as they trail the Tories on this score by a country mile.
So today, Ed was like a supposedly reformed gambler pledging never to go anywhere near a betting shop in the rest of his life. Never again would he stake the country’s life savings on a horse called “No more Boom and Bust” after the spectacular failure of his last punt.
He even invented another sleeping policeman, the so-called “Budget Responsibility Lock”, pledging to cut the deficit every year and to have his spending plans vetted by experts at the independent Office of Budget Responsibility.
The upshot would be a surplus on the current account as soon as possible in the coming five-year Parliament and falling national debt. But as Paul Johnson, the director of the think-tank The Institute of Fiscal Studies, was quick to point out, this self-imposed frugality means rather less than it seems. If the economy continues to grow at around 2.5 per cent until 2020, the UK economy will float off the rocks and a future Labour government would not have to make too stringent a set of cuts to balance the books.
Put simply, Labour has created for itself plenty of wriggle room – and that leaves aside its insistence on being able to borrow for future capital investment. Healthy growth (although who can be sure of that) would take much out the pain out of achieving the objective of a balanced budget by 2020.
But this is economics, not politics. Is it really credible to imagine that a Labour-led minority government, in hock to a turbulent gang of Scottish Nationalists, will be able to impose fiscal discipline on a mutinous public sector and welfare lobby just itching for more cash and the reversal of the squeeze of the past five years?
Labour is not really serious about eliminating the deficit. But it is deadly serious about eliminating the negatives surrounding its appalling economic record.