Cook et al’s In the Black Labour for The Policy Network makes for discomfiting but urgent reading for all centre-Left thinkers. It signals that the game is up for Keynesian bravado. It highlights two painful truths that all Labourites will have to face up to: fiscal conservatism is here to stay, and welfarism is dead. Ultimately, the authors declare that this will “force the left to articulate a different conception of the state”. At some points it’s hard to tell whether this is a difference from New Labour or New Conservatism (or both) – an ideological ambiguity that dogs the paper.
Cook et al are right to suggest not only that all parties have to sign up to an agreement on fiscal conservatism for long-term stability, but that any other message will play very poorly with voters. The electorate is gradually re-calibrating its expectations of the state in light of the economic crisis to the extent that the paradox of entitlement may no longer be such a problem.
While the paper’s line on fiscal conservatism is strong and compelling, its growth solutions are sketchier. It may well be true that “social justice is advanced far better by bold reform and well-targeted investment than public spending”. How exactly is this distinctive from the government’s position? There’s also talk of innovation and enterprise but it needs far more attention and nuance. How exactly will mantras like “fiscal conservatism” and “economic activism” galvanise the broader centre-left movement that people like David Lammy have been calling for? There’s one half of a strong argument here, but that’s all.