I always enjoy the uncompromising leftist views of John Harris (though he seems most uncompromising with the facts of fiscal arithmetic.

He’s not bad doing telly either. Here in this video he follows a disappointed Labour voter, and a pre-election David Miliband, round South Shields.  The DLV followed this up with a Cif Piece explaining why he can’t be a Labour voter any more.

Miliband’s stance is a sign that “next Labour” must be willing to change. Is it? Or is it more likely that the uneasy alliance between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats has presented just another rebranding opportunity for a party still driven by spin? Timing is crucial, but so is integrity, more so in the post-expenses scandal era, something Miliband survived relatively unscathed. He has the support of the majority of his constituency. But will he be able to convince the rest of his party and the public at large that he can turn Labour around?

What isn’t clear to me is what ‘turns Labour around’ means.  There is a lot of stuff about reconnecting (which Chris does a wonderful job on).  But two big themes of the video seem to clash, in my view.  They are:

  • the DLV and his wife both depend on the public sector.  He ‘is a lecturer in media &cultural studies’.  She, a management consultant on a public contract in the pension industry.   Both are worried that (because Spending Minus Revenues >#150bn) public spending might be cut
  • South Shields doesn’t make anything any more.  Asda is their pride and joy.

Forgive me, and I don’t want to sound snide, but if I were a rightwinger sceptical of government spending, I would be ranting on my blog about how Labour has let the country go to rack and ruin, because instead of supporting manufacturing in some unspecified way, they’ve been lining the pockets of their ‘clients’ who do jobs like media studies and management consultancy. Something doesn’t add up; is Rob suggesting that South Shields can entirely and sustainably regenerate itself on his sort of job? Where does JH think the revenues will ultimately come from?

My other impression from the video is how DM comes across: wonkish, yes, but human, at ease with people, quite natural.  The attempt to spin this video as “Miliband doesn’t even recognise his constituency” – the reason I went to watch it – doesn’t wash for me, and seems a little underhand.

My final observation is: if there are a bunch of Labour voters who have been turned off Labour because they have accepted the need for fiscal cuts in the face of a permanently lower state income to fund spending, where will they turn?  I don’t think there is a ‘Deny the Reality of Fiscal Mathematics’ party out there – which suggests to me that they may just return to Labour.   A bit dispiriting.

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7 thoughts on “David Miliband in South Shields

  1. Supporting manufacturing would have meant having an industrial policy. That went out when New Labour came in – tacitly accepting the Tory policy of “managed decline”, and vocally supporting dynamism of liberalised markets. I suspect that DLVs and commentators like JH would buy into a kind of “managed dynamism” – but here is our dilemma. Not only is it going be be difficult for a future Labour govt to use state spending to try this, the ability to outsource jobs to lower-wage economies coupled with the brutal necessity to cut costs as we return to recession will make it unlikely that there can be an upturn in private sector employment to outweigh public sector job cuts – especially here in the North East. (Yesterday, the call centre firm Garlands went tits up resulting in a thousand job losses in towns that already have depressing levels of structural unemployment and underemployment.) The service sector jobs which were heralded as the sunrise industries to replace manufacturing and extractive industries are looking pretty shaky. The Labour GE manifesto spoke of a “step change” in the role of employee-owned firms in the economy – what say you of Spain’s Mondragon?

  2. I don’t think there is a ‘Deny the Reality of Fiscal Mathematics’ party out there…

    Have you tried the Greens? Though to be fair to them, they want to avoid having to cut by raising taxes instead – to 45% of GDP :-S

    Joe Otten has a rather incisive blogpost on their tax plans here: http://joeotten.blogspot.com/2010/04/greenpartywatch-manifesto.html

    Speaking as a Scandinavian myself, British politicians need to realise that Scandinavian levels of taxes (and welfare) mean raising taxes on the lowest paid as well – for example, in Sweden all but the virtually unemployed face a 50% tax wedge on income from work (from local income tax and social security contributions). Or to put it another way, their employer pays out twice as much as the worker receives after tax. (And that’s before they spend it, when they pay 25% VAT as well.)

  3. @James Doran: “The Labour GE manifesto spoke of a “step change” in the role of employee-owned firms in the economy – what say you of Spain’s Mondragon?”

    A very attractive idea. Unfortunately co-operatives/employee-owned firms have the financial weakness of being reliant on debt finance, just when loans are hard to come by from banks.

    To some extent private sector jobs will be created through export growth now that the pound is no longer hideously overvalued, but I agree it’s going to be a lean few years.

    1. From ther perspective of a state in search of sustained tax revenues – co-ownership might be preferable to investor-ownership in the long-run, given that just as FDI enters it can exit…?

  4. What’s missing from this discussion is a recognition of the Lib Dems’ own beginnings of an industrial policy, with our plans for an investment of £400 million into old shipyards in areas like Tyneside for the construction of wind turbines. The development of this industry in particular will be interesting to watch over the next five years – the coalition agreement included sustained support for renewables in the form of some yet-to-be-determined combination of the RO and the FIT, even if the shipyard investment is a victim of the coalition deal.

    I, for one, cannot wait to see the impact of a burgeoning new industry on disillusioned Labour voters in areas like South Shields – an industry growing under the auspices of a Tory-Liberal Government.

  5. Something doesn’t add up; is Rob suggesting that South Shields can entirely and sustainably regenerate itself on his sort of job? Where does JH think the revenues will ultimately come from?

    It’s a perfectly valid point that, whatever the details, the political elite is very likely to fix the budget in a manner that screws over South Shields. Past performance is a guide to future performance when it comes to individuals, and to institutions too. That (trivial) point taken, the only sensible position is to kick back as hard as possible. He may not have a prepared spreadsheet fix, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have legitimate interests.

    Whatever the solution, it’s likely to have grievous class implications if it is not forced to do otherwise; that’s how the structural biases work out. And, well, you picked your side.

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