A quick reply to Sunny Hundal about voters and deficits

Sometimes I wonder if Sunny Hundal, a dear and sweet chap, is a deep reader of the articles he links to.

For example, in a post today Sunny quotes a Lord Ashcroft mega-poll on Labour’s support and says:

“I have a question. The 17% chunk of Labour Joiners (identified by Lord Ashcroft HS) are the party’s easiest and most plausible route to victory in 2015. It cannot win without them.

But these people hate the Coalition’s austerity programme. So why do many on the Labour right (Dan Hodges, Hopi Sen et al) keep insisting that for Labour to strengthen its support, it must follow the Tory lead on cuts and austerity?”

Obvious straw man is obvious!

Dealing with the deficit over the medium term is not ‘following a tory lead‘. It’s following the rhetorical lead of the last Labour government with actual policy commitments, if anything.

“Growth now, Strong deficit reduction later” is not being a Tory, it’s being a good Keynesian, and it is a little tiresome to keep having to point this out. I’m a fiscal conservative, not a Tory ideologue or a Mellonite. The two things are very different.

But Sunny’s last line is just banter, I know, not to be taken too seriously.1

So on a slightly more serious point, I think Sunny is asking why a reputation for limiting  deficits would be advantageous for Labour, given the coalition we already have supporting us.

May I just direct him to the Ashcroft blog post he links to in his article? If Sunny were to scroll down a little, he’d find it says:

“A quarter of those who have switched to Labour say they have not finally decided and may well change their minds. Of these “soft Joiners”, four in ten say one of the concerns they have about voting Labour is that they might spend and borrow more than the country could afford”

and

“For Labour, creating a more stable voting coalition means restoring credibility on the economy, especially the deficit. Some in the Labour movement argue that by talking about the deficit the party can only lose, since it is a Tory issue: they should “frame” the debate in terms more favourable to themselves. But the deficit is not something the Conservatives have invented in some sinister “framing” exercise of their own. It is all too real, a fact recognised by many of the voters Labour needs. The party has no chance with people who think it wants to shy away from the central economic question of the day.”

and

“All of this means that Ed Miliband has a choice. He can either make clear to his supporters that there will be no return to the days of lavish spending, or he can fight an election knowing that most voters do not believe Labour have learned their lessons, and that many of his potential voters fear Labour would once again borrow and spend more than the country can afford.

If he makes the wrong choice, Miliband will be gambling on a precarious coalition of the disaffected and the dependent… “

Since Sunny is using Lord Ashcroft’s polling and analysis to support his case that Labour need not deal with the deficit while in opposition, I’m sure he fully accepts this conclusion!

As Lord Ashcroft says:

“I think this research clearly shows the strategic path Labour should choose.

But why would they take advice from me?”

I know the feeling, My Lord. I know the feeling.

  1. Equally ragging Sunny about his support for the LibDems is good clean fun, so can I add I find it very hard to tell the difference between my Fiscal position now, and the manifesto of the party he voted for in 2010! mwah, mwah, love you too []

7 Responses to “A quick reply to Sunny Hundal about voters and deficits”

  1. Sunny H

    Hi Hopi, you say:

    It’s following the rhetorical lead of the last Labour government with actual policy commitments, if anything.

    I agree. That’s also the govt that got 29% in the polls… so I’m not sure why you think continuing down the same vein would give you a different outcome this time around.

    “Growth now, Strong deficit reduction later” is not being a Tory, it’s being a good Keynesian, and it is a little tiresome to keep having to point this out.

    I agree with this – but you’re misrepresenting MY point. I think it’s right to deal with the structural deficit later too, but my point was about following Osborne’s Plan A. You want Labour to sign up to Tory spending plans, no? And you want a strong focus on deficit reduction now, no?

    LASTLY, you go on to quote Ashcroft. I’ll disregard the last two paragraphs because they’re his views rather than polling information. I think its possible to use his polling without necessarily agreeing with the conclusions he reaches…

    I say that because you quote him as saying…

    A quarter of those who have switched to Labour say they have not finally decided and may well change their minds. Of these “soft Joiners”, four in ten say one of the concerns they have about voting Labour is that they might spend and borrow more than the country could afford”

    Just to break that down… 25% of Labour Joiners are still undecided. Of THIS GROUP, 40% “have concerns” about Labour over-spending.

    But we are not told how that rates in comparison to other concerns (what about concerns of cuts to social security they get?). We are also not told how strongly that concern will determine voting behaviour.

    And most importantly, we are assuming that if we focus on the concerns of this minuscule group within Laboour Joiners – they rest will stay with us anyway. But what if they leave because they see Labour being no different to the Libdems?

    The fact that you’ve elevated the concerns of this minuscule group I think reflects your own bias.

    Reply
    • hopisen

      Just quickly before I rush off to gym:

      I agree. That’s also the govt that got 29% in the polls… so I’m not sure why you think continuing down the same vein would give you a different outcome this time around.

      “Growth now, Strong deficit reduction later” is not being a Tory, it’s being a good Keynesian, and it is a little tiresome to keep having to point this out.

      I think it’s right to deal with the structural deficit later too, but my point was about following Osborne’s Plan A. You want Labour to sign up to Tory spending plans, no? And you want a strong focus on deficit reduction now, no?

      Sign up to Tory sending plans to 2015? No.
      Impose deficit reduction while growth is weak? Again, no.

      You’re not convincing me you read what I write!

      Fair play it is rather dull. But to go over it again, what I argue Labour must do is have a strong, credible plan for deficit reduction when the economy is growing at reasonable rate (I’d put roughly above 1% pa, but can be debated). Now, I don’t know exactly when that will be – I hoped it wld be 2012, but the govt imcompetence and event elsewhere meant not. That when we need to reduce deficit, not now, and not according to tory spending plans.

      One caveat to that: I suspect that by 2015 any Labour policy will a) have to be costed and b) have to take the CSR as a baseline.

      …And most importantly, we are assuming that if we focus on the concerns of this minuscule group within Laboour Joiners – they rest will stay with us anyway. But what if they leave because they see Labour being no different to the Libdems?

      The fact that you’ve elevated the concerns of this minuscule group I think reflects your own bias.

      Well, as @donpaskini says, it works out as 1.7% of the electorate. Easily enough to win or lose an election.

      However, it’s obviously not the only issue that matters- everything from leadership, to welfare, to immigration to public services play a part too. It would be silly to say it’s the only issue Labour needs to address

      But the mistake I think you make here is assuming that Labour can’t lose any of our 2010 support in th next 2 years.

      Ashcroft’s polling suggests that c10% are willing to consider voting for someone else, and that the deficit and leadership are the two biggest concerns for them
      (see q15 in the Red alert paper)

      As Ashcroft says

      “The most widespread specific concern was that Labour “might spend and borrow more than the country can afford”. Four in ten “soft Joiners” thought this, along with a nearly identical proportion of “soft Loyalists”.

      Now this doesn’t mean that they will go, or that they don’t have other concerns too. But it means it’s worth paying attention to where such voters might end up.

      Here’s my concern: come 2015, the economy is growing at 2% a year. The Tories say they’ve got us through the hard times and we can’t throw it away now. They tot up billions of spending commitments and say ‘you can’t trust labour”. Of course, it might not happen. But it’s as well to avaoid the possiblity.

      As for your point on voters deserting Labour to left, can we turn it around? Given that’s exactly what’s happening to the Tories and UKIP, would you suggest that the tories become more euresceptic, tougher on immigrants and the deficit to win the election? Somehow, I suspect not!

      Reply
      • Sunny H

        Again Hopi – you’re focusing on the 1.7% who align with your concerns, but ignoring the much larger percentage of voters who are diametrically opposed to that agenda.

        Once again your response is something like, ‘but those people have nowhere else to go’ – which I find incomprehensible.

        The Labour Joiners could easily head back to Libdems, after being told that Labour was copying them on the cuts anyway and that at least they were better on the environment, civil liberties and other things Libdems focus on. If Labour Joiners think Labour are as bad the Libdems on the economy then you’ll lose more than 1.7%.

        As for Labour Loyalists – an increasing number of those aren’t turning out for Labour because they feel alienated by the party. This reached its height in 2010. You’re assuming they won’t defect to Greens or stay at home if Labour start to sound like Tories on the economy. I think this is very likely – we’ve already lost 600,000 voters to the Greens since 1997 according to YouGov. Many more to apathy.

        Reply
        • hopisen

          You appear to have avoided acknowledging that you got my position on the deficit very wrong and that, as you said on twitter, it’s actually one you broadly agree with. Which means this entire ‘debate’ is rather bizarre!

          If you agree with me that deficit over the medium term is important, then I’m confused as to why we shouldn’t talk about it.

          Indeed, your position now seems to be that we should avoid saying what we’d do on an issue where you agree with me, for fear of alienating voters like you!

          Second, You don’t seem to have picked up my point about the soft Labour loyalists, which means the % of Labour voters who are concerned about issues of debt is roughly 10% of our current vote, and therefore at least an important part of those voters we need to keep hold of for the next two years.

          Third, I find your position on voters moving to the LDs positively bizarre. You’re saying that if Labour sets out what it would do to reduce the deficit when the economy is growing, then disgusted LD defectors will return to support the party that cut at the wrong time, unfairly and severely, Have you any evidence for this at all?

          Finally, I’ve looked at the issue of “core voter” disatisfaction elsewhere – See here:

          http://www.fabians.org.uk/the-core-vote-swing-vote/

          Lets just say your characterisation of 1997-2010 Labour defectors is a little off the mark.

          However, so as not to be snippy, let me close on a note where I agree with you. I do think that it’s possible that the Greens will perform slightly better in 2015 than 2010 (though they are doing worse now, perhaps due to a lack of media attention compared to UKIP).

          To differ a little, I think this is more to do with long term fracturing of two party support and the death of the LDs as a party of protest for ABC1sm as well as the steadily increasig number of youngish, professional, non-unionised, propsperous but insecure, urban graduates than it is about Labour economic policy.

          I also think it will be marginal, in terms of affecting the GE result, and that Labour might well not lose a single seat (and even gain one) as a result.

          (see here for an interesting analysis of the previous “peak green”

          http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=wFSd3li4JnUC&pg=PA129&lpg=PA129&dq=Who+voted+green+in+1989+Euro+elections&source=bl&ots=dTQSDp2W6P&sig=wuAa7SKpW7b6-nKLQ9Zq50WuBZQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=OD3tUODuDYjK0QW75oCwAg&ved=0CFIQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=Who%20voted%20green%20in%201989%20Euro%20elections&f=false)

          Reply
          • Sunny H

            Hopi:

            If you agree with me that deficit over the medium term is important, then I’m confused as to why we shouldn’t talk about it.

            Because focusing on the deficit now means you have to talk about cuts and austerity, which will simply put off the very people Labour attracted who wanted to avoid that talk.

            Also, it confuses the message: is Labour about growth and jobs or about cuts and austerity? It is very hard to weave a complicated narrative involving both because the electorate don’t pay much attention to policy.

            So if you want to make cuts after 2015… starting from maybe 2017 when the economy is starting to get back into full swing – I don’t see why you would start focusing on that now, instead of job creation.

            the point about Labour loyalists is moot – they’re not going to go anywhere else because we’re apparently soft on the deficit. That’s why they’re loyalists and stuck with the party even during the mess of 2010.

            You’re saying that if Labour sets out what it would do to reduce the deficit when the economy is growing, then disgusted LD defectors will return to support the party that cut at the wrong time, unfairly and severely, Have you any evidence for this at all?

            Yes. I’m saying that if you put Labour in a position where it sounds roughly the same as the Libdems on the economy (who will sing from the same hymn sheet as you come the election) then you will lose those people.

            What’s my evidence for this? Erm – only the fact that Ashcroft himself admits the vast majority of Joiners abandoned the Coalition because it wanted to focus on austerity and cuts. Which is what you want too.

            Lets just say your characterisation of 1997-2010 Labour defectors is a little off the mark.

            I’m quoting figures from YouGov’s five million votes analysis.

            Lastly – if you think that we should not focus on cuts right now, a few questions for you:
            1) would you back or oppose the 1% benefits uprating?
            2) would you back or oppose the 1% cap on public sector pay?
            3) would you pledge to keep Osborne’s cuts post 2015?

            thanks

          • hopisen

            Sunny:

            “Because focusing on the deficit now means you have to talk about cuts and austerity, which will simply put off the very people Labour attracted who wanted to avoid that talk. “

            I find this rather confusing. Since you think Labour does need to address the deficit, when would be a good time to mention this to the electorate?

            the point about Labour loyalists is moot – they’re not going to go anywhere else because we’re apparently soft on the deficit. That’s why they’re loyalists and stuck with the party even during the mess of 2010.

            I think you’ve misunderstood this. The ‘soft loyalists’ are 2010 labour voters who say they would consider voting for the Conservatives or Liberals.

            If you look at Ashcrofts research for the Tories, it’s a key group for them to target.

            That’s why they’re “soft” as they might well go somewhere. I accept the term ‘soft loyalists’ is a bit confusing here – it’s Aschroft’s not mine.

            Lastly – if you think that we should not focus on cuts right now, a few questions for you:
            1) would you back or oppose the 1% benefits uprating?
            2) would you back or oppose the 1% cap on public sector pay?

            Since I wouldn’t do what the Tories are doing on the overall fiscal envelope, of course I don’t back the Tories current proposals.

            I do think increasing overall Pub Sector pay is probably a bad idea right now. Better things to spend money on, but Id try to reduce salaries at the top end, retain jobs overall, and increase low end salaries and wages.

            3) would you pledge to keep Osborne’s cuts post 2015?

            I support party policy, of course. Do you?

            More seriously, A government starts where it starts. Come 2015, we’ll have an overall fiscal envelope based on growth rates etc. We’ll also have policy priorities

            Given that, even if you wanted to spend a lot more in year on (say we were still in a demand crisis and debt was still really cheap in 2015), It wouldn’t make much sense to unpick every decision of the last five years. You make policy to meet coming challenges, not past ones.

            My view is that we need to set out now the rules that would govern these decisions about when we would fiscally contract, and what our fiscal priorities would be in that context.

            These would then define how we would differ from the CSR, and under what conditions, and where our priorities for diverging from the govt baseline will be.

  2. Robert

    Labour was right to oppose the 1% rise today and would have lost my vote if it had supported the Government. Obviously, Labour will need to have a credible line on the deficit in 2015 but there is no need for it to be the same as the Tories. However, I agree that Labour will probably lose the next General Election if the economy grows at 2% and the deficit falls significantly over the next two years, but that is a big ‘if’ when the economy has hardly grown since May 2010!

    Reply

Leave a Reply