Peter Hoskin

Alan Johnson’s economic gamble

Alan Johnson's economic gamble
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The most shameless line of Alan Johnson's big speech came at the beginning. "Being in opposition does not mean pretending to be in government," he averred, "we will not be producting a shadow spending review." Which would be fair enough, were it not for one simple fact: the Brown government didn't produce a spending review when one was due, last year, either.

In which case, Labour's new economic policy is much like their old one. They are sticking by the Alistair Darling plan to halve the deficit over this Parliament, which is encouraging given some of the alternatives. Yet there is still not much detail about how this might actually be achieved. As he has done over the past few days, Johnson riffed on about increasing the taxes on banks. And he set out a few "tough choices" on welfare spending. But that was it, really.  

In terms of the general picture, there were some differences, though. The overall emphasis has shifted away from spending cuts and towards taxation. Johnson has halved the capital budget cuts and shaved £10 billion off the department cuts that Darling encoded into his final Budget – so that the balance between cuts and tax rises now stands at 60:40. The shadow Chancellor smirked as he pointed out that the Tories had supported Labour's spending plans, "lock, stock and barrel," until November 2008.  

This was more about surface appearances than hard economics from Johnson. He caricatured the coalition as "growth deniers," whose measures would cull investment, opportunity and jobs. But he tempered that by claiming that "we will give fair proposals the support they deserve." And this is his major gamble. As Labour seek to claw back lost credibility on the economy, will a reasonable tone achieve more than a detailed prospectus? Answers on a postcard, please.