David Blackburn

Cuts and strategic dividing lines are indivisible

Cuts and strategic dividing lines are indivisible
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Daniel Finkelstein suggests an alternative analysis to that which prevails about the cabinet split. Labour’s aristocrats are divided not over style or substance, but the timing and extent of spending cuts. Finkelstein locates his argument in Labour’s repetitive history of poor financial management. Every Labour government runs out money and becomes riven by the prospect of retrenchment, a policy that is instinctively anathema to the left. The current episode dissents from the model in one regard:

'As Chancellor, Mr Brown spent money as if there would never be a bust — an absurd hypothesis. And now, as Prime Minister, he is blocking the measures necessary to put right this error.

For this dispute over public spending is different in one way from any of the past 100 years. The Prime Minister is refusing to support his Chancellor. MacDonald threw away a lifetime’s service to Labour to support Snowden, a man who cordially loathed him. Attlee sided with his Chancellor, Hugh Gaitskell, from his sickbed (“I am afraid they will have to go,” he mumbled to Gaitskell, who at first heard the remark as “very well, you will have to go”). The normally tricksy Harold Wilson gave solid backing to Jenkins. And Callaghan won round the critics by showing that he and his Chancellor were indivisible — if he had not done so, Mr Healey would not have prevailed.

 

Mr Brown, unlike any of these predecessors, has put himself at the head of the spending rebels. Far from backing his Chancellor in what needs to be done, he forces him to water down his proposals, making clearly inadequate plans to deal with the crisis.'

An intriguing analysis, but in Brown’s mind cuts and strategic dividing lines are indivisible. Brown resists Darling and Mandelson because it is his unshakeable conviction that Labour’s electoral success is always determined by “maximising investment for the many”. For that reason, bloodied but unbowed, Brown invokes ‘Tory cuts’ and ‘The many not the few’ at any given opportunity, and indebts the many yet further. Finkelstein is entirely correct in this summation:

 

'The common attack on Mr Brown, the one we heard again last week from inside his party, is that he is a poor leader, that no one likes him, that he is a loser. But this verdict, damning though it is, is too kind.'