James Forsyth

Darling sells himself as a cost-cutter

Darling sells himself as a cost-cutter
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Alistair Darling’s speech today gives one a good idea of what Labour’s pitch is going to be this autumn. He stresses the importance of a strong, active government and argues that Labour will cut costs but not services. As he puts it, ‘Some seem in a hurry to cut services. We are focussing on cutting costs.’ He also takes a pop at the Tory position on inheritance tax: “I cannot accept that cutting inheritance tax for the few is a greater priority than getting people into work or investing in public services.”

The inheritance tax pledge is fairly small beer in revenue terms but it is a big issue in terms of perception. Labour thinks that it can use it to get over the message that the Tories are more interested in looking after their well-off friends than protecting services. As David Cameron’s decision to wear a lounge suit, not a traditional morning suit, to his brother-in-law’s wedding demonstrated, the Tories remain nervous about the toff factor. But against dumping the pledge is the fact that it is one of the few Tory policies that voters can identify and jettisoning it would raise questions about how credible anything the Tories say is.

Darling’s cutting costs not services line is a nice sound bite. But it is hardly a realistic way to deal with a budget deficit of £78 billion and rising fast. It’ll be interesting to see how much mileage Labour can get out of it.