Peter Hoskin

Labour may outflank the Tories on health and overseas aid spending - but will struggle to do so on reform

Labour may outflank the Tories on health and overseas aid spending - but will struggle to do so on reform
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If you want some insights into where Labour are going next, then do read this story in today's Guardian.  The main points are that Brown and Darling have agreed not to spare the health and international development budgets from cuts; that Labour's public spending cuts will be set out over the next couple of months, beginning with a couple of speeches this week; and that Labour wants to frame its cuts as a return to the public service reform agenda.  As one "cabinet source" tells the paper:

"The new economic context is a challenge for us, but New Labour in its original form never saw spending more money as the only solution. We need to revisit the original New Labour approach of public service reform. We are going to put the pedal on reform, but we are also going to project our values in what we propose. It is not going to be the Tory position of a bonfire of spending. We will differentiate ourselves from the Tory position of spend less and reform less."

A couple of days ago, I set out some reasons why Labour's new approach will face difficulties from the outset.  But if they are to have any chance of outflanking the Tories, then you suspect it will be by reducing the health and international development budgets.  Using the past few months as a guide, this will just encourage shadow ministers to attack the government for not spending more money in these areas.  Which, in turn, undermines the idea that the Tories are prepared to tackle Brown's debt crisis.

As for the emphasis on public spending reform, and the claim that the Tories would "reform less", it's difficult to see how the government can make much capital out of that.  George Osborne has already covered this ground in rhetorical form, at least.  And while the Tories have plenty of gaps in their overall reform agenda, they do have - courtesy of Michael Gove's school reforms - a more radical platform than Labour.  Who knows?  Labour's latest machinations may even encourage the Cameroons to fill in some of the blanks.