Today’s papers give us an idea of what Labour’s new dividing line with the Tories is going to be. Labour will find money for eye-catching but not too costly initiatives such as the cancer pledge
that the papers have reported on this morning. These pledges will be financed by taking money from the less sexy parts of departmental budgets. Labour will then ask, as Pete noted Ed Balls doing today
, how the Tories can match this spending when they are committed to paying down the deficit faster than the government and to reversing several of Labour’s tax rises. If the Tories won’t commit to matching these new pledges, we can expect Labour ministers to start saying we’re committed to getting all cancer patients to a specialist within a week while the Tories are committed to taking the richest estates out of inheritance tax / preserving pensions tax relief for the rich etc etc.
With only 20 percent of the public believing what Labour says about the public finances, this approach is running into a considerable headwind. But I suspect we are going to see Labour adopting a much more populist approach between now and the election. Brown’s reference to the ‘squeezed middle’ in his Prospect article suggests that he and his speechwriters have been taking inspiration from the approach of populist Democrats like Dick Gephardt and John Edwards. The fact that Labour is almost certainly going to lose has freed it up to start making all sorts of promises in the knowledge that they are unlikely to ever be called on them.