Their response to the Budget shows Labour is still taking the stupid pills

The Labour Party spent the last five years telling everyone that George Osborne was forcing working people into penury and creating a grossly unfair economy. At the election, this message helped the Tories to an absolute majority and increased Labour’s share of the vote by just 1.5%.

Yesterday we had a hugely ambitious Budget from George Osborne that will set the tone for this Parliament. Labour’s response: to accuse the Chancellor of forcing working people into penury and creating a grossly unfair economy. Why this message should garner the Party any more support now or over the next five years is anyone’s guess given its utter failure to do so since 2010.

One day those who lead the Party may recognise that Conservative and Labour are having very different conversations with the electorate.

The voters are asking the following of the Tories: we know you’re econimically competent and fiscally tough and that’s what we need at this point but aren’t you a bunch of out-of-touch posh boys who don’t really care about ordinary working people?

The question being posed to Labour is far tougher: we know you care about fairness and working people but you left the economy and the public finances in an absolute mess so why the hell should we ever trust you again?

Osborne understands this two conversation politics far better than Labour so he plays to his strengths by sounding hawkish but generally acts far more doveishly in reality to assuage fears that he is being too tough. The Budget yesterday took this logic a whole stage further by announcing the bold policy on a National Living Wage. Osborne is now very pro-actively answering the voters’ question.

Labour on the other hand seems completely oblivious. By attacking Osborne for being unfair, as they will be doing all over the media today, they simply reinforce the public perception that they haven’t heard the question the voters have been shouting at them for the last five years.

Instead Labour should be using every platform they get (and they don’t come much bigger than the first proper Tory Budget in almost twenty years) to respond to the public’s question. Osborne’s goal of a high wage, low tax, low welfare economy should be heartily welcomed but then forensically criticised for failing to deliver this. If Labour really understood two conversation politics its spokespeople would be all over the press today highlighting how odd it is that a Chancellor committed to low tax has in fact ramped up loads of obscure taxes.

But Labour will carry on repeating the mistakes of the past because something deep in its psyche tells it that it if it answers the voters’ question, it will be betraying its principles as the Party of fairness. This overlooks the fact, of course, that the biggest betrayal is to continue with a failing strategy that leaves Labour out of power for a decade or more.

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