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Letters: Labour – of principles and popularity

Both Martin Kettle (While Labour stays in denial, it will be stuck in a dark alley, 23 September) and Polly Toynbee (Dodge the rocks, Ed: just be bold and speak your mind, 24 September) wish Ed Miliband would be bolder and more forthright. But both are opposed to Labour putting forward a strong strategy on the central issue: public spending and taxation. Labour’s current line – for enormous cuts in spending but not as gigantic as the government’s – is incapable of winning support from the majority of the population who, as Kettle reports, now oppose the present cuts. This turn in public opinion is in large part due to the numerous campaigns against particular cuts. Yet Labour’s line is a positive hindrance to these campaigns – who can say whether any particular cut is “too fast” for Labour’s schedule? Indeed Toynbee, logically, urges Miliband to not support “every dishonest Save Our Hospital campaign” (are there any “honest” ones, one wonders?).

Labour should finally adopt a principled strategy: that the deficit should be reduced by collecting the £120bn a year from corporations and the rich that presently avoid or evade tax; and that there should be no cuts in benefits to the poor or to public services. If Miliband had the courage to argue for this, his present woefully low popularity would be transformed.
Jamie Gough

• Polly Toynbee yet again defended New Labour when saying the coalition government was “dishonestly heaping blame on Labour for the great bank crash”. This is disingenuous.

One recalls Brown’s speech to bankers just weeks before the crash, boasting about how Labour had made it possible for the financial markets to do so well through light regulation. Labour was surely responsible for the regulation system that permitted the banks’ recklessness.

Progressives must be critical of those economically irresponsible years. In that regard, Ed Balls made a self-regarding call for Labour supporters to avoid criticising the past (Comment, 24 September), making a peculiar claim that the first lesson is that “parties never succeed when they turn in on themselves”. This is a tautology or nonsense. Does he not recall how Thatcher turned on Heath and mainstream Tories in the 1970s, dramatically reshaping her party? The Tories went on to be in office for 18 years.

The reality is that Labour must radically alter its strategy if it is to regain the trust of progressives and egalitarians across the UK. The books of many colours are not a good start.
Guy Standing
Professor of economic security, University of Bath

• Martin Kettle is right that Labour should not be complacent about its current poll lead, but he is mistaken in suggesting that a leader who is less popular than his or her party will “pull the party down”. In 1945 Churchill’s popularity did not prevent Attlee’s Labour party winning a landslide. Harold Wilson only became more popular during the 1964 campaign having only become leader in 1963, and in 1970 Edward Heath was polling far below Wilson in popularity but the Tories won with a comfortable majority. Mrs Thatcher was not popular but still won easily in 1979. Of course, having a popular leader helps, but having popular policies are far more important, and Mr Miliband does have four more years to improve.
Tony Judge

• Ed Miliband is surely right that instead of giving tax breaks to big business we should be making access to education cheaper (Report, 26 September). A modest increase in main rate corporation tax to the G7 average, as proposed by the University and College Union’s business education tax, would impact on only 4% of companies and raise considerable funds for our universities. Such a move would send a clear message both to our young people and to those who got us into this mess.
Sally Hunt
General secretary, UCU

• We ought to hear from a Labour party with as much concern for the “squashed bottom” as for the “squeezed middle”.
Ralph Blumenau

• Why do politicians insist on complicating every issue? It isn’t what Ed Balls is saying or has said since the election that is the cause of Labour trailing in the polls on economic management. The reason is the non-stop Tory barrage of provocation that Gordon Brown – rather than the bankers – is responsible for the huge deficit. Labour’s response has been puny to say the least. A concerted campaign to address this great lie in all Labour speeches would do more to correct the imbalance in the polls than any figure spouting by the shadow chancellor.
Philip Garner

• The last Labour government did lots of very progressive things that have been lost sight of because of the global financial crisis, but if New Labour want to start apologising for anything in the last parliament, perhaps they should start with the elephant in the room – Iraq.
Fr Julian Dunn
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