The political mood has shifted these past few weeks. There’s now, as the Sunday papers demonstrate, far more focus on Labour than there was a couple of months back, something which pleases Number 10 which is confident that Labour is ill-equipped to deal with much scrutiny.
Ed Miliband is coming under pressure to be far more specific about what he would do in government. Much of this is being driven by the coalition’s spending review for 2015/16, the results of which will be announced on June 26th.
If Labour wins the next election, it’ll be in office when these cuts are being implemented. This leads to the question of whether or not Labour will accept these spending plans. Those close to Miliband argue, reasonably enough, that they can’t be expected to say whether or not they’ll sign onto them until they have seen the figures. But his inner circle is dropping heavy hints that Miliband is preparing to reject these plans.
I understand that Miliband doesn’t want everything he says on the economy to be overshadowed by this ‘will they, won’t they’ question. So, he’s inclined to get this announcement out of the way relatively soon after the spending review. This would free Miliband up to make the case for a radical change in the way the economy is run.
As James Kirkup said recently, this clear blue water between the parties on spending is going to be one of the main themes of the 2015 campaign. The Tories will hammer Labour, claiming that they having learnt nothing from the financial crisis and that their only policy is to spend money the country doesn’t have.
The question is, as one senior Labour figure put it to me this week, ‘How much more spending can we argue for when Labour isn’t trusted on spending?’ It is on this question that the election could well turn.