Alok Sharma's Westminster Diary, June 16, 2011
It's the second year of the Coalition Government and we are having to make some very difficult decisions to fix the financial mess and record deficit Labour left behind.
Under the circumstances, you would have thought that the Opposition would be romping ahead in the opinion polls. But the latest, from Populus, shows Labour only one percentage point ahead of the Conservatives.
Of course opinion polls come and go, and the only poll that really matters is the ballot box. But even there, in the recent local elections across the country, Labour did much worse than expected. And they were hammered in Scotland.
Labour MPs candid enough to talk freely in private put the blame firmly at Ed Miliband's door. They know what we all know. Ed does not have the presence of a leader, he does not sound like a leader and no-one knows what he, or for that matter Labour in general, stand for right now.
All defeated parties need time to regenerate in opposition and I would not expect Labour to be putting forward detailed policies on every subject at this stage, with almost four years before a general election. But the concerning thing for Labour, and you see that concern in the body language of Labour MPs, is that there is no coherent narrative on overall future policy direction emerging from Ed Miliband.
In the absence of any leadership, Labour MPs in Parliament have resorted to the comfort zone mantra of tax, borrow, spend, which appears to be branded into Labour's DNA. But this just does not resonate with the electorate. On economic competence Labour trails the Coalition by a margin of 2 to 1 in the polls and the public will not forget in a hurry which party created the financial mess. Economic competence is a major key to electoral success at general elections and Labour looks a long way away from that.
Locally in Reading we now have a minority Labour administration. They are "reviewing" many of the decisions made by the local Coalition.
In order to reverse the previous administration's decisions, Labour will have to find extra cash from somewhere. As former Labour Cabinet Minister Liam Byrne informed his successor so helpfully after the election: "There is no money left!".
Under the circumstances, I wonder whether Reading Labour's cunning plan includes the words tax, borrow and spend.
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