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Why Labour Have Not Gained From the Budget

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Since the Budget, confidence and trust in the Conservatives seems to be falling. But Labour - rather than gaining from this - seem to have remained firmly where they were in the public imagination two weeks ago.

According to the first post-budget survey carried out by YouGov on behalf of The Sun - 50% of people thought George Osborne was doing a bad job as Chancellor, compared to only 28% who thought he was doing well.

As well as this, 48% thought the Budget was unfair, compared to 32% who said it was. Further, 56% of respondents thought the richest would pay less tax thanks to the Budget, and 37% felt that the British economy is weaker as a result of the coalition, compared to just 24% who did not. In short, there was a general negativity towards the announcements, reflecting badly on the huge gambles the government decided to take.

This, by all rights, should have pushed people into the arms of Labour, but the same poll also found that Osborne has a six-point lead over the Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, and despite the fact that only 34% still trust the Conservatives on the economy, a paltry 24% trust Labour. This seems strange in light of Ed Miliband's widely celebrated attack on the Budget, and the papers' almost universal cynicism and apathy to it.

Opposition parties tend to do well in opinion ratings when a government makes unpopular decisions. Indeed, Labour enjoyed much goodwill after their response to last year's explosive phone-hacking revelations and the scandal surrounding the NHS reforms. But Labour's position is complicated. Though they are marred by a hostile media, incoherent policies, and lack of charisma, the real reason they haven't gained from the failures of the government is due to something else entirely. It is largely an effect of the now-entrenched narrative - persistently repeated by government ministers - that the economic mess was inherited from "the previous Labour government." Let's be honest, this is the truth; but it is not the whole truth. What followers of this creed have continuously failed to mention is that (New) Labour's economic policy was a direct continuation of the Thatcherite neoliberal reforms commenced in 1979.

The roots of the economic problems we are facing now are not party-specific. They are ideological. And ideology can transcend the boundaries of political parties, especially when it is one as strong and global as neoliberalism. However, rather than associating the financial crash with neoliberalism, people in the UK now associate it with Labour. This brilliant stroke of politics instigated by the Conservatives and followed by the right-wing media has successfully managed to convince people to forget recent history and vote Tory.

Ignored is the Conservatives' role in the financial crisis: taking the initial step of deregulating the markets. Also ignored is the fact that the ideology of New Labour has been put to rest by Ed Miliband, who though still subscribing to many free-market orthodoxies, is a far more social-democratic leader than his predecessors, who ushered in the 2007 crash.

As long as these smears are accepted by the public, Labour will continue to suffer from a toxic image of economic incompetence. The task facing them now is not so much in rethinking their policies, but in figuring out how to convincingly express them to those who are still cynical.

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