THE BLOG
15/10/2015 11:03 BST | Updated 15/10/2016 06:12 BST

Why I Abstained

At conference only a few short weeks ago the Shadow Chancellor announced Labour's continued support for the fiscal charter. An idea which has its origins in the last months of the previous Labour Government. However, upon Parliament's return like every Labour MP I received a letter stating that it would now be Labour's position to oppose.

Over the next few days the Shadow Chancellor attempted to explain this U-turn and justify his inconsistent policy. In my mind he failed to do so. On the morning of the vote I asked to speak with him so I could, in person, hear his justification and make my mind up. Despite passing this on to Labour whips, the Shadow Chancellor never got in touch.

In the cold light of day we can see the impacts of the Shadow Chancellor's U-turn. Rather than debating Osborne's failure to balance the books and putting forward an alternative, progressive Labour plan, the narrative of the day is mistakes by the Labour leadership.

But beyond the Westminster world, which fixates far too often on performance, the take away message for most of the country will be Labour still does not get it on the economy. It is clear that we lost the voters' trust on public finances, on economic management, on looking after the pound in peoples' pocket.

Labour will never be a true alternative government until we win back this trust. This cannot be done by chopping and changing our policy on a key economic issue just two weeks after announcing it at conference.

Make no mistake whether you support the idea of achieving a surplus when possible is a key component of economic policy.

This is not to say the fiscal charter is perfect. It has no provisions for securing vital investments, for protecting the health and education budgets, for ensuring the national security. Labour should have been working with the government to gain these concessions. That would have been the actions of a responsible, mature and sensible opposition. You cannot hope to achieve change by just offering blanket opposition.

I agreed with the Shadow Chancellor at conference when he supported the fiscal charter. I believe if we continued to back it in principle we would have been able to improve the fiscal charter before the vote on Wednesday.

Instead by changing Labour's policy, without consulting the Parliamentary Labour Party or the Shadow Cabinet, the Shadow Chancellor needlessly backed himself into a corner.

Labour has every chance of winning the next general election. But only if we are consistent and sensible with our policy positions. Only if we can prove that we once again deserve to be trusted to run the economy. I fear that in opposing the fiscal charter we have moved further away from this; this is why for the first time ever I could not follow my party's whip. I did so with a heavy heart but as others have said politics needs to be led by principles.

Chris Evans is the Labour MP for Islwyn