Can Labour Finally Stop Letting the Conservatives Win on the Economy?

19/06/2015 14:17 BST | Updated 17/06/2016 10:59 BST

The messenger may have been different, but the message has become a familiar one: junior Treasury Minister Harriett Baldwin responded to criticism of the Government's plans to sell its shares in RBS last week with the same argument George Osborne and David Cameron have been using for five years - Labour can single-handedly cause global financial crises, so all their economic views are worthless. It's an inaccurate and hypocritical argument, but Labour spent the last five years letting the Conservatives get away with it, and if the next leader can't find a way to fight this image by now they probably don't deserve to be leading a prospective party of government.

'I will take no lectures on economic competence from an opposition party that in office sold off the country's gold reserves at an all-time low, crashed the banking system and the economy and left us with the biggest peacetime deficit in our nation's history.'

The Blair and Brown governments certainly made mistakes, but nobody outside of Britain would blame them for crashing the banking system: selling gold reserves at a bad time can't explain the biggest global downturn since World War II. But, while David Cameron won't let anyone forget that Labour happened to be in power in 2008, Labour have kindly let the Tories ignore the fact they spent most of the noughties demanding even more deregulation for poor long-suffering bankers. Ms Baldwin should remember this quite well, since she was a managing director at one of the country's biggest investment banks at the time.

At this point, convincing the public that Labour wasn't responsible for the crash might be a lost cause, but whoever the Party's new leader is they should at least be able to restore some economic credibility by putting some distance between themselves and the last Labour government. A new team shouldn't be blamed for past mistakes they weren't even involved in. It was harder for arch-Brownites Miliband and Balls, but the main candidates to replace them have fewer ties to the last administration's economic record.

Yvette Cooper is in the most difficult position, having served as Chief Secretary to the Treasury between 2008 and 2010, but the current favourites have it a little better. Andy Burnham also worked in the Treasury for a year, but has spent most of his career in the health department - possibly the only area people still seem to trust Labour. Liz Kendall, meanwhile, wasn't even an MP until 2010, and her political background is in health and education. Chris Leslie, the current Shadow Chancellor, was also out of Westminster between 2005 and 2010, so should be similarly untarnished by connections to the crash, and more able to fight back against critics like Baldwin.

It's difficult for any party to prove their economic competence from the opposition benches, but the new leader has to at least convince the public that a Labour government wouldn't be completely incompetent. Forcing the Conservatives to come up with a new line of attack would be a good start. It won't be easy, but if they actually make a decent effort to stake out a coherent identity and position for the Party, any leader can turn their reputation around. Just ask the guy who was special adviser to the Chancellor when the last Tory government lost £3 billion in twenty-four hours on Black Wednesday.