(Photo: Richard Pohle/The Times)
The coalition is at the beginning of what may be the most politically tough and unpopular programme of reform since the early 1980s. Lib Dem support has imploded. Labour has a new, young, and likeable leader - yet it lags in the polls. Even Michael Foot was ahead at this stage. An interview with Alan Johnson in The Times (£) reminds us how hard it is for Labour to gain any purchase in opposition at the moment:
His aim is to slow the Government down. “We are not saying we will live with a fiscal deficit indefinitely, but we are saying we must reduce our debt more slowly as the economy grows. The signal says ‘proceed with caution’ yet the coalition have opened up full throttle. We are saying speed kills. Go carefully and gradually.” Mr Johnson warns that no other country is attempting to reduce its debt as fast as Britain. “If every country did, there would be a serious global problem. The coalition is risking a double-dip recession.”
"Vote for us, we want to do the same stuff, just a bit more slowly," is not what I call an inspirational rallying call, or a clear dividing line.
I actually think Johnson and Miliband are right to make this argument, rather than protesting that the cuts are unnecessary. They must hope that in the end voters will reward them for being responsible. But it's awfully hard to campaign on an issue of technical competence rather than ideological choice, especially when your last term in office left some big questions about said competence.