If Labour opposes austerity, why is it helping pave the way for more?

Labour’s failure to challenge the government on Brexit makes it all the harder for them to oppose austerity.

Labour’s weak showing at both the Stoke Central and Copeland by-elections (despite winning Stoke) shows why its Brexit strategy is so weak. By voting to pass through the Article 50 bill without amendments, it has handed Theresa May and her government a free pass on issues beyond Brexit.

This thread by research fellow, Chris Prosser shows just how badly Labour did at the Stoke Central by-election despite winning the seat.

Corbyn’s message on Brexit falls on deaf ears

In his ‘Road to Brexit’ speech this morning, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn again accused the prime minister of threatening to turn Britain into a “bargain basement tax haven”. He also said that the government’s idea of “taking back control” was actually an “assault on our public services, our standard of living and our quality of life.”

He’s not wrong. The problem remains, however, that Labour’s case for a different Brexit falls on deaf ears because it fails to effectively challenge the government on it. And this inability to do that makes it hard for Labour to effectively challenge the government on other issues. The NHS is a case in point and was demonstrated at PMQs this week.

The best argument against austerity is fighting Brexit

I was elected to lead this party, I was elected to lead this party to oppose austerity and to oppose redistribution of wealth in the wrong direction, which is what this government is doing.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party

In response to questions about his leadership following the by-election results, Corbyn maintained that he was “elected to lead this party to oppose austerity”. But so far he’s doing a dismal job of it.

Whenever the Labour leader calls out the prime minister on problems with the NHS, she responds by saying “a strong economy is needed to fund the NHS.” The economy, as ever, is the go-to response for the Tories. But despite Theresa May’s actual opinions on Brexit, she is willing to damage the economy to “take back control”. And despite this path meaning it’s very likely we’re headed towards even more austerity, Labour fails to say so.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies’ Green Budget suggests Britain faces austerity being extended “well into the mid-2020s.” This is because economic forecasts show that Brexit could deepen Britain’s deficit by £122bn. And the IFS report says that’s likely to mean more public spending cuts as well as higher taxes.

It’s near impossible to take Brexit out of the equation on so many issues but perhaps more so for cuts to public services. Labour’s best argument for fighting austerity is fighting the Tories’ hard Brexit. Unfortunately, all they seem to be doing is helping the Tories pave the way for one.

Image: © Twocoms /
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