Back in the days when Tony Blair had relegated the Tories to an unelectable rump, the key to determining policy was to steal the opposition’s ideas. Anything sensible that the Tories might propose would be incorporated into the New Labour programme. All else would be dismissed as lunacy.
On the economic front at least, incoming US President Donald Trump seems to have learned the New Labour trick. Whereas Hillary Clinton had promised a modest $200bn investment in the US economy – with strings attached and funded by tax hikes – Trump has promised a $500bn investment in America’s crumbling infrastructure, together with tax cuts across the board. We can only wait to see whether a conservative Congress will be prepared to vote through that kind of public spending (and borrowing) spree.
In the UK, too, it looks like the Tories are also going to blindside Jeremy Corbyn’s economic policy. According to Sky News:
“[Chancellor] Philip Hammond is planning to invest up to £15bn into Britain’s creaking transport network and hi-tech industries in an attempt to ‘future-proof’ the economy from the turbulence of Brexit.”
This spending is in addition to the hundreds of billions that will be spent on large vanity projects like HS2, Heathrow expansion and Hinkley Point C approved by his predecessor. New infrastructure spending may also follow between now and 2020.
For the time being, the Labour economic policy drawn up by Corbyn and McDonnell is based around a Trump-style £500bn investment in Britain’s infrastructure. However, by 2020, May and Hammond might have already made a large part of that investment, leaving Labour with just the most contentious projects… as Blair used to say, “The opposition’s policy is plain silly.”
Having spent a year developing an economic policy designed for the world of Cameron and Obama, Labour need to go back to the drawing board and construct one that takes on the more profligate world of May and Trump.