Is the election over yet? Unfortunately there’s still 25 days of spin and bluster to go. This week the parties will finally unveil their manifestos; setting in stone the pledges they will probably have to break in 26 days in order to form a colaition. First up is Labour, which this morning sought to restore faith in its ability to keep a tight hold on the government purse strings.
Ed Miliband’s party has continually lagged behind in polls asking the public who they trust most on the economy. He will be hoping to restore its reputation by putting his plan to tackle the deficit front-and-centre – after forgetting to mention it once in his speech at last year’s Labour Party conference.
The first page will contain a ‘Budget Responsibility Lock’, pledging that no policies will be paid for with additional spending, to cut the deficit every year and to return the budget to surplus ‘as soon as possible within the next parliament.The party is seizing on criticism of the Tories, who have failed to spell out how they would pay for a pledged £8bn extra per year for the NHS by 2020.
‘In recent days you have seen the Conservatives throwing spending promises around with no idea of where the money is coming from, promises which are unfunded, unfair and unbelievable,’ he said. 'That approach is bad for the nation’s books. And nothing is more dangerous to our NHS than saying you will protect it without being able to say where the money is coming from. You can’t help the NHS with an IOU.’
Of course if Labour comes to depend on the Scottish National Party when the dust settles then it might regret such a pledge. The SNP hasn’t been shy of debt and in February its leader Nicola Sturgeon said Miliband would have to break the ‘cosy consensus’ for austerity to rely on the party's support, and described the current Government’s approach as ‘morally unjustifiable and…economically unsustainable.'
Rightly or wrongly, the perceived failures of the last Labour government continue to strike a chord with voters and it will be hard for Miliband to overcome that - and to show businesses that his party can be trusted. Miliband reportedly asked a FTSE 100 boss recently: ‘Why exactly do you need to pay your shareholders dividends?’ He’s got a lot of work to do.