Given how I’ve previously pointed out that Yes, ministers can disagree and the world doesn’t end, it would be wrong to shout “splits! splits!” at what is going on in the Labour Party over economic policy. The latest disagreements between leader Ed Miliband and Shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson do however highlight just how much work Labour has to do to work out its economic policy.
As John Rentoul has pointed out:
Johnson made clear to Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson [of The Times] that he did not share his leader’s enthusiasm for making the 50p-in-the-pound top income-tax rate permanent: “I am only backing 50p for the times we are in. It is not ideal; five years ago [we] wouldn’t have done it. Our policy has to be based on principles of fairness and what encourages people to do well.”
In contrast to Johnson’s temporary lukewarm backing, Ed Miliband has called for the 50p rate to become permanent.
Similarly, whilst many in Labour have been saying how much they dislike cutting public spending, their Shadow Chancellor said he was (in The Times’s paraphrase), “an instinctive cutter”. Perhaps no surprise that over in the New Statesman, Mehdi Hassn’s reaction was “Ugh!”
Johnson seems to be very much in the Alistair Darling mould (it was Darling who talked of needing to cut deeper than Thatcher) and Darling is popular in many Labour circles. But reducing taxes for the most well off and being an instinctive cutter? Those polices are not exactly flavour of the month in Labour circles.