February 8, 2024 - 4:00pm

Great parties need great causes. None are greater than rebuilding Britain — Labour’s current ambition — except perhaps saving the planet from the ravages of the climate crisis. Labour had a policy that addressed both challenges: its Green Prosperity Plan, which involved £28 billion a year on decarbonising the economy while reindustrialising the country. Until today, at least, when the party announced after much speculation that it would be ditching its flagship green scheme.

There were issues with the plan. For one thing, when blue-collar voters hear the word “green” they reach for their wallets fearing incoming taxes. For another, politics should be about purpose rather than process — never fight on a big number, and argue for the impact on voters’ lives.

Yet it served as a central and visible tentpole of Labour’s industrial strategy — and was a clear answer to the question “how will you jumpstart the economy?”

Labour’s leadership is finally walking away from the imposing figure while remaining committed to the individual policies that will make the UK a clean energy superpower. These include the proposed state-owned energy company Great British Energy, as well as the Warm Homes programme for retrofitting residences with insulation to cut household energy bills.

This week’s U-turn is a defensive move which reflects a “small target” strategy. It is an approach designed to minimise the political attacks that the Tories can make in a general election campaign, which for all intents and purposes is already underway.

This would be understandable if Labour were under any pressure from the Tories. But the Opposition has had a poll lead for the last 800 days. Since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister, the Tory Party has failed to exceed 30% support while Labour support has never dipped below 40%.

There is clearly a settled will among voters. They want a change from the present administration, which makes it all the more striking that Labour is allowing the Conservatives to impose their economic frame on the political debate. 

While there are legitimate questions about Labour’s fiscal strategy — progressive parties always have to prove that they can be trusted to handle national finances — there is no legitimacy in those questions being asked by Sunak, whose predecessor in Downing Street blew up the economy and imposed a “moron risk premium” on UK interest rates. The idea that a man who lost the Tory leadership to Liz Truss has anything to say about politics and economics is risible, and he should be laughed out of British politics.

Instead, Keir Starmer has allowed the Tories to memory-hole Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget. Had that been a Labour budget, we would not have heard the end of it for decades. George Osborne mercilessly repeated an untruth that Gordon Brown rather than the Global Financial Crisis crashed the economy. Labour should show the same vigour and energy in putting forward the truth that the party of Liz Truss has nothing to say about the economy. Nothing, that is, except “sorry”.

John McTernan is a British political strategist and former advisor to Tony Blair.