If Labour wants to be taken seriously as a prospective Government it will have to up its game over the economy.
Everyone knows politicians tell the odd half-truth. They choose one fact over another to tidy up a narrative, or choose one term over another to make a message more penetrating: bedroom tax being a prime example. While people don’t particularly like slipperyness, they’ve come to expect it and it probably isn’t enough to keep anyone out of Government.
But not knowing what you are doing is and Labour is increasingly going that way. Already struggling in polls on economic competence, if Labour wants to rebuild that trust it needs to get its facts right.
The Government is proposing to remove the stamp duty reserve tax charge for which fund managers are liable when investors sell or surrender their units in UK unit trust schemes or shares in UK open-ended investment companies.
Previously described as a tax cut for hedge funds by shadow chancellor Ed Balls, in a Parliamentary debate yesterday the party finally accepted it actually affects fund managers. While this is unlikely to cut through to your average voter, it is part of a pattern.
Also yesterday, Labour leader Ed Miliband was forced to rewrite his big speech on business policy to remove an out of date claim that four in five new private sector jobs have been created in London.
And then there was May’s car crash interview on Good Morning Britain where, despite riffing frequently on the cost of living, Miliband could not say how much his weekly shop cost.
Looking further back we see more example of Labour’s failure to do its homework getting the party in trouble.
In 2012, Miliband accused the pensions industry of excessively high charges, picking out Neptune’s UK Mid Cap Fund with a charge of 3.96 per cent. Apart from being a fund rather than a pension company, it had returned 19.66 per cent compared to an IMA sector average of 4.07 per cent.
Earlier that year, the then shadow Treasury financial secretary Chris Leslie was left red faced in a debate on the bill which established the new regulatory regime. After a lengthy speech on the potential problems of having two complaints commissioners – one for each regulator – he was drily told by an MP on the Government benches there was in fact only going to be one.
Everybody errs, and voters will forgive the odd mistake. While Ed Balls apologising (several times) for failing to see the crisis coming is necessary, it is not enough. As the election approaches and scrutiny of politicians’ every word grows, if Labour doesn’t up its game it will be more than just polls and Conservative claims of incompetence it has to worry about.
If frequent and small errors don’t do for the party’s chances, one big slip in election week could. Just ask Gordon Brown.
Steve Tolley is political reporter at Money Marketing