Strikes pose economic challenge for Labour


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Good morning. Rail strikes are under way in England and more may be to come. Some thoughts on that in today’s email. (And, I suspect, tomorrow’s email. And tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.) Get in touch at the email address below.


Inside Politics is edited by Oliver Ralph. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenkb and please send gossip, thoughts and feedback to insidepolitics@ft.com.


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Summer strikin’, happened so fast

Is the UK heading for a summer of strikes? Delphine Strauss, Philip Georgiadis and Bethan Staton explain the reasons why we might be: the government’s plan to tackle rising inflation is coming into a head-on collision with the fact that almost all public sector workers are worse off now than they were in 2010.

To the extent that the answer to “are we headed for a summer of strikes” is “no”, it’s only because schools are heading off for the long summer holidays, and that it will, therefore, be more likely that industrial action in schools takes place in the autumn.

The big reason why the UK is facing a prolonged period of industrial action is that the Conservative plan to tackle inflation will involve households taking on an awful lot of pain. These strikes are in large part an inevitable consequence of the government’s inflation strategy.

And the big reason why the Labour party is having a difficult time setting out its response to the strikes is because the Labour party doesn’t have an inflation strategy.

Although the party’s shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, has won internal plaudits for refining the party’s line in recent days, ultimately, these strikes — and their potential sequels in schools, hospitals and elsewhere — aren’t ones where the answer can come from the relevant shadow spokesperson. They can only come from the party’s leader and shadow chancellor, because they are the two politicians who have to set out what, exactly, the broad contours of the Labour party’s plan to combat inflation are, and it’s only once the opposition answers that they can get on the front foot over strikes.

Now, I’m not saying that inflation isn’t a massive pain for the Conservatives. There are many reasons why Emmanuel Macron lost his parliamentary majority on Sunday, but one reason is simply that inflation is bad for incumbents and good for challengers. But one source of comfort for the Tories is that, whether their inflation strategy is good or bad, they can, at least, say that they have one. As long as Labour doesn’t, their internal and external debates will, inevitably, become an unedifying public argument about whether the party backs strikes, what the leadership’s values are, and so forth.

Can’t take my eyes off of EU

Of course, one difficulty Labour faces in having an inflation policy is that it is hard to talk about the UK economy when you don’t really want to talk about Brexit. Chris Giles and George Parker have written an excellent Big Read on the economic damage wrought by the UK’s exit from the EU, and the reluctance of either the Conservatives or Labour to talk about it.

In some ways, Labour’s Brexit problem hasn’t changed since 2014: the party still sees its European policy as something that it needs to use to fix its problem in post-industrial areas and among voters without degrees. One reason why Sir Keir Starmer has the right idea in planning to give a speech on free movement and its future (or lack thereof) is that it’s only by putting that issue to bed one way or another that he would be able to focus on the rest of UK-EU policy, from phytosanitary standards to any other regulatory area you care to name.

That said, it’s hard to have a coherent economic policy in the UK if you don’t want to talk about the biggest self-inflicted economic challenge facing the UK at present.

Now try this

I am very much enjoying Dream Like A Dogwood Wild Boy, the saxophonist Binker Golding’s new record. You can read Mike Hobart’s review here.

The French left’s revival means I have a good excuse (or, at least, an excuse) to once again exhort you all to watch Baron Noir, the story of a backroom fixer to a Socialist president, and his various schemes to reunite the French left. It’s essentially the West Wing, but shorter, more politically coherent and in French. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Europe Express — Your essential guide to what matters in Europe today. Sign up here

Britain after Brexit — Keep up to date with the latest developments as the UK economy adjusts to life outside the EU. Sign up here





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