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Evening Standard Comment: Labour needs big ideas to take on Chancellor

Evening Standard Comment
·2-min read
 (Christian Adams)
(Christian Adams)

Labour needs big ideas to take on Chancellor

Chancellors have historically got to enjoy a proper drink while delivering the Budget. William Gladstone took sherry while Hugh Dalton sipped on a dreadful-sounding rum and milk.

Such is Rishi Sunak’s dominant position in Westminster, he could probably get away with the modern Tory equivalent of the forbidden fruit — Champagne.

Despite all the errors of a rollercoaster first year — Sunak spent much of the past 12 months trying to curtail the furlough scheme and other support measures on a misplaced understanding that the country would have to learn to live with the virus — he remains hegemonic.

A self-professed low-tax Brexiteer, he is the presumed heir to Boris Johnson. And in Anneliese Dodds, he faces a shadow chancellor who has made little impression on the public, though is an improvement on her predecessor John McDonnell.

The criticism of Dodds’s relative anonymity is misplaced. Most opposition politicians — including shadow chancellors — are unrecognisable to the average voter. Indeed, even as Chancellor Philip Hammond was not exactly a household name.

If, as we all hope, the vaccination roll-out accelerates and lockdown restrictions are lifted in the summer, the economy will bounce back. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for Dodds.

After a year in which Covid-19 has dominated and the public was looking for constructive opposition, the economy is once again rising in salience.

To start winning in the years to come, Labour must begin offering the big ideas we saw Blair, Brown and the young Cameron offer when all were in opposition, and show their vision for what kind of post-Covid country and economy it wants to construct.

Things have not started well, providing a confused front on whether it would support a rise in corporation tax, even if postdated for the future.

Yet the resumption of normal politics will afford Dodds and Labour the chance to make their case to a country exhausted by Covid and curious about what Labour’s alternative Britain might look like.