Conservatives Undermine Their Best Argument Against Labour

By calling Brexit projections into doubt, the Conservatives give their opponents a get-out-of-jail-free card for the next election.

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives for a meeting with other European socialist leaders in Brussels, December 17, 2015
British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives for a meeting with other European socialist leaders in Brussels, December 17, 2015 (PES)

Alex Massie argues in The Spectator that Britain’s Conservatives are making a mistake pooh-poohing forecasts about the economic impact of Brexit.

At the next election, this will make it much easier for Labour to wave away warnings about its program.

Short-term thinking

Officials predict that leaving the EU will cost Britain 2 to 8 percent growth over the next fifteen years, depending on how the island models its trade relations with the bloc.

Right-wing Conservatives have rubbished these estimates, arguing it is impossible to look so far ahead and that civil servants are underestimating the opportunities of Brexit.

Massie calls this short-term thinking.

Risk

At the next election, whenever it may be, the Conservative message is probably going to be that the country can’t afford to take a chance on Labour.

But warning against the “risk” of a Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn loses some of its salience when your party has spent years baking greater risk into the economy than any government since the 1970s.

Brexit is an unavoidably uncertain business, so how much more dangerous could the uncertainty of a Corbyn-led government really be?

Get-out-of-jail-free card

Moreover, today’s Tory attacks on the projections of Brexit give Corbyn a get-out-of-jail-free card tomorrow.

Labour’s manifesto is almost certainly going to contain bigger spending promises. The Conservatives will produce studies and forecasts and projections claiming to show the country can’t afford it.

And — who knows? — perhaps the Tories will be right. But Labour will have an easy out: the Conservative Party says you can’t believe the figures produced by the government’s own civil servants, so why should you put any faith in numbers produced by the Conservative Party itself? Which is actually a reasonable answer and one likely to be given some credence by at least some voters. Meh, you can prove anything with numbers.