The hardest job in politics is the shadow chancellorship.
The actual chancellor can always find money down the back of the famous Treasury sofa. So, the money to fix all those schools with deadly concrete ceilings was just “found” from the current education budget. This happens all the time and journalists just accept it.
But if the shadow chancellor suggests some more paperclips for the Department of Administrative Affairs might be a worthwhile investment, she or he will be dragged through the mud by every radio and TV presenter she meets, demanding to know where the billions for this profligate expenditure is coming from.
On top of that, come up with a genuine good idea and watch the government nick it, find the money and then insist you have no new policies.
That is however par for the course. The real problem for Rachel Reeves is that she is going to inherit a bulging folder of bad economic news, empty coffers and a very long list of things that need fixing in very expensive ways.
That means an awful lot of what she and Labour would love to do will have to wait and why most of her policies are actually long-term reforms of a failing economy.
The country does need rebuilding and a proper planning system would unleash home building and investment by private firms on many things including green energy and 5G. The National Grid does need massive reforms; so does nearly every utility provider She has identified a few small tax rises on private schools and foreign homeowners and I just love the idea of a Covid Corruption Commissioner – this is fair, just, and painless finance raising.
She could and should do more: Promise to reform the apprenticeship system, which is a national scandal and would cost nothing to fix, and extend investment allowances. A reformed Brexit deal is not on the cards yet, but every minor improvement would help a bit.
But even so, it is obvious that the shadow chancellor knows what the real problem is. Productivity is flatlining and so is growth and that catastrophe predates the banking crisis, Brexit and Covid. Without it the pie will not grow fast enough to pay for an ageing population, the only option then is to tax the economy more, borrow more or spend much less.
This is the elephant in the room, but at least Reeves knows what the problem is and has some ideas to get the economy growing again. Jeremy Hunt and the Conservatives are too busy salting the earth to have any new ideas worth mentioning to boost growth. They even have to fight off those backstabbers in their own party who support Liz Truss, and think the answer is tax cuts for billionaires and an ever-smaller state.
At least Rachel Reeves doesn’t have that problem, and she can hide behind the fact that she hasn’t seen the books and doesn’t trust the data the government does publish. But if Labour win the general election she will be faced with a huge dilemma.
Only growth can give her the money she needs to do what is necessary but turning the economy around and returning growth to 2-3% a year every year, is a long-term and very difficult project.
The hardest job in British politics will get even harder if Labour win the next general election.
You can read more from Jonty Bloom in Jonty’s Jottings on Substack here.