LABOUR’S shadow cabinet ministers should clearly set out how they will cut spending and the party must remain anchored in the centre ground of British politics, Lord Mandelson has said.
The former Cabinet minister, one of the architects of New Labour, said the party had to position itself in the centre and not be swayed by the rise of “marginal parties” like Ukip.
Lord Mandelson praised Ed Miliband for speaking out on the deficit, but also indicated he would like to see the leader’s older brother - and former rival - David return to British politics.
He told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show that the Labour leader and shadow chancellor Ed Balls had set out a “sensible and reasonable” position on reducing the deficit, but the rest of the party needed to back him up.
Labour will go into the election pledging to cut the deficit every year of the next parliament and get the current budget into surplus and national debt falling as soon as possible.
Lord Mandelson said: “We can’t sustain the level of borrowing and indebtedness that we have at the moment.
“At the end of that parliament you will see the books balanced on current spending and, if growth goes well, I think we will have a surplus as well.
“That is where the centre-ground of British politics is. They both want a strong economy and one where the public finances are properly managed and they want a fair society too and they are prepared to pay for that within reasonable limits of taxation.”
But he said: “There’s no point just leaving it to the two Eds to make these statements. The shadow cabinet as a whole have got to play as a team in this.
“Yes, in the last few weeks Labour has scored - it’s put that deficit ball in the back of the net. To keep it there each member of the shadow cabinet has got to be honest with the public, they have got to set out what this means for their own departmental budgets and demonstrate to the public that they mean it, that they share the same sort of discipline that Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have shown.”
He added: “Each and every one of them has got to make clear that we will cut spending across government where we have to, but we will also invest where we need to.
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“That’s what Labour’s anchor is in the coming election. They have got to spell it out and show that they mean it.”
The rise of Ukip has seen Labour harden both its language and its policies on immigration, but Lord Mandelson warned that the election would not be decided through chasing the policies of “marginal” parties like Nigel Farage’s.
He said: “I don’’t know whether we have seen peak Farage, certainly we have got quite a lot of voters playing around with marginal parties like Ukip because they are angry, they are pessimistic, they want to demonstrate their protest.
“But the election itself and which is the biggest party will be decided - let’s be clear - on the centre ground and not on the margins. That’s where Labour has to be and to remain.”
Former foreign secretary David Miliband is the president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee based in New York, but has hinted at a return to British politics.
Lord Mandelson said: “I have no idea what David’s plans are. All I know is he has a lot to contribute wherever he is.”
But he added: “Of course I would like to see him back in British politics.”
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan told Sky News’ Murnaghan programme Labour has “had a good year” and were “competitive” in the polls.
“The next general election will be very close,” he said. “That we are competitive is a tribute to our leadership and the party.”
But the party’s election campaign was criticised by some of its candidates at a public meeting in the Commons last week.
The Sunday Times reported that Louise Haigh, the candidate in Sheffield Heeley, warned that Labour was leaching votes to Ukip because the party has taken its traditional voters for granted.
She told the Commons event organised by the Labourlist website: “I’ve been battling against what I call safe seat syndrome, where the local party and to a certain extent the council have taken those votes for granted for a really long time.
“It was why we came very, very close to losing the PCC (police and crime commissioner) by-election earlier this year; why we’re in trouble in Rotherham; and why we’re in trouble in Scotland.”
Polly Billington, who was Mr Miliband’s special adviser when he was a cabinet minister, is fighting Thurrock, a key Labour target.
“The institutions of the party itself can get in the way,” she told the meeting.
She added that she has been “beaten over the head and shoulders about voter ID targets which are meaningless when I’d rather ... talk about the sewers.
“I wish somebody knew how to write and talk about how we get things done together rather than in boiler plate language.”
The meeting was held on the day a leaked document showed that Labour activists had been urged by party chiefs to “move the conversation on” when voters raise the issue of immigration.
Nancy Platts, the candidate for Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven, said: “When I heard that come out ... it made me want to discuss it even more. Because we shouldn’t have any subjects that we say to people in our communities ‘are not up for discussion’.”
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