Ask somebody to describe the national budget and they will, at some point, most likely use the analogy of a household budget to explain it to you. Starting from this assumption, it is easy to see why people believe that we should cut our cloth to fit our budget. This model puts the onus on reigning in spending and waiting for better times. Bad times mean that you should cut luxuries and make as many savings as you can on essentials. This is an analogy favoured by the Conservatives and has been one that has featured consistently in their campaign of austerity against Britain’s economy.
Therefore, while people don’t necessarily ‘like’ seeing the Tories cutting government funding and, contrary to the belief of some Labour members, even recognise and care that it is badly hurting many of the working poor, there is a logic to why they tolerate it. They believe that projects such as investment and welfare spending, whilst important, should be scaled back to fit the economic times.
That this is an issue for the Labour Party is well known both within the Labour Blogosphere and amongst the public more widely. It has been written about on many occasions. What would now normally happen in such an article is a polite explanation of why the household budget analogy is wrong. This is perfectly admirable and necessary but it sort of misses the point. The reason that the household budget analogy works is because it is relatable and it is time that Labour got some of our own.
This isn’t a case of talking down to the public or trying to pull the wool over their eyes. To think in this way is to oversimplify the problem and stops us from effectively combatting the Tories’ arguments. It is probably born of the fact that many of the people likely to be involved in these discussions and reading this blog are likely to be political animals who devote a lot more of their time to thinking about political issues than the average person on the street does. By using such analogies, Labour will be able to get their basic point over quickly and set the framework for the public to engage in a debate of how the values we share should be put into practice effectively.
Here are my attempts to write two such relatable analogies, the first concerning investment rather than austerity as a path to economic success and the second concerning maintaining reasonable welfare levels, both play off the existing household budget analogy and go as follows.
Investment Rather Than Austerity
Think about your household budget. Each month, or maybe more frequently, you sit down and figure out how much money you have coming in, you then work out which essentials you need to buy and how much money you have for luxuries and leisure spending. As bad times hit you start to scale back the luxuries, you go on fewer nights out, buy fewer take aways and have more home cooked meals and nights in front of the TV. If times get even worse, you may even change from so called ‘big brand’ food products to supermarkets’ ‘own brand’. Now, imagine that you are offered a new job with much better pay that would enable you to switch back to ‘big brand’ items and spend more on your luxuries than you did before. The catch? This job requires you to buy a car. As you don’t have spare money at the moment, you must borrow to invest in this car. Do you turn down the new job just because you can’t make it fit into your current budget? David Cameron would tell you to turn the job down. That is the wrong answer and no way to grow an economy back to strength.
What if you do turn down the job? You are stuck in the same situation with the same small household budget. You and your partner have two children that you’re very fond of. You sit down and evaluate your household budget. Times are getting even tougher and money is being squeezed tighter than ever. Your biggest expense is the children. You have a choice to make, you can cut back some of your own spending as well as cutting back on some of the children’s extra- curricular activities or you can make one of your children ‘redundant’, refusing to support them anymore and penalising them for not being able to work. This, however, will make the other child better off. If you’re a reasonable human being then you probably thought that the second choice was laughable then you’re right, it is. Yet this is the choice that the Conservatives are making. They are cutting welfare benefits and tax credits for the most needy members of our society, penalising people who are unable to find work for not finding work and cutting them off from the mainstream. And, just like if you made one of your kids redundant, the knock on effects for those left out in the cold will only get worse further down the line. They will be less likely to go to university or get a degree, less likely to find a job and more likely to turn to crime. Just as parents should look after their children because they need the most help, the government should ensure that it governs in the interest of those who need the most help.
So there you go, two alternative economic analogies. I am not saying that these were perfect analogies and of course there are holes to be picked in them but I hope they can be used to make our point effectively and would very much like to see Labour modifying the way in which we communicate with the public.