Ed Balls to Jim Murphy: There will be cuts

Labour are saying one thing about cuts in Scotland and another in England

Labour are saying one thing about cuts in Scotland and another in England

What is Jim Murphy playing at? Asked on yesterday's Sunday Politics whether a Labour government would implement further cuts, Murphy replied that they wouldn't.

"We don't have to make further cuts" he said repeatedly.

Could this possibly be true? Asked about this on the Today programme this morning, shadow chancellor Ed Ball admitted that it wasn't.

"There will be cuts outside [protected] areas across all these budgets which will apply in England and in Scotland," he said, adding: "I can't say to Scotland that you are going to be exempt from spending cuts in the unprotected areas."

Ed Miliband was also asked this morning at Labour's manifesto launch whether he ruled out implementing zero cuts in the next Parliament as the IFS and Murphy suggest. Miliband replied: "yes".

Labour's shadow business secretary Chukka Ummunna also distanced himself from Murphy's comments this afternoon, telling the BBC that "Jim is the leader of the Scottish Labour party… The leader of the Scottish Labour party will not be in charge of the UK budget".

This is pretty unequivocal and also pretty unsurprising. We have known for years now that Labour plans substantial spending cuts in the next parliament. So why is Murphy pretending otherwise?

The answer appears to be desperation. Since he was selected last year, support for the SNP has actually risen at the expense of Labour in Scotland.

The latest TNS poll out today finds that support for the SNP has surged six points to 52% in the past month, with Labour dropping six points to just 24%.

If Labour had hoped that Murphy's debate performances would be a turning point, they will be disappointed. One poll last week suggested that Murphy had come a poor third in the first Scottish leaders' debate. Far from stemming the flow of Labour's support, Murphy actually appears to be haemorrhaging it.

His attempt to convince Scottish voters that Labour would somehow not need to implement any cuts is politics at its most desperate and dishonest. If Murphy thought Labour were doing better, he would not even attempt it.

Heart not Head

So what if anything can Murphy do to turn things around at this very late stage? I've been saying for months now that Murphy's core message that if people 'vote SNP, they will get Tory' is ineffective.

In order to win back voters, Labour need a far more positive campaign which gives Scots positive reasons to actively vote for them, rather than just negative tactical reasons to keep out the Conservatives.

It is the difference between the dry scaremongering of the 'No' campaign during the earlier stages of the referendum campaign and the far more positive and stirring message given by Gordon Brown in the final days.

Murphy's performance in the debates is the perfect demonstration of this. Unlike Miliband, who remained calm throughout his two recent television showdowns and has since seen his rating surge, Murphy too often becomes aggressive and even patronising in his encounters with Nicola Sturgeon. While this approach may excite Labour's core supporters, it does little to win over those who have already been turned off by the party.

An effective campaign needs to be able to charm as well as attack. So far the Labour campaign led by Murphy has done plenty of the latter and almost none of the former.