Those hoping for Labour to mount a fierce opposition to the austerity measures contained within George Osborne's Budget yesterday are set to be disappointed.
Speaking to journalists yesterday afternoon, Labour's new shadow chancellor Chris Leslie repeatedly turned down opportunities to oppose, or even criticise, most of Osborne's key decisions.
The government's new benefit cap is set to impoverish tens of thousands of people. According to internal government advice, 40,000 children will be plunged into poverty under the plans. However, when asked about the policy yesterday, Leslie described it as "necessary," adding that: "It's difficult to say why those who should be in work, but are not, should get those benefits."
Osborne's plans to legislate to run a budget surplus "in normal times," require huge cuts to public services and in-work benefits. Even the Conservative mayor of London reportedly has reservations about the policy, with his chief economic advisor warning that it will harm infrastructure investment and hamper growth. However, Labour said yesterday they are "predisposed" to supporting the policy.
Leslie did criticise the government's cuts to tax credits, which he said amounted to a "work penalty". However, when pushed further by journalists yesterday, he would not say which of the changes Labour actually opposed.
Real-terms public sector pay cut
Public sector pay was frozen throughout the last parliament, leading to real-terms cuts in public sector pay. Osborne yesterday announced that he would continue to freeze it at one per cent for the next four years. This will lead to a significant reduction in pay for teachers, nurses and social workers – in other words the very people the Labour party was set up to support. However, Leslie said yesterday that the party would not oppose the continued freeze on their pay.
"It's difficult and obviously a lot more than they were expecting but we don't deny that difficult decisions have to be made and we accept that pay restraint is sadly necessary over this period," he said, adding that: "We have got to weigh up some of these changes and be more thoughtful in the way we don't just literally oppose everything … tempting as it might be."
The shadow cabinet are keen to re-position themselves as the "responsible opposition" following the departure of Ed Miliband.
However, in their rush to change perceptions of the party they seem to have abandoned any real opposition to the Tories at all.
Rather than opposing everything in Osborne's budget, Labour now appear to be opposing almost nothing.