Prime Minister David Cameron took aim at the U.K. opposition Labour Party as it prepares to name a new leader, predicted to be hard-line socialist Jeremy Corbyn.
In a speech on his Conservative government’s plans for cutting the cost of public services, Cameron offered a preview of the attacks to come on the new Labour leader.
“I have watched with some bewilderment the Labour leadership election,” the prime minister told an audience in Leeds, northern England, on Friday. “They’re still debating whether the deficit needs to be cut. Whoever wins the Labour leadership tomorrow, this is now a party that has completely vacated the intellectual playing field. It is arguing at the extremes of the debate, simply wedded to more spending, more borrowing and more taxes.”
Corbyn, who began the leadership race as a 200-to-1 outsider, is now the bookmakers’ favorite. He has won Labour supporters over with an anti-austerity message, eclipsing the other candidates, former Health Secretary Andy Burnham, former Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper, and Liz Kendall.
The Tories aim to paint Corbyn as a threat to security, both for his opposition to nuclear weapons and military deployments, and for his economic plans.
“They will not deliver the economic security we need because they won’t deal with the deficit,” Cameron said. “And they won’t deliver the national security we need at a time of trouble when we are dealing with terrorism and Russian expansion in Europe. I’m very worried that Labour aren’t focused on either of them.”
He offered the contrast with his decision to authorize a drone strike against a British member of Islamic State in Syria last month. “At the end of the day, the prime minister has to take difficult decisions to keep the country safe, it’s part of the job description,” he said. “If you can’t take these decisions you shouldn’t be in the job.”
Corbyn said yesterday he was “unclear as to the point” of the attack.
The Tories surprised everyone, including themselves, by winning a majority at the May 7 election, while Labour suffered one of its worst ever results. Party leader Ed Miliband resigned the next day. Research among voters afterward found they thought him an unconvincing leader and said they worried he would spend too much.
Corbyn proposes increasing spending by gathering more of the 120 billion pounds ($186 billion) a year in tax that he says currently goes uncollected, and telling the Bank of England to create money to fund publicly directed infrastructure investment. Among his spending commitments are more money for students and pensioners.
“It’s as if the financial crash, or the election for that matter, never happened,” Cameron said. “The question is not: ‘do we have money to spend?’ It’s ‘how do we spend the money that we have to achieve the outcomes we want?’”
His comments follow a warning from Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne that Labour is “heading off into the wilderness.” In an interview with the New Statesman, Osborne said there was now a “huge opportunity and responsibility” for the Tories to hold the center of British politics.
The prime minister used the speech to set out some of the ways he plans to cut government spending, including “breaking state monopolies, bringing in new providers, or allowing new ways of doing things.”
Those include allowing emergency services to combine their back-office functions, and selling off government-owned land.