Rejecting the proposition put by Times columnist Philip Collins that by accepting they had lost the argument on the economy the party will gain a hearing again in the country, Cooper said Labour would be wrong to back down because the Conservatives had misrepresented the financial crisis.
“We shouldn’t concede argument on the economy. It goes against the principles of the Labour Party to concede on things that are wrong. You don’t get credibility by saying things that are wrong and will be proved to be wrong.”
Cooper said the focus should instead be on growth and showing “the Labour alternative to what is happening now.” She argued that the Conservative "myth-making" turned the financial crisis into a crisis of the public sector, whereas in fact it was the public sector that saved the economy from the failures of an under-regulated financial sector.
She argued Labour still had to challenge the Conservative version of events, but should also focus on the future: “this is a growth crisis not a debt crisis” she said.
Collins argued however that no one is listening to Labour because they won’t concede any mistakes. “Refusal to give an inch loses whole argument” he said, highlighting that spending did get too high in the government’s final years, tax revenues were misjudged and the language of ‘boom and bust’ was a mistake. He said – which he acknowledged was surprising coming from him – that the party should return to Gordon Brown’s slogan of “prudence with a purpose”.
Fabian Society General Secretary Andy Harrop agreed Labour needed to work harder to regain economic trust and said that a promise on public spending was central to this, but also warned against “carping about troubles coalition is facing…it’s not in our interest for economy to tank” as the right tends to triumph in downturns.
Maurice Glasman suggested the debate about the economy was too centred around public spending and should be more concerned with talking about how to make the economy more productive. "The price of successful political action is a constructive alternative" he said.