When Labour were in a hole, they should have stopped digging

Peter Mandelson
Peter Mandelson
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When you’re in a hole, it’s best to stop digging. But the former Labour minister Peter Mandelson said of his government: ‘We were in a pit of debt and we kept digging.’

That eventually bequeathed us an overall debt of £1,000bn, which was being added to by £150bn a year. No wonder the Labour treasury minister left his successor a note saying ‘sorry, there’s no money left’.

Of course, there was a global downturn and the behaviour of bankers did not help. But Labour should have stopped digging.

We’ve been wrestling with Labour’s legacy here on Portsmouth City Council and trying to maintain services. And while other neighbouring Conservative councils have abandoned weekly rubbish collections, we’ve kept them. Where other Conservative councils are closing libraries, we’re opening a new one in Southsea.

And where Conservative-run Southampton pays its chief executive more than £48,000 a year more than Portsmouth, we’re cutting £1.3m from senior management costs.

We’ve also restored free swimming for over-60s and under-16s to help promote good health. And we’ve kept open kids’ adventure playgrounds.

With the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee next year, we’re doing a major restoration of the Jubilee Fountain in Commercial Road. We’ve also secured a £1m lottery grant for Fratton.

I won’t claim everything is perfect. The Labour government left the country a very difficult legacy. But in government, the Lib Dems have got more help for pensioners by restoring the earnings link to the pension, for schools with the pupil premium meaning £1.6m more for Portsmouth, for the NHS with a real-terms rise in spending and for those on low and average incomes with most basic rate income taxpayers seeing a £200-a-year cut.

We’ve shown it is possible by working hard to minimise the effect of Labour’s deficit on local services. But Portsmouth under the Conservatives, if other councils they run is any guide, will be a city of fewer rubbish collections, libraries shut and children’s centres closed.