I have written at great length about the myth that the Labour government created the need for austerity, or as George Osborne likes to put it, how he has had to clear up the mess that Labour created. Here he is again, in an exchange with Yvette Cooper yesterday. And I long for the day that after he, or any other Conservative, repeats this line, someone has the courage to reply: “that is total bollocks”. This bit of oral  history has survived for too long.
I will not go again through all the details (for that see these two posts), because a simple picture tells you all you need to know. Here is the UK government deficit, as a percentage of GDP, since 1970.
The deficit in the five years before the global financial crisis was around the average over this whole period. It shoots up in 2008/9 and 2009/10 for one simple reason: the UK, like most other countries, experienced the largest recession since WWII. Osborne has been clearing up the mess left by a major recession, which left UK GDP around 15% below its pre-recession trend. And the real irony is that he has done nothing to fix that very real problem, but instead obsesses about one of its symptoms.
Yet as long as this myth continues to go unchallenged, Osborne can portray Labour as unfit to run the national finances. As long as it goes unchallenged, a large section of voters will continue to believe that austerity was Labour’s fault. I think most people now agree that Labour made a huge tactical mistake when they failed to combat this narrative five years ago. But as this little exchange from yesterday shows, the damage to Labour the myth has done is not going to go away because the Conservatives will not stop repeating the myth.
I therefore have a suggestion. John McDonnell should send a copy of this chart to every Labour MP and tell them to always keep a copy with them. The next time the ‘clearing up the mess they left’ line is repeated, they should respond not by changing the subject or looking sheepish. They should produce the chart and say that it is just not true. The deficit went up because of the recession following a global financial crisis, and this chart proves it. 
 I know I'm abusing the meaning of 'oral history' here, but I do so because the written history is very different. The few scholarly papers on fiscal policy under the Labour government are consistent with the data and facts.
 I am also happy to suggest simple knock downs to possible responses. For example:
C: The recession was caused by inadequate financial regulation during Labour’s watch.
L: But you were constantly arguing for less regulation at the time.
C: IMF/OECD data show huge cyclically adjusted deficits in the pre-recession years
L: Extremely dubious (the OBR who use real data to cyclically adjust do not have this, and few signs of a huge boom at the time), and pure hindsight (both groups suggested otherwise at the time).
C: Everyone knows Gordon Brown bent the rules and missed his targetsL: George Osborne has missed 3 of his own targets. Of course policy was not perfect under Labour, but that does not change the fact that the deficit more than tripled in size between 2007 and 2009, and that was all down to the recession.
C: Labour did nothing to tackle the deficit in their last two years in office, when George Osborne was saying they should.
L: You are right, and we make no apology for it. In 2009 the UK, along with the US, Germany and China, undertook a fiscal stimulus, which George Osborne argued against. Every serious economist agrees that helped prevent the recession being even worse than it was. Which means if Osborne had been Chancellor in 2009, UK unemployment would have risen by more and real wages would have fallen even more.