Ed Balls and tough choices

1st October, 2012 3:15 pm

Ed Balls gave a politically fine-tuned performance today. He re-committed Labour to independent monitoring of its fiscal rules. There were lots of ‘tough choices’. He chose not to restate his decision to limit public sector pay explicitly but on spending, pay, and pensions he warned there would be tough decisions ahead. In fairness, he must feel that he has taken enough flak already on the limits to pay increases ; this wasn’t backsliding.

Balls’ plea that you can’t set out spending plans now over two years ahead of an election in an uncertain environment is a fair one. A ‘zero-based’ spending review after the election is, well, a spending review. He made clear that Labour’s new fiscal rules – more credible than Osborne’s rolling five year targets – will set debt on a downward trajectory. That will require the speedy elimination of the structural current deficit and a tight set of spending limits across the board in reality. The politics of this will be fraught.

If there is an area where he could say more it’s about the process by which Labour makes its broad commitments at the next election. Personally, it seems to make sense to outline the fiscal rules, set the broad parameters of a budget and then ask an outside agency or body such as the IFS to assess the credibility of the plans. That means some of the spending review will need to happen before rather than after the election. The fear has to be that any doubt here will play into fears of Labour’s determination to reset the Budget on a sustainable footing. There is time for all this and I suspect that Balls knows that he will have to do more. Until the next Coalition spending review that is difficult to do.

The best part of the speech was the latter third where he set out a vision of a new political consensus around social protection and infrastructure investment. Basically, new protections such as in social care are going to be difficult to achieve other than through consensus and in the short-term. It is also crazy that we seem incapable of prioritising growth-enhancing investment matched with long-term finance. This should be the real purpose of a new national bank – on the model of the European Investment Bank. Small business finance needs something more sectoral, local, and flexible – new mutuals, funds and specialist institutions.

Overall, this speech was politically astute, serious and plausible. This shadow Chancellorship is a work in progress but progress is definitely evident. Osborne and Cameron may be Butch Cameron and the flatlining kid. This speech was more towards the good and there was no bad and ugly. There is no longer a fistful of dollars. Labour still remains The Unforgiven. But this movie is far from over yet. In fact, it’s just getting going.

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  • Good stuff. 

    Surprised tory trolls and tory central office not already bust at their  keyboards rubbishing every word he says. But give it an hour or so and they will all be here!

    • Winston_from_the_Ministry

      Surely if they’re Tories, and rubbishing Balls, they cannot therefore be trolls.

       

    • Hugh

      Sorry I’m late, I was just having a quick jar with George and David while they formulated central office’s response to Labourlist’s coverage of Ed’s speech. Am now herewith:

      At this stage so far ahead of any real idea what Balls would do in terms of taxes and spending if Labour were elected it would be irresponsible for the Conservatives to commit to specific criticism of the shadow chancellor’s speech this afternoon. However, there will clearly be harsh criticisms to be made at the time he comes up with anything substantial. And the Conservatives will not shy away from making those difficult criticisms. Voters can be sure our critique will be effectual and, er, cutting, thoroughly undermining Balls’ arguments, which we are fairly confident may well be made at some point before the election. This critique will be independently audited according to standards we will draw up at the time to verify its power as a response to the shadow Chancellor’s plans and will be jolly good.

      Despite this, we are committed to achieving cross-party support for changes that bring real benefits to this society, our society, the future, our children, the most vulnerable and puppies. We therefore announce our support for governments to hold a spending review on taking office. This strikes us as a thoroughly good idea. It’s surprising no one thought of it before.

      • Dave Postles

         He’s been at the Magna Carta again – stick to the Merlot.

      • Dave Postles

        Dave’s been at the Magna Carta again – stick to the Merlot.

      • Dave Postles

        Dave’s been at the Magna Carta again – stick to the Merlot.

      • Dave Postles

        Dave’s been at the Magna Carta again – stick to the Merlot.

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          The Magna Carta has lasted as a lodestone of (some) principles of fairness for nearly 800 years (as I am sure you are immediately familiar – with your knowledge I can’t teach you English history).  The principles of “spin” have been with us for about 20 years, and God rot the exponents, who infest all parties.  

          • Dave Postles

             Oh, thank you.  No, the later appropriation of Magna Carta has ensured some principles.  There’s not much in there which afforded protection to the unfree, who comprised the majority of the population.  It was essentially a charter of privileges.  I expect that even David Letterman knew that. 

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            I’m not trying to have an argument with you Dave, but I can see that depending on the perspective “one” chooses, the MC could be seen both as either a step along a long path, or a temporary re-affirment of a status quo.  I see it as the former, but if you do not, I cannot much argue.

            You may, or may not, be interested to know that the MC was taught in Chilean schools as one of about half a dozen seminal moments in middle European  / later Western history, along with Luther’s declaration, Gutenberg’s press, the US declaration of independence, and Bronski’s Ascent of Man.  There were some supporting texts also cited as being supportive, including Don Quixote, which in the UK appears to be taught as a comedy of backward society, but does not acknowledge that the text was extremely “near the knuckle” for the nation ruled over by Philip III, that disastrous and repressive monarch.

            (EDIT: Not Bronski, rather Bronowski. I misremembered his name)

          • Alexwilliamz

            There is actually much more fuss made over the MC in the US than ever was made over here, obviously part of trying to create an historical foundation for their own republic. Always fascinating how we seek to appropriate from history to try and make overreaching claims about the justification of our own position, somewhat conservative in reality. 

          • Brumanuensis

            Magna Carta is really one of the most overrated documents ever produced, not because it’s devoid of constitutional significance, but because people assume all sorts of things are in it that aren’t. It’s essentially a deal struck between a weak monarch and a group of barons who were unhappy at the erosion of their privileges. Only Article 29 and the general principle that the monarch’s power was not absolute, stand out as important constitutional principles. After publication, it was swiftly repudiated and played no major role in English constitutional history again until the late-16th century, when it was widely traduced and all sorts of odd suppositions were made about its contents. Most of what we assume the Charter to be about is due to Edward Coke’s various writings, which can politely be described as ‘anachronistic’ in their interpretation of its contents.

            In short, its public importance is that happy combination of political convenience and continual repetition. Meanwhile the Putney Debates and the Peasant’s Revolt, both arguably of equal importance, are virtually ignored outside of acadaemia. Which is a shame.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Maybe (in fact probably), but that dry academic analysis does not acknowledge the fact that the MC established a principle of the limits of Kingly power.  Yes, it took hundreds of years after that to move on to the next stage, and several hundred more after that to devolve those powers down from the barons***, but it was a step in the correct direction.

            *** I often attract opprobrium on LL for continuing to characterise union bosses as “barons”, but I do believe that in the sense of wielding power untrammelled by direct democracy of the people, the current union bosses are as undemocratic as the historical barons of 1215, and so I make no apology for that.

          • Brumanuensis

            Leaders of major trade unions are accountable to their members, like most equivalent organisations. I suppose CEOs are also ‘barons’ by that logic, as they are only accountable to their shareholders.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            I would not disagree with that.  Perhaps the real metric is by how much the effects of their decisions – whether CEO or union leader – can affect uninvolved others.  At a subordinate level, there is also a comparison as to how easy it is for the top leader to enact a decision, and the economic impact of such.  Some of the strike votes are made on completely unjustifiable turnout and slender majorities of minorities, equally some of the corporate decisions that precede commercial disasters (maybe even involving bailouts, e.g. Sir Fred Goodwin)  seem to be based on little more than a boardroom testosterone contest.

          • Alexwilliamz

            Whigish history?

          • Alexwilliamz

            Are you suggesting Coke put spin on the magna carta, surely that can not be true Jaime has said spin has only been around for 20 years. I blame that will shakespeare.

            Agree about the putney debates. First time the landed were faced with the incontrovertible challenge that everyone had an interest in running the country; what price laying down one’s life compared to owning a few acres of prime English grazing land. Although that weasel Ireton did a good job of refuting it.

          • AlanGiles

             “Magna Carta. Did she die in vain?”

            (Tony Hancock in “The Twelve Just Men” – 1959 episode of Hancocks Half Hour, written by Alan Simpson and Ray Galton)

            Sorry – don’t often get the chance to use that joke! 🙂

  • AlanGiles

    This Independent story will probably get overlooked:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-to-embrace-david-camerons-big-society-8192956.html

    So the great Cruddas is going to engineer his own “Big Society”. Only it won’t be called that. No doubt a suitable name for it will be forthcoming after another couple of years of “review”.

  • AlanGiles

    This Independent story will probably get overlooked:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-to-embrace-david-camerons-big-society-8192956.html

    So the great Cruddas is going to engineer his own “Big Society”. Only it won’t be called that. No doubt a suitable name for it will be forthcoming after another couple of years of “review”.

  • AlanGiles

    This Independent story will probably get overlooked:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-to-embrace-david-camerons-big-society-8192956.html

    So the great Cruddas is going to engineer his own “Big Society”. Only it won’t be called that. No doubt a suitable name for it will be forthcoming after another couple of years of “review”.

  • AlanGiles

    This Independent story will probably get overlooked:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-to-embrace-david-camerons-big-society-8192956.html

    So the great Cruddas is going to engineer his own “Big Society”. Only it won’t be called that. No doubt a suitable name for it will be forthcoming after another couple of years of “review”.

  • AlanGiles

    This Independent story will probably get overlooked:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-to-embrace-david-camerons-big-society-8192956.html

    So the great Cruddas is going to engineer his own “Big Society”. Only it won’t be called that. No doubt a suitable name for it will be forthcoming after another couple of years of “review”.

    • Nothing wrong with the Big Society, in my view. Cameron only used the concept as cover for policies that would lead to its opposite.

      However, Cruddas’ intention to “think about ways of rehabilitating Tony Blair” is unlikely to be fruitful, unless he’s thinking of the period before 1997, when Blair won votes and not the period after ’97, when Blair lost 4 million votes.

      • AlanGiles

         Hello Dave, I think the problem for Labour with the “Big Society” is that many Labour figures derided it as trying to get volunteers and charities to take over the work of public services – services on the cheap.

        As for rehabilitating Blair, Cruddas blue skies thinking must have hit a deep depression and cloud that day – it would be easier to rehabilitate Fagin!

        • But it seems the pre-government part of the Blair (and Smith) era receives insufficient attention yet it was during this period that most votes were won – no one was happier I than on that bright and blissful May morn in ’97 when I voted Labour! And yet from that election onward the Labour G.E. vote consistently declined.

          Sure, we can learn how not to lose votes but, from where we are now, we have to learn how to win them.

          • AlanGiles

             My memory of Blair circa 1995/97 was a constant cri de cour of “It’s not fair!”. Every Major government proposal was met with those three words.

            Gillian Shepherd introduced JSA in 1995 “It’s not fair!” – but in government New Labour made it even more unfair

            The oft-promised promise to renationalise British Rail (up until April 30th 1997)

            I think, apart from the fact that the Conservative government 1992-97 was destroying itself on a daily basis, Blair and friends were clever in trying to pretend they were going to right all wrongs. That and the absurd “my government will be purer than pure” meant, in a very short time, Blair’s credibility was round his ankles. Where it remains.

            Now of course Blair’s personal greed, vanity and economy with the actualitie will it ensure he will never be rehabilitated with the public at large. I think Cruddas is wasting time trying to flog a dead horse.

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