By Paul Goodman
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The Independent headlines its interview with Ed Balls today: "Lib Dems should leave the Coalition and join us". This is the best news angle that can be found from it, though the Shadow Chancellor is scarcely likely to have said: "So you're asking what I'd do if the Lib Dems quit government, betrayed Cameron, voted with us and offered to help make me Shadow Chancellor? It's obvious, isn't it: I'd tell them to get lost!" However, he is careful to make the obligatory reference to Nick Clegg having to go in any such circumstances. I think Balls's response is a means of spinning himself as more coalition-friendly – and less tribal – than his critics assert without conceding nothing of substance: if he'd said he was open to coalition after the next election that would indeed have been news.
More suggestive is his refusal to be drawn on Labour's own spending plans: "There is going to be no spending spree for the next Labour Government," he says. "There is going to be no growth dividend to start allocating left, right and centre. This is going to be a very, very tough inheritance. But it doesn't have to be that way." His words reinforce my sense that the Eurozone crisis is worse for Balls than for George Osborne. If the former doesn't pledge to meet the latter's spending plans, he will open Labour to a classic double-whammy-of-higher-taxes-and-higher-interest-rates-under-Miliband Conservative spending attack, but if he does his long support for higher short-term borrowing and his long-term opposition to the Coalition's deficit reduction plan will look absurd.
In the meanwhile, the Guardian runs a story this morning headed: "Labour party shadow cabinet agonises about economic message." It cites a Shadow Cabinet member as saying:
"It is very high risk leaving the strategy as it is. The danger is, the point at which the public will turn to us remains constantly just over the horizon."
And a Labour analyst as observing:
"We have to show we 'get' the politics of austerity. It is almost a cultural and social issue, as much as public policy problem."
Balls is being squeezed by both his internal and external critics.