We should expect some party-political knockabout before a Budget. But by any objective measure Labour's economic relaunch on Tuesday was a car crash.
First, on substance. As my colleague Matt Hancock highlighted yesterday, the two Eds managed to promote a 2.5% VAT cut on fuel which would be illegal under EU law, supposedly funded by a bonus tax which would, even on optimistic assumptions, only raise £2bn, and only once. Er, and in Year 2?
Secondly, on leadership. As Ed Balls repeatedly emphasized later on the Daily Politics, the Eds have now banned any commitments from shadow ministers to reverse spending cuts. But among other things, this includes Ed Miliband's own commitments to reverse the RPI-CPI switch and the Future Jobs Fund – which really cuts the Labour leader down to size. So which Ed is really in charge?
Thirdly, on political message. Until Tuesday Labour's strategy was pretty clear: ignore economic reality, disavow Alastair Darling's own cuts and tax increases, attack the Coalition wherever possible – and hope the voters don't notice.
True, the two Eds had imposed formal controls on shadow ministers after February 16th, requiring them to clear all spending commitments with High Command. But that fitted their strategy just fine, because no-one paid any attention to the new rules. The result was £12 billion of unfunded spending commitments by Labour in the past month alone.
But now even this bizarre arrangement is in disarray. For the Eds have said there are in fact no Labour spending commitments at all. In other words those £12 billion of unfunded commitments aren't even verbal commitments. So what are they? How can any Labour shadow minister say anything credible on policy now?
In sum: Labour's relaunch included an illegal, short-term and economically illiterate policy, an embarrassing reproof for their leader, and a confused and self-contradictory political message. That's quite an achievement.
> Monday on LeftWatch: CCHQ's department-by-department guide to Ballsonomics