By Paul Goodman
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I've written before that the Eurozone crisis is even more difficult for Ed Balls than George Osborne.
This is because what Balls will want to do at the next election, if he's still Shadow Chancellor, is to mirror what he did in 1997, when he was Gordon Brown's economic adviser.
Namely, close down Conservative charges of a coming Labour "double whammy" – which had proved so powerful during the previous 1992 election – by promising to stick to Tory spending plans.
The crisis makes this course much harder to follow. The longer it goes on, the lower growth will be. The lower growth is, the lower tax revenues will be. The lower tax revenues are, the less money there is for public services. The less money there is for public services, the more pressure Balls will come under to tax and borrow more. But the more he looks to tax and borrow more, the more exposed he will be to a revived Tory double whammy campaign, warning voters of higher taxed and mortgage rates under Labour. The party's vested interests are pulling him one way. Cold electoral calculation is pulling him the other.
His speech to the Fabian Society today, previewed in his Guardian interview earlier this morning, shows how hard it is to reconcile these competing tensions.
On the one hand, he is still saying that Labour would spend more now. (He has not accepted Osborne's spending regime, whatever you may read to the contrary.)
On the other, he is saying that a Labour Government, if elected in 2015, won't restore the money that it would have spent now.
This position is not self-contradictory. Balls is simply arguing that since no-one can know what state the economy will be in come 2015, he can't assume that Labour will be able to spend more when it comes than the Coalition plans to.
However, it sounds self-contradictory. This is because to a lot of voters it follows that if a politician opposes a particular reduction in spending (or to be more accurate, a decrease in the rate of spending) it follows that he should restore it if he gets the chance.
Balls has been on his Shadow Cabinet colleagues' backs before about not making future spending commitments. So that part of his speech isn't new.
What may be new is his insistence that he can't now commit to spending more than the Coalition is planning to spend in 2015.
Which returns me to where I started – in asserting that Balls is clearly aiming to close down Conservative charges of a coming Labour "double whammy".
P.S: What will count at the polls, of course, isn't what Balls says he'd do. It's what voters think he would do. And the polling evidence suggests that they think he'd tax and spend less responsibly than George Osborne: in short, they simply don't trust him. So his speech today may be a waste of his time, and much of the above a waste of mine.