If the nation ever faces a brass shortage, the smelting industry could do worse than to requisition Ed Balls’ neck. The Shadow Chancellor writes today in The Guardian that it “is Osborne who now faces a credibility problem” on the economy. Pots everywhere face a backlash from unjustly treated kettles.
Balls is, he says, moderate, sensible, reasonable, centrist and concerned about the deficit. His plans are ” tough and deliverable, balanced and fair”. His books will be balanced. Perhaps the sub-editors removed a claim to be modest, too.
Why does he feel the need to tell us all this? Simply because no-one currently believes any of it. Balls’ piece is driven by necessity, not choice. A Shadow Chancellor who was genuinely thought of as possessing these attributes wouldn’t find it necessary to shout about it from the rooftops – voters would already know, and he would be able to talk about actual matters of policy. As it is, he has found it impossible to shake off memories of his and his party’s past disasters – this is simply another, desperate attempt to do so.
Some of his declarations simply aren’t true. For example, supposedly “Labour is now the only main political party that has not made any unfunded tax or spending commitments.” What of the magical “tax on banks”, the proceeds of which he and his team have already pledged to spend at least a dozen times over?
Here are a few more inconsistencies:
- Balls attacks Osborne for “borrowing over £200bn more than planned”, even though Labour’s original criticism of the Chancellor was that he wasn’t borrowing enough. A failure on Osborne’s own terms is a success by the big borrowing terms Labour themselves set out at the last election. Surely they should be happy that he ended up coming closer to their plans? And if those plans really were better for us, surely they should be claiming that by doing so he has helped the nation, not hindered it?
- “This choice is not about whether to get the deficit down…We will cut the deficit every year, and get the current budget into surplus”. Note the crucial word – “current”. This means that Labour will not, in fact, aim to get the actual, overall budget into surplus, just part of it. So the choice is about whether to get the deficit down after all. And his declaration that “All the main parties are committed to balancing the books in the next parliament” is untrue on the same basis.
- “Our review of every pound spent by government is finding savings that can be made in order to better protect frontline services, including £250m in policing and over half a billion in local government.” In other words, efficiency and bureaucracy savings – just the type of savings which, when the Government make them, Labour claim are inevitably going to impact the front line.
- “It is Osborne who now faces a credibility problem.” Except for, y’know, the polling which regularly reveals that, despite their problems, Osborne and Cameron remain way out ahead of Balls and Miliband in the economic trust stakes.
At the heart of the article lie the same old weasel words that helped Balls and Brown to get the nation into this mess in the first place. For example, he pledges that under Labour public spending would be higher as a percentage of GDP. That might sound nice, until you consider that it is possible to do so because his approach produces not only more wasteful spending but also lower growth. Neither is something to boast about.
“Balanced and tough” might sound good on first hearing, but in practice a big spender trying to pose as a deficit hawk can only ever live out those values as a circus strongman trying to walk the high wire. The Shadow Chancellor has brought the nation crashing to earth before, and he would do it again.
There are questions to ask about why Osborne’s performance has fallen short of his early ambitions, but Balls has no credible starting point from which to do so. The article may have the Chancellor in its sights, but it’s all too obvious that it is really motivated by his Shadow’s own shortcomings.