Clifton College Website

Student Contributions

James Hanson
Upper Sixth
Moberly's House

Bruiser Ed Balls will expose coalition’s economic frailty...

Bruiser Ed Balls will expose coalition’s economic frailty...

…but lose votes in the process

The promotion of Ed Balls, Gordon Brown’s long-term lieutenant to the second most powerful position in the Shadow Cabinet signifies a significant shift in Westminster’s economic debate. Alan Johnson’s resignation for personal reasons last week may have earned an outpouring of sympathy from across the political divide as the nation mourned the loss of one of our truly genuine and honest politicians, but in the long-term his departure could be a magnificent stroke of luck for Ed Miliband and the Labour Party.

It will certainly create headaches for the government, who had been starting to enjoy facing little effective opposition from Johnson, a man who admitted himself to needing a primer in economics on taking the job. Ed Balls, arguably more so than any other MP at Westminster, has an expert grasp of economics, having studied the subject at Oxford, written for the Financial Times and worked for almost a decade as a key Treasury advisor during the New Labour years. By contrast, Chancellor George Osborne, although economically literate, has a background in finance and will face serious challenges on minute fiscal details the like of which could constitute an economic minefield for the government.

Ed Balls is a master attack dog, born to hold ministers of state to account, his pugnacious energy is his most feared quality. In this respect, he will be a huge thorn in the side of the coalition. Already in opposition he has provoked embarrassment for Michael Gove over errors in the Department of Education’s calculations over the numbers of building projects affected by cuts to the ‘Building Schools For The Future’ project and has barracked Theresa May over falling police numbers while shadowing the Home Office. Now in his preferred brief, the Labour leadership candidate will be able to test his skills of political argument over the most contentious issue of them all, the economy.

However, it is not all bad news for the government. Many within Tory circles are expressing delight that Labour have lost as their economic spokesman a man who was widely praised for his ‘man on the street’ image, natural charm and uncontroversial moderation and replaced him with a divisive, old-Labour Brownite who lacks the same popularity with the wider public. Balls is likely to urge Ed Miliband to pursue more and more policies with an economically left-wing hallmark: a more cautious plan for reducing the deficit; higher direct taxes, particularly on business; and possibly a complete reorganisation of the banking system.

The problem that this will create is simply widespread opposition from a country who no longer seeks radical solutions to its problems. Gone are the days of the 1980s (the era in which Balls grew up) where the political division between left and right was so clear-cut and manifest. When the country was in crisis in 1979, the electorate ushered in a government, led by Margaret Thatcher, of the radical right. Last year, with the nation in an economic position of comparable fragility, there was no majority mandate for extreme solutions, but instead a coalition was formed with each leg planted firmly on either side of the political divide. The country was sending a clear message to the political class: even in times of crisis, we want our politics commanded from the centre ground.

So by turning to Balls, and in all probability heralding in a new dawn of socialist economics, Labour may be toughening up their shadow cabinet and giving George Osborne some much needed jitters every time he comes to the dispatch box, but in the long-term they are setting themselves up for a further fall. Not only does Balls himself, in all his back-stabbing, cabal leading, bullish glory represent the kind of vote loser all leaders should avoid from promoting too far along their front bench, the economic direction in which he intends to take Ed Miliband may see Labour’s next election manifesto follow the infamous lead of Michael Foot’s 1983 document and become one of longest suicide notes in history.

31 January 2011

valid xhtml  |  valid css