Friday, 21 January 2011

Choosing sides

Now you believe either that George Osborne’s deflationary policy to reduce the deficit is a disaster falling on those least able to bear it or that it is a necessary response to a national emergency. You believe that the recession was caused either by the folly of the bankers or the extravagance of Gordon Brown. In short, you are either left-wing or right-wing. You must choose, for you cannot be both.

Nick Cohen

I'm moderately cheered by Ed Balls' unexpected accession to the Shadow Chancellorship.  I can see a couple of reasons to be cheerful:

1. The coalition have a simple message that they want and need the public to hear and believe - that there is no alternative to massive cuts in services, immediate job losses and dismantling as much of the public sector as possible, as quickly as possible.  Labour front benchers who fail to challenge that message and don't propose anything other than slightly watering down what the coalition are already doing might as well give up, go home, and not come back until they've worked out what they went into politics to achieve. At least Ed Balls still believes there is an alternative:

Mr Balls said Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne were damaging the economy with their deep cuts to public spending to try to erase a deficit of more than 10 per cent of national output.

"Our task ahead is to take on George Osborne and David Cameron's decision to cut too far and too fast, recklessly putting jobs and growth at risk," Mr Balls said.

"We will hold them to account for the decisions they have taken. There is an alternative: A fair economy which puts jobs and growth first."
Today online
2. Ed Balls seems capable of mastering his brief and giving George Osborne a seriously hard time:

The good news for the Labour Party is that they've got themselves a new, combative, economically literate shadow Chancellor, a man who was put on God's good green earth to make George Osborne's life intolerable.
The Independent

Not before time - bring it on. 
My cheerfulness is moderated by a few other considerations:

1. We're told that Balls was an enthusiastic participant in Labour's civil wars, industriously briefing against rivals and not above stabbing a few backs. He also has a reputation as a bit of a bully, which wouldn't raise him in my estimation. How much of this is true and how much is just gossip and smear, I have no way of knowing. A swift reading of the comments thread on this post at Harry's Place confirms that some people out there do really hate him. All this internal bickering sounds worryingly like the Judean People's Front v. the People's Front of Judea to me.

2. His voting record on asylum, ID Cards and anti-terrorism places firmly him on Labour's authoritarian wing.

3. He's yet another top politician who just happens to have been privately educated.* In these hard times Osborne and two thirds of his cabinet colleagues are vulnerable to the charge that they belong to a privileged, out of touch, élite, but if Balls attacks on that front, this is the sort of response he's likely to get:

Labour gives Osborne a load of stick from being an upper class, privately educated snob who wears a semi-permanent smirk. Now they have Balls, who is an upper class, privately educated snob who, err, wears a permanent smirk.
I have my reservations, but if Ed Balls has made the choice to actively and effectively oppose the coalition rather than just feebly bobbing along in its wake, we may yet see that smirk wiped off Osborne's face.

* At Nottingham High School, which may be a snip compared with Eton, but is still way beyond the means of most of Balls' constituents (I'm assuming he didn't win a scholarship).