Is there any reason to believe Ed Balls supports the Tory-led cuts agenda?
No. He said that he accepted the cuts, not agreed with them. He also said “I cannot make commitments now for three years’ time. I won’t do that. It wouldn’t be credible.”
So does Ed Balls have ideas to the contrary to the coalition government?
Yes. According to the Guardian, he said that “he was not abandoning his belief that the cuts programme was too deep, and he was willing to remain outside the political consensus on the relevance of Keynesian demand management.”
What does Ed Miliband think?
He told Andrew Marr this morning that: “If Labour was in power now we wouldn’t be making those changes. We wouldn’t be cutting as far and as fast as the government.”
He didn’t say they wouldn’t be making cuts at all, and that’s important.
What do both Ed’s really think about the public sector pay freeze?
Ed Miliband said this morning: “It’s a hard choice, but when you are faced with the choice between protecting jobs or saying the money should go into pay rises I think it’s right to protect jobs.”
This is an indication that if Labour were in power now, while they wouldn’t be cutting so hard and fast, they would effectively cut the pay of public sector workers. Owen Jones, at the Fabian conference yesterday, said that given the rate of inflation, a pay freeze effectively amounts to a cut. It is clear that this reality has Labour’s backing.
Is it political disaster?
Left wing voices from Owen Jones to Bob Crow have mentioned electoral and political disaster. This is because it looks as though Labour support the cuts agenda unreservedly – but what Ed Balls is really to blame for is talking about this in a kind of quasi-managerial way, rather than talking about this in a way that says the coalition government are making a set of irreversible mistakes.
Oddly, in an attempt to make the party’s economic message credible, they are allowing the press – from the right wingers to the left – to paint them as supportive of austerity measures that aren’t working.
So are Balls and Miliband being as bad as left wing critics are making out?
They are obviously playing the long game, which is fine, but they’ve come out looking confused. This could be the fault of the Guardian, under the political control of Patrick Wintour, who has been very tough on Labour of late.
But even judging by Ed Balls’ keynote at the Fabian conference yesterday (a watered down version of the previous day’s interview with the Guardian), he is trying to earn credibility by “accepting” a set of cuts that are not credible.
It’s true that he cannot yet promise to reverse every cut the coalition makes, but why has he not framed this in a discussion about how irreversibly damaging the government is being on the economy?
Ed Balls today did exactly what he was supposed to do: he offered something by way of a plan to boost jobs, created a soundbite on Labour’s economic plan (“fiscal responsibility in the national interest”), apologised for what Labour got wrong in the past (75p pension rise, the abolition of the 10p tax rate), put the boot in Osborne’s unworking plan and ended on high note – as opposed to Vince Cables pessimistic one during the Liberals’ conference (a point picked up by George Eaton earlier).
But will he convince? To the right (of the party and beyond) it will have provided no challenge to the theory that Labour is a party fit to govern only when there is money to spend, and that the Tories (or fiscal conservatives on the Labour Right) are the choice of the day for austerity measures. Balls outlined some interesting ways to promote growth and jobs, recognised shortfalls such as cutting the future jobs fund, but admitted a Labour government would not be able to reverse every Tory spending cut.
To the Left, his opposition to strike action over pensions will smack of a cuts agenda apologism. Further, his statement on sold-off banks’ windfalls, which he initially sounded sceptical of, before stating that he will use any to reduce the deficit, will appear very unradical, and at worst comfortable with the failing national banking system. As Eaton says: “some on the left would prefer a radical commitment to mutualise the banks and turn them into engines of growth.”
Overall the speech spelt out some interesting plans, proved that Labour was thinking ahead, and that under his direction it will not introduce a Tory-lite programme. For example the one-year small firms national insurance tax holiday for taking on extra workers seems like a very sensible policy as a means of countering the terrible mess being created by the Tory-led government. But despite the glimmer of hope, it is only relatively better, and it is not a radical overhaul. In some places it is ridiculously unambitious given the state we’re in, and in other places it appears unwilling to challenge at all.
But it will curry favour, will attract attention, and it will prove wrong the objection that Labour are playing a long term game to keep mum until the next election.
In fact the TCF tone will be one of mostly joy no doubt. While Mr Balls will fill Johnson’s old post, his wife, Yvette Cooper, the current shadow foreign secretary, will take over the home affairs position.
Alan Johnson has cited personal and family reasons for why this decision has been made. His full announcement is as follows:
“I have decided to resign from the Shadow Cabinet for personal reasons to do with my family.
“I have found it difficult to cope with these personal issues in my private life whilst carrying out an important frontbench role.
“I am grateful to Ed Miliband for giving me the opportunity to serve as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.
“He is proving to be a formidable leader of the Labour Party and has shown me nothing but support and kindness.
“My time in Parliament will now be dedicated to serving my constituents and supporting the Labour Party.
“I will make no further comment about this matter.”
Many of us felt that Ed Miliband’s choice when forming a shadow cabinet was playing a safe game; Balls after all came to be seen as a rather radical voice, tearing down many of the claims made by Cameron and Osborne in their attempts to cut too deeply, too fast, without an eye on growth or jobs.
After Miliband’s decision to take a supposedly moderate stance as regards cutting the budget deficit, many on the left were concerned that the Labour Party of the next few years would opt for a cuts-lite programme – but with the announcement of Johnson’s stand down, and Balls to take his place, perhaps we have reached something of a wake-up call. Certainly it will make for good Question Time viewing tonight.
The timing is interesting; some time past the silly season Miliband’s critics were warning him that he was not acting fast enough to make serious blows against the Tory-led government, while remaining comfortable only around the converted (such as the Fabians, whose conferences are where his two memorable speeches have taken place). After the messing around, and moves toward backdoor privatisation of the NHS, the EMA cut and the localism bill, it is apparent that the Labour Party needs an economic narrative themselves, to come from someone other than a Minister who joked that he needed to consult a primer in economics for beginners.
That Johnson was set to lead a soft approach towards cuts, some became increasingly worried that the Labour Party would lose further confidence with the left wing of the party, and be reduced to a rubbish act opposition. I said in September:
For me, out of the two main options – Balls’ growth model and the Darling inspired softer deficit halving programme – the growth argument is the one that holds the most traction. Therefore, I should like to see Ed Balls as shadow chancellor for the Labour Party.
Balls, for all his misgivings, has a level head with the economy; he demonstrated this during his leadership bid, and in his numerous speeches, like the one with Bloomberg, gaining a reputation as someone who will not toe coalition orthodoxy. With any luck his new position will put the willies in the government, and take Labour on course for a narrative on the economy that will yield confidence in Labour run councils to actively oppose cuts that they are being obliged to undertake.
As Paul mentioned back in September, on this blog, while supporting Ed Balls for leader of the Labour Party:
Ed Balls understands this relation between the political and the economic … [he is] a serious challenge to the existing economic status quo.
With any luck Paul will be wrong to say that a Shadow Chancellorship under Balls will saturated by the “conservative instructions of his political master” Ed Miliband. On matters such as the impending damage to our economy, Miliband needs to listen to Balls – perhaps this is the first step of his acknowledging this fact.
I knew that I wanted to see at least one socialist in the contest – though when I found out which one would be standing, from the Socialist Campaign Group, I remember thinking, in truth, oh but not that socialist!
I hadn’t the same problems with her as had other members of the Labour party I spoke to over the course of the many hustings I’ve attended. For example, her having been given a leg up by David Miliband didn’t make me think she was a token black/female/socialist (delete where applicable) candidate – we in the party have no reason to be tokenistic about such matters – nor did it make me feel that I should write her off full stop – there were other reasons for me to do that.
Miliband the elder obviously extended his hand to Abbott because her inclusion added to the debate – a worthwhile gesture I felt. For some, this was an obvious impetus to view Abbott as a non-candidate and frankly ignore her.
For me, this was not the case at all.
I did however share sympathy with the view Abbott is a hypocrite. Of course sending her child to a private school lost her credibility among leftwingers and many constituents. Though her reasons for doing so were surely worse (that she is a single Mum with a black son who could get involved with gangs, was part of her justification for her move).
This evokes another reason why one would be cautious of her: sometimes her criticisms of fellow leadership contenders went further than simply saying look at these middle class men, call this change? This was cheap, and was made cheaper when their race had been brought into question, like this means anything at all.
Questions of race ultimately lead sound minded people to conclude that it is no matter, that people are people and so on. Raising questions of race as a means to show change in the Labour party is not possible, is dreadful and not sound minded at all.
People said her campaign wasn’t effective. I imagine it just wasn’t loud enough, and let’s face it; we have all been more interested in the family feuds and Balls’ going forth on the economic illiteracy of Ozzy Osborne.
My own criticism of her campaign was that it was in places rather shallow and base. I had this to say in July:
I know the argument: stroppy teenagers and shop floor Mothers can’t relate to men in suits, yet they end up our representatives every time, and we wonder why people don’t engage with politics.
But hold on, how people related to politicians didn’t spur on the anti-politics saga circa the expenses scandal, but rather the other way around, politicians obviously don’t quite understand the electorate – and subsequently fairness and respect for tax payers’ money.
Frankly, this extends further to what politicians talk like, look like and smell like; if they don’t get, they don’t get it, and that trait transcends class, age, race and gender boundaries.
For this reason, there is a strange element to Dianne Abbott’s recent trouble making, when she called the other four leadership contenders “geeky,” in an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.
We’re used to the disengaged politician now, but it is patent nonsense for Abbott to suggest that she has more chance listening than they have.
I won’t recycle the fact that the only difference between her and her colleagues (apart from her colour, more of which in a moment) is she has never been a SpAd and that she has been an MP for longer. But she has made decisions, and has said things, where you wonder whether the 20 years spent listening to her voters has counted for anything, particularly the type of thing she implies here which is that she knows what people want.
The paradox: give me a middle class former policy wonk who admits to needing more knowledge any time, over a middle class, Cambridge educated, long time MP, who implicitly likens herself to Obama, and thinks she knows what the people want.
I mean that as much as I do today. But yet – and here is the surprise – I voted for her as my first preference.
Ed Miliband, who I felt was strongest to start with, quickly misread his place as unifier (the party being a broad church and all), holding back from laying into capitalism and instead attempting to spell out how he was going to reform capitalism or make capitalism better.
I must admit, I agree with John Gray, the author, when he points out that both Miliband’s wildly miss the point, raised most notably in this country by their Dad, that capitalism will appear to modify in the face of threat – like it did in the thirties, seventies, eighties and now – the point is not to change it, but to understand it (in a reversal of Marx’ thesis on Feuerbach).
In spite of this, I gave Ed Miliband my second preference. Though I’m sure he is serious about transcending the grip of New Labour folderol, I just don’t think he has it in him, nor do I think he knows what it means to do this. It is not simply ridding the party of New Labour architects, but it’s about coming into a new political landscape, and focusing on the politics to fit it. For me this is socialism, but to hear all candidates talk about socialism, you’d think it was a new idea not yet properly theorised or understood.
Yet – and this was the basis of my choosing Ed for second preference – many trade unions and socialist societies saw in him the man they want.
At a time when the party is moving away from the Fukuyama-type notion that unregulated capitalism has emerged successful and it is non-party political to allow the markets to be unfettered, we need someone to lead who is in debt to unions – who will be at their most pertinent when the coalition government tries to fob off public sector workers with pay freezes while turning a blind eye to outrageous banker bonuses and tax evasion – despite this, too, being a “non-party political” issue.
David Miliband, too, has union backing, and the advocacy of the so-called voice of the intelligent left, Jon Cruddas. But, not only has this Miliband been the most uncomfortable with criticising the record of New Labour, his leadership will be easy pickings for Tories and Liberal Democrats when it turns out – if indeed he was – complicit in the use of torture. Indeed, he has already had his fingers burnt when denying the Britain’s role in torture, and if an investigation turns out evidence of his direct complicity this will be electoral poison for the Labour party – already on its back feet pleading forgiveness for a war gone totally awry.
So at this stage you might be saying: well, Carl, if you dislike your two preferences so much, how much must you dislike your third, fourth and fifth? You’d be surprised at my answer. My third preference was Ed Balls – who I was most impressed by, for all the obvious reasons. He came across the most economically literate, while remaining astute enough to tackle questions on society, particularly the education sector which he still maintains a careful eye on.
So why didn’t I vote for him, in spite of Paul’s well explained reasons as to why I, and you, should? Honestly, for character I find him displeasing – a trait I recognised around the time Sharon Shoesmith fought for and lost her job. But on an economic narrative to counter the one being passed off as orthodox by the coalition government, Balls has it spot on – there is an alternative to cuts in order to reduce the deficit in the quickest speed possible, and he has proved himself totally capable of projecting that – even if some, such as Don Paskini, see this as politically a dangerous move.
In short: I don’t want a Balls leadership, I see in Balls a shadow chancellor; a job he should have probably had anyway under Brown.
So, in sum, I voted:
1) Dianne Abbott
2) Ed Miliband
3) Ed Balls
4) Andy Burnham
5) David Miliband
But to look at that in isolation doesn’t tell you the whole story.
Ed Miliband is the realistic contender and I prefer him to his brother so, realistically, I hope he gets the job, which is why he got my second preference vote. But I desire to see a socialist as leader of the party, and now I think is the perfect time. Abbott is a socialist, and though I think she is a problematic candidate – for reasons spelt out above – it is for this reason she got my first preference.
Hurray! Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have announced that they were actually against the declaration of war on Iraq. The battle for the soul of the Labour Party is won! Pfft. Do me a favour. The announcements from Balls and Miliband are designed to position themselves as populists without having to promote any popular positions on policy.
“People always felt as if the decision had been made and they were being informed after the fact.” [...]
“I was in the room when a decision was taken that we would say it was that dastardly Frenchman, Jacques Chirac, who had scuppered it. It wasn’t really true, you know. I said to Gordon: ‘I know why you’re doing this, but you’ll regret it’. France is a very important relationship for us.”[...]
“It was a mistake. On the information we had, we shouldn’t have prosecuted the war. We shouldn’t have changed our argument from international law to regime change in a non-transparent way. It was an error for which we as a country paid a heavy price, and for which many people paid with their lives. Saddam Hussein was a horrible man, and I am pleased he is no longer running Iraq. But the war was wrong.”
One can’t help but notice that the wrongness of the war didn’t stop Balls from accepting a parachute into a safe Labour seat from the New Labour heirarchy, nor a series of well-paying jobs from the very people who inaugurated the war. Quite the heavy price. But all of this is nothing compared to Balls’ admission that he’d have voted for the war.
So not that against the war.
“As we all know, the basis for going to war was on the basis of Saddam’s threat in terms of weapons of mass destruction and therefore that is why I felt the weapons inspectors should have been given more time to find out whether he had those weapons, and Hans Blix – the head of the UN weapons inspectorate – was saying that he wanted to be given more time. The basis for going to war was the threat that he posed.
“The combination of not giving the weapons inspectors more time, and then the weapons not being found, I think for a lot of people it led to a catastrophic loss of trust for us, and we do need to draw a line under it.”
Clear moral leadership there from Miliband. Or not. It may just be a poor choice of words, but what Miliband is saying seems to be that the Labour government lied, and that it’d be really nice if people would just forget about it. Sure, Hans Blix should have been given more time, but there’s no actual critique of the war there.
Millions of people marched against the war – millions who did not support the objectives of the war, who did not want to risk British lives and who plainly disbelieved every word the government uttered. The best Ed Miliband can come up with is that the weapons inspectors should have been given longer, and that the failure of the invasion to find them led to a loss of trust. Lukewarm.
I can’t help but wonder if the Guardian stirring up this issue simply as a backdoor endorsement to Ed Miliband, which Ed Balls has neatly shafted. In reality, each interview is a key failure – it demonstrates categorically that both Balls and Brother Ed see government in the traditional way: you can disagree with the decision but it ultimately belongs to the Ministers and the Parliamentary Party.
Election to government of a Labour Party with these men at the top would thus not be substantially different to New Labour.
Ed Balls has become the first government minister to lay out where he thinks the cuts should be made in his department. Stressing that front-line teachers and teaching assistants would be kept, with money being saved through cutting ‘bureaucracy’, Balls has basically outlined the basis for the government’s strategy of ‘good cuts’ versus (one presumes) the Tory policy of ‘savage’ or ‘bad cuts’.
There were several proposals made. First, three hundred jobs in Whitehall will go – jobs described as “field forces…that advise schools on the curriculum”. Next, comprehensives across the country will be pushed to create ‘federations’, where a single management team of head and deputy heads will manage more than one school (a system sporadically in use at the moment). Finally, through ‘natural wastage’ some senior positions in schools – presumably deputy and assistant head positions – will be phased out.
All of this is part of a strategy to slash the education budget by £2bn. At first glance, a lot of teachers will think “phew” – except that Balls also mentions “pay restraint” (in non-Whitehal lingo that means pay rises below the rate of inflation or none at all, so essentially pay cuts). Even still, teachers are not indifferent to the plight of other government workers, and in some areas local government is slashing wages by up to a third, with workers voluntarily accepting this because the alternative is mass redundancies, so the overall response will probably still be “phew”.
A second glance is needed, however. While most teachers think that headteachers and their lackeys could maybe find their arsehole with both hands, a map, a compass and a flashlight, the scale of the cuts is likely to impact upon frontline teaching staff. The proposed saving tots up to £750 million, between sharing out headteachers and deputies over schools and not replacing retirees; I’d have to look at the figures to establish just how much of that is directly related to not having to pay salaries, pension contributions etc – but we’re talking in the region of 8000 staff.
That’s 8000 of the people responsible for supporting ‘frontline’ services. Whether it’s child safety, training for newly qualified teachers, PGCE or GTP student-teachers, best practice sharing with other primary and secondary schools, pastoral support or parent-teacher relations, heads and deputies perform an important function. That’s before we talk about even more central, if banal, activities such as funding negotiations, departmental budgets, hiring and firing and the school timetable. Cutting headteachers and deputies means cutting some of these services.
Do heads and deputies work four times as hard as the basic teacher? No, I wouldn’t say so. I think the pay disparity between the two sets is ridiculous – with teachers on around £22,000 and some heads earning around £100,000 per year. There is no skill possessed by headteachers and deputy teachers that warrants such a salary. This isn’t the tack taken by the government, however. What they are saying is that the same number of functions can be done by less people – and I don’t think that’s true on such a large scale as is suggested.
Cutting these auxiliary functions means impacting on frontline teaching (not to mention that quite a number of heads and deputy heads double as teachers in their own right), whether or not we’re laying off teachers, or even recruiting them at the current rate. It bears pointing out that if budgets are squeezed, teachers will not be replaced and class sizes will creep up. It’s also true that if admin functions are put under more pressure, it follows that those heads and deputies who teach will no longer be able to teach – increasing class sizes that way.
Further, all of this assumes that current levels of staffing are sufficient. I think there’s a fair case to make that they aren’t. The government can try and make out that by protecting the current number of teachers, a service is being done to the teaching profession – but it’s not like state education is perfect to begin with. We need more teachers, not less. We need smaller classes and more TAs, not the same number of each. Essentially the Labour Party is abandoning progress (at least temporarily) in deference to ‘the Recovery’.
One can argue for or against such a proposition, but it makes it all the harder to bear when there is still a glut of conspicuous consumption ongoing in this country and across Western Europe – on the part of politicians and business. Something this government has done nothing to arrest, even while the rest of us are being asked to tighten our belts, for Queen, Country and Lloyds Banking Group plc.
Nick Clegg doesn’t bother taking such a calm view of things, with his petty emotionalism on the Andrew Marr show; “It would be madness, absolute madness, as a society, to blight the life chances of the young as the economy comes out of recession…The people who’re least to blame for what’s happened are the very young. And if we want to make sure the shadow of this recession doesn’t hang over young people for generations to come: long term unemployment, social divisions then we need to deal with that.”
Won’t somebody think of the children? I’m sure the Opportunism Leader (er, Opposition Leader?) won’t be far behind him either. I agree that education shouldn’t suffer as a result of the recession – but that’s not to say there isn’t money to be saved in the education budget. Clegg’s is a knee-jerk reaction; whatever a Labour minister said, Nick Laurel and Vince Hardy would be all over it. The Tories, if they are smart will have a more intelligent critique to make – such as, if all this Whitehall bureaucracy is unnecessary, why wasn’t it cut years ago?
Small-staters will no doubt rejoice in the loss of three hundred Whitehall jobs ostensibly designed to support schools as part of the curriculum. After all, the national curriculum is an utter joke, oft derided and ignored in all but outline. That said, whatever we may think of bureaucracy, I don’t think these three hundred jobs should be cast away so lightly. They are there to support schools and teachers – and perhaps if teachers and parents had a say in what function these three hundred Whitehall staff performed at the heart of government, that support could prove invaluable.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be looking into exactly what that department did. I’ve already consulted a few other history teachers to ask them and none seem ever to have heard of it – but the national curriculum extends to all subjects, not just my own, and such a department may have relevance elsewhere. Primarily my interest is piqued and early warning radar set off by the manner in which Balls dismissed three hundred jobs as bureaucracy and therefore completely dispensible – hardly a credible attitude for the man in charge of the Department of Curtains and Soft Furnishings.
When it comes down to implementing all these changes, it will be the national teaching unions – including NAHT – which will set the tone of support or resistance to such changes. As I hope I have outlined, I think there is plenty of scope and reason for resistance, but what I’m most worried about is the shortsightedness of each group, the teachers, the headteachers and the ‘bureaucrats’, being a factor in frustrating co-operation in what could prove to be a serious threat to the services our schools provide.
Put in context, these cuts permit a wide-ranging debate on the future and organisation of education. A vast amount of the education budget is being spent on worthwhile programmes such as Extended Schools, which attempt to make schools a community nexus even for those whose kids aren’t attendees. For those who are, Extended Schools offer assistance with homework, healthy morning meals and other advantages. Yet around the edges of programmes like this, things are being held together with duct-tape: with already stretched staff taking on additional responsibilities for extra pay.
I think Extended Schools is something we should fight for, because it provides a physical centre for the delivery of services and a model – parent/teacher/student – of activist-led accountability in the provision of such services. Cutting back on senior staff will threaten the delivery of such services, and this should be all the motivation we need to get stuck in, our aim being both to secure the services and to redraw the relationship between ‘frontline staff’, service users and service managers – i.e. the senior staff currently in the firing line.
To protect their jobs, and prevent the overworking and understaffing of headteachers’ jobs, support will be needed from the teaching unions. Teaching unions, to do anything these days – being accused of everything short of terrorism when they go on strike – will need the support of parents. And in the delivery of services, a resource like 300 civil servants could prove invaluable – so lets all protect their jobs as well. Once the momentum has been seized from government, let’s use it to draw up the education system we deserve.
The bottom line is pretty clear; there are no such things as ‘good cuts’ when it comes to education and this is as good an opportunity as the profession is ever going to get to organize itself without being isolated by the extreme rhetoric of government, perchance to resist the oncoming bulldozer-cum-wrecking ball that is Building Schools for the Future. It’s a chance to gear up for the sort of local activism which seems to be increasingly necessary when we actually look at the agendas being proposed for local goods and services.