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?
It’s always a tricky one asking difficult questions of one’s own party leader, but while we’re talking about Wonga, it might be worth just bringing an old one up again.
In October 2011, the Guido Fawkes chaps were brimming with delight that they’d uncovered information of Ed Miliband meeting with the PR man Roland Rudd – the chief executive of Finsbury.
What makes things rather tricky is that Mr Rudd, back in April 2011, made Wonga a client.
According to the TBIJ, Robin Walker, the Conservative MP for Worcester:
tabled an amendment that watered down a backbench bill which proposed imposing a cap on the cost of taking out an unsecured loan. Two months later Finsbury started working on behalf of Wonga, an online lender that charges interest rates of more than 2,600% a year.
According to his wikipedia page, Walker had an advisory role in Finsbury, which raised eyebrows given the proximity of his amendment in parliament to the introduction of the new client.
Today, the debate revolves around predatory and producer capitalism – this was scoffed at by David Cameron once upon a time, now, the Tories are running around like headless chickens in order to do battle with Labour on the latter’s turf.
Wes Streeting, for LabourList, today said:
The mood music in Westminster is shifting. Ed Miliband was mocked for talking about predators and producers last autumn, but now every party leader is trying to stake out the ground of ‘responsible capitalism’ as their own. The behaviour of legal loan sharks like Wonga are an indication of the tough times we live in and why students – as well as hard pressed families – need more than warm words.
Government has a role to play: offering practical help in tough times. It must act.
But how can Ed operate on Wonga? And what is the proximity between Ed and Mr Rudd? Should we be concerned?
“It was a dead cert”, Richard Seymour told us “that the media were going to search for a way to restore White victimhood”. Well, as far as that can be proved, we could well say that black victimhood has been restored by Ed Miliband today.
Of course I think neither true – to say so almost suggests the whole thing has been fabricated or designed this way. That Abbott was made to send out that tweet at a time when racism towards black people is being discussed.
Irony of this variety will not be lost today. At a time when the video of Ed Miliband giving a telephone grilling to Dianne Abbott is clocking up the meme-o-meter, so the wisecrack behind his tweetbox goes and posts a 140 characters of gold.
Saying blackbusters instead of blockbusters in a tweet mourning the loss of Bob Holness is the Freudian slip of all slips. Freud himself no doubt would have seen this slip of the tongue as some sort of Nirvana scene.
What we await now is the Guardian (now Ed’s black dog on his shoulder) article saying how this is symptomatic of the wider failures of the opposition leader. Though of course what happens now cannot be ignored out of hand.
It has been noted that Ed Miliband has no discernible support from any mainstream media outlet – the best he can hope for is sympathy, and from the usual crowd he is unlikely to get it.
I think that Ed would see how silly this is. To concentrate on a clear typing error (as opposed to Abbott’s error of judgement) is nitpicking. But that hardly matters does it. The press are in a constant race to the bottom. The stupid things people say, in the 24-hour broadcast media, counts as news. Even today, for example, a story in the Mail saw a photo of MPs on the green benches checking their blackberries and iPhones.
Shite is the order of the day – hacks swoon over it.
Obviously what is comedy about what Ed has done is how classically facepalm-y it is. He could have come out of this “fighting week” unscathed, showing Abbott that she’d embarrassed the top brass and that idle use of twitter is probably a bad idea.
Instead he has demonstrated perfectly the reason why David Cameron chooses not to tweet, saying too many tweets might make a twat.
However this probably shouldn’t give cover to the people who will use this episode – blackgate, if you will – to their advantage. The headlines this will get cheapens journalism. Further, the political capital this will raise for Cameron during next PMQs cheapens politics.
Lastly, what will happen now cheapens Freud. What he didn’t anticipate, when studying the peculiar reaches of the unconscious, and how it might affect the relationship between our thoughts, our will and our words, is that one day, when all eyes are on politicians all day, that it might come to influence the jobs of elected representatives.
Poor Ed. Before the storm happens, let’s remember shit also happens.
Ed Miliband, during some very wise soundbites on last week’s riotous events, today said:
There is an easy and predictable path for politicians.
It might even be the more popular in the short term – and I heard some people demand it on the streets.
It puts the riots down to “criminality” pure and simple. And stops there.
It says that to explain is to excuse.
If others wish to tread this path, that is a matter for them.
But it’s not the one for me.
It is not strength but an absolute abdication of responsibility to the victims, our communities and the country.
Because if we follow that approach, we run the risk of disturbances happening again. (My emphasis)
Nobody outside of the far right, epistemically closed, populist, fear-whipping press should be happy with the conclusion that riots were down to pure criminality. Especially not elected parliamentarians, and certainly not a Prime Minister.
In Criminological fields, the riots may look something like the routine activity theory (where crime arises out of an opportunity with three key ingrediants: a motivated criminal, a suitable target, and a lack of guardian, control or policing – basically what Clapham Junction looked like, with criminals targeting shops selling high-value purchases like phones or branded trainers, and with no police to stop them) and subcultural theory (where youths assume that given the current economic climate it is more profitable to engage in criminal activity than to try and enter mainstream society – where they may be absent from).
But on the question of criminality itself, I would see fit to utilise a theory that dates back a little further.
In Plato’s Republic, on the subject of the Ring of Gyges, Socrates discusses whether a typical person would be moral if he did not have to fear the consequences of his actions. A common example used today is whether one would hand back money if the cash machine they were using pumped out double that was being requested, in full knowledge that they could take the money and run and not be caught.
The problem (or shortfall) of the routine activity theory is that it provides no assumptions on what motivates a criminal, but the assumption I’d be willing to make is most of us would be motivated to commit something considered to be a crime if a) we didn’t fear the consequences (getting caught) and b) we could sufficiently absent the referent in our heads (remove the propensity towards guilt by assuring ourselves that what we’ve stolen is just a drop in the ocean for whoever or whatever faceless unknown owns it).
In this sense it is not just the lower class who are likely to cause acts of criminality, it is anyone who commits a crime they believe they won’t get caught doing – and judging by ad campaigns against crime that’s a lot of us (the advert that comes to mind is the one against illegal downloading which starts by saying “you wouldn’t steal a car” – the assumption being that downloading stuff from the internet does not carry the same amount of fear of consequences or guilt as stealing a car).
This is what made the expenses scandal so worrying – not that MPs were doing wrong (chance will be a fine thing), but that they had removed from their minds the people they were stealing from; us!
Many have been very quick to blame pure criminality, but there is a wider worry at play here, namely we live in a society that doesn’t offer enough to be respected in itself, we live in a society which only tries to disincentivise crime by making us fear the consequences. What stops a larger proportion of society than we’d care to admit from looting constantly in hard times is not full appreciation of right and wrong, but fear of getting caught. And that to me is not a happy society.
In a way society is ill, but not in a way David Cameron fully understands – and to be sure, this notion of pure criminality is a trivial sideshow.
Undeniably one of the major problems for the Left in this country is the art of communicating their ideas to an electorate in disproportionate receipt of briefing by the right wing tabloid media.
However it is not an impossible task. Some of the tricks include simple language, brevity, not appearing humourless (admittedly the Left have not always had their hand on this one) and the non-academicising of bread and butter issues.
The key here is to address noble ideas and beliefs in an appealing manner, not adopt unpalatable ideas in a way which appeases the tabloid press’ devotion to shock, awe and, at the end of the day, sales and profit.
My commitment to these beliefs is the reason why I have a major disagreement with Ed Miliband’s senior advisers.
Miliband has sustained attacks from the BBC, the Guardian (are Toby Helm’s prejudices creeping in?) and implicitly in the leaking of David Miliband’s speech, which he would have given had he won the Labour leadership contest (as Polly Toynbee has put it: “why now?“). To be sure he has to act, but the manner in which he acts is far more important than the symbolisation of doing so.
The Labour leader is reportedly preparing an attack on the “take what you can” culture. This is a jibe at city greed and benefit cheating, both of which certainly aren’t baseless. But what Miliband should not do is draw equivalency of the two.
According to a report by the Department of Work and Pensions in July 2010 benefit fraud costs the Treasury £1.5bn a year, whereas tax dodgers, according to Tax Research UK, cost Britain £123bn a year.
Now of course both are problems, but are by no means at a level pegging.
The way Ed Miliband needs to present these problems is by framing them in avowedly Labour language. He must reinforce a set of common sense proposals (to clamp down on greed; to ensure everyone receives their just deserts) while at the same time challenging, not reinforcing, the prejudices of the right wing tabloid press.
He must send a clear message of commitment to a universal insurance and welfare as a right of citizenry – something that the Tory-led coalition government, with their big society programme, seek to undo.
Owen Jones, in his new book Chavs, points out that much of the New Labour rhetoric was steeped in middle class triumphalism, examples of which could be found in James Purnell’s language about the lazy unemployed. By comparing benefit fraud to tax evasion, tax avoidance and city greed, Ed Miliband would be taking the party back to its New Labour ways, preidcated, as it was, on appeasement of right wing rhetoric.
Lastly, Miliband’s plan to pay homage to Peter Mandelson by saying: “I’m not only relaxed about [the rich] getting rich … I applaud it” is so ill-conceived as to require no further comment at all.
Refound Labour, Peter Hain requests, go forth and change your party the way you want it. Simple. Or perhaps not. The impending cuts will hit home and hard very soon, trade union laws – already the tightest in the EU – are being toughened, Bob Crow won’t sit on his hands and watch it happen and nor, he supposes, will the rest of the TU movement.
Problem solved then; Labour should push to the Left. After all this Tory-led government, the most right wing and reckless for a generation, is stirring a previously untapped militancy in working Britons today. But wait. Ed Miliband has been told by his policy advisers that the British electorate want him to push through a brash agenda focused on “cutting crime, reforming welfare and reducing immigration”.
Surely his advisers wouldn’t deceive him, but yet Ed Miliband stands against New Labour – and this agenda sounds desperately New Labour-esque. Take crime for example. Under Labour crime fell by a third, but worry about crime reached fever pitch. Is Miliband being told to increase worry about crime to appease worry about crime?
Like Miliband noted during a speech given to his old school during the Labour leadership election campaign, we must criticise those arguing for more New Labour in the way they levelled against the social democratic side before; by saying that society has changed and it’s erroneous ignoring it.
Thought must be spared for the support the party lost in the heady days of New Labour, when the coffers were full and the cash cheap. Of the sections of society whose vote went elsewhere throughout New Labour’s governance, one particular grouping seems to stand out – parts of the Christian vote. 50% of voters who identified as Church of England voted Labour in 2001, that dropped to 31% in 2005 and to 25% in 2010. 60% of voters who identified as Catholics voted for Labour in 2001, that dropped to 53% in 2005 and then to 39% in 2010.
Last week I attended the launch of a new think tank – GEER (Gender, Environment, Equality, Race) – where some of these statistics have come from. During it, Grahame Morris, MP for Easington, acknowledged that politicians “can put ethical arguments in public policy”. This admission of his highlights an important point, similar to the statistics on Christian ex-Labour voters – namely ethics has been taken out of public policy in general, and the Labour party specifically, and it is high time for its return.
New Labour was a wholly individualistic affair, set on incorporating the Thatcherite inclination for ruthless self-interest and electoral success through media manipulation over fairness, reasonableness and responsibility. For the party today this should be reversed.
Universal insurance and welfare must be a right of citizenry, and the acknowledgement of our interdependency on each other must again be realised, where neo-liberalism has reduced it to ash.
Labour must show itself to be the party on behalf of the public sector, now that the coalition government has set about its destruction. But it must not stop here. Labour should legislate for a strong degree of employee self-governance to back track away from New Labour bureaucratic centralisation and managerialism.
Injecting ethics – and ethical socialism – back into mainstream Labour party politics might not fit the New Labour narrative, but that narrative is dead; times have changed. Instead, as Grahame Morris has said, ethical arguments have a place in public policy, but it was Labour’s lack of ethics that saw swathes of voters look elsewhere for a narrative to fit them. Ed Miliband can’t ignore that, but he can – and must – ignore what his advisers are reported as saying today if Labour is to survive.
Update: Second from last paragraph updated at 11.45 to read employee self-governance, and not employer self-governance.
a party that brokers a common good, that involves those people who support the EDL within our party. Not dominant in the party, not setting the tone of the party, but just a reconnection with those people that we can represent a better life for them, because that’s what they want.
Firstly I can see what he means. During Labour’s Blairite years (as of yet not entirely shifted), the task was to capture the hearts and minds of Middle England, while taking support and votes from working class communities for granted (not expecting the far right fringe to cause as much fuss as they have).
The “family, faith, flag” mantra of Glasman’s has obviously had some traction with Ed Miliband. In the Sun today can be found an interview with the Labour leader where apparently he declared ‘Red Ed is dead’ “in a bid to dump his left-wing image and win back Sun readers”.
But Glasman’s words are purposefully ambiguous. Are Labour supposed to engage in a battle of rhetoric, repeatedly saying the things that an academic has supposed working class communities want to hear? Or should Labour’s main task be to drop the liberal elitism of old and concentrate on restoring community cohesion in parts of the UK forgotten by metropolitan politicians?
If it’s the latter, and I hope it is, then Labour should have nothing to do with debates set on the EDL’s terms. The party of the working class should be promoting those things which make communities better and safer; creating social spaces where families feel better connected with each other and where mutual trust between all groups be allowed to flourish.
At the moment the EDL is a force that undermines this work. At home it presents itself as a necessary part of the argument on religious extremism. On the streets, their conflation of the moderate, non-violent Islam – that most Muslims in the UK subscribe to – and radicalist elements preached by Anjem Choudary and his small clan of jihadis, cause the very ruptures to society that community cohesion tries to mend.
The Labour party did make a pact with the devil in neglecting its traditional support base, the price of which will be paid for quite some time. But the EDL are no representation of today’s working class communities either.
Some of what Glasman is talking about is rather interesting, but he is in that early stage of influence, trying to capture headlines with bombastic statements. We can ignore a lot of it, and this is one case in point.
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.
Unsurprisingly, the discussion on whether the Left within the Labour Party will reawaken has begun, in spite of Ed Miliband’s “left lurch” denial.
Contrary to what we’ve read in the papers, Miliband’s political direction will not rely on the union leg-up he received, largely because there will be advisors at the ready telling him not to let the tabloids have their cake and eat it too.
A nudge in political direction may occur depend upon who Miliband chooses as shadow chancellor, though it will not be sold as a political direction as such – and rightly so. Rather, the opposition should provide their analysis of the economy as necessary and sensible.
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.
As for a conscious political direction of the party under Ed Miliband, that path should be quite clear; though it will be somewhat disturbed by the right wing press – as I shall now discuss.
Miliband, when combating the “Red Ed” mantra during interviews, has insisted he stands for the centre ground in politics, but furthermore, wants to redefine what that means.
Alex Barker, in the FT, has noted that: “Britain’s new opposition leader [is] calling time on Tony Blair’s New Labour project and promising to “redefine” the political centre ground around reducing income inequality and raising wages for the poor”.
However, what is quite clear to me is that the redefinition of the centre ground has been influenced by the coalition government already.
In my discussion on these pages about the epistemic closure of the Conservative Party, what I have insisted is that today’s Tory administration is certainly no product of it. This, I conclude, is why it was unable to secure a larger proportion of the vote against an unpopular Labour government, because it spent more time alluding to social ills in a way usually the preserve of the left of centre, instead of those tacky things that pass for Conservative themes today; “uncontrolled” immigration, loss of “Christian” values, the relationship between crime and flailing discipline in schools, and the so-called handing of power to foreigners (i.e. the EU).
(Of course the Tories under Cameron did try and touch on this low politics, for example in Glasgow East, but has largely been characterised as a party, economically conservative, while socially liberal – particularly by Peter Hitchens, who recently described him as a smiling, willing prisoner of the Sixties Leftists).
Subsequently, many things usually considered centre left (crime often being linked to poverty, prison as one of many options for reform, the NHS as a good thing, bankers needing extra checks, not extra cheques), are almost universally accepted, even in the Conservative Party cabinet. Therefore, what goes for centre ground today has been shifted.
There are many strings to Miliband’s bow that he may now reconsider, or saturate rhetoric on, so as to counter the Mcarthy-esque media loons, and petit names dreamt up by idiots such as “deficit-denying, union-controlled, u-turning, decision-ducker” (do see also Panorama on Lord Cashpoint tonight). Those strings include salary differentials in the private sector; opposing VAT rises; becoming tough on greedy banker bonuses and what Polly Toynbee last night called boardroom kleptocracy; reforming the way in which a university education is paid for, where soon leading institutions could introduce fees of about £7,000.
Socially, the consensus marks a progressive shift, which defines the political centre as further to left than at any other time where the Tories have been in government. Where the importance really lays is in the economy, where in reflection of George Osborne’s cutting agenda, the moderate centre might depict something akin to the Darling inspired deficit reduction lite. In order to explore anything more radical than both these options – which ought to be preferable – there is no greater of enemy of the opposition leader than the right wing press.
Ed Balls, in a Guardian comment, made note that the Labour Party were defeated in 1983, not only because of a split, but because the argument on the economy was weak. Frankly, the party has returned to this position, only now it is loose talk by the right which could shape how effective Ed Miliband will be as leader of the opposition.
For this reason, and for the sake of the economy, it is my plea to fellow leftists not to dedicate all their time and energy exploring how meek the leadership of Ed Miliband is, but to focus on countering the low argument made by the right.
Tony Blair chose to counter right wing press by appeasing them and becoming rhetorically further to the right than they were. But his politics have come to an end. It is high time Labour took up the proper fight against the right wing media once more.