So what did Ed Balls actually mean?

Ed Balls statements about accepting Tory cuts has certainly caused a bit of controversy. We commented on it yesterday and were naturally ahead of the game. Tee hee. The New Statesman have run this excellent article by Owen Jones today and Liberal Conspiracy have run this today. I have pasted the Lib Conspiracy article below and added my comments in italics. Suffice it to say I don’t remotely agree with what Richard Murphy is saying.

What did Ed Balls really mean on the deficit?

by Richard Murphy   

January 15, 2012 at 11:44 am

I am disappointed as the next Keynesian if Ed Balls said yesterday morning that he supports the Tories’ cuts.

He said he wouldn’t reverse them. It isn’t support, but it may as well be……..

He hasn’t, at least as far as I can tell. He has said:

“My starting point is, I am afraid, we are going to have keep all these cuts. There is a big squeeze happening on budgets across the piece. The squeeze on defence spending, for instance, is £15bn by 2015. We are going to have to start from that being the baseline. At this stage, we can make no commitments to reverse any of that, on spending or on tax. So I am being absolutely clear about that.”

To suggest that isn’t support is just semantics. I pasted various statements that Balls has just made on the Mambo yesterday to highlight that this was a definite and deliberate choice of strategy and change of approach. Saying that there will be “no commitments to reverse any of that, on spending or on tax” is a pretty unambiguous statement of direction of travel. I’m sorry, but how is it possible to interpret that in any other way than I or Owen Jones have? (And yes, I am bracketing myself with the great man Owen……)

The Tories are now crowing because they think they have been vindicated. They are probably right……..

This is not endorsement. This is about saying he has no choice on this matter: in opposition he can’t stop the Tories cutting and as a result the start point for a Labour government will be that these cuts have happened and there’s no point pretending now that won’t have happened: it will.

He has a choice in the matter. He could say that he will reverse them and come up with strategies for doing so. A good example; Andy Burnham has stated that if Labour get back into office at the next election then they will reverse the Tories NHS policies. I don’t believe him for a second but if he can do that then why can’t Balls? He has chosen to gone along with the cuts. He could say that taxes will rise on the rich to pay them off. He could outline a growth strategy. He hasn’t done any of that. If he hasn’t endorsed the cuts and the Tories are wrong then why aren’t the shadow cabinet going on an all-out offensive, condemning the misrepresentation and trying to get what he actually said out there in the public domain? Why did Ed Miliband endorse the comments this morning? Maybe because he actually said that…….  

And what’s he’s also saying is that right now there is no way of predicting what Labour will make priorities for change come the time of the next election, so he won’t.

I think he should be outlining his priorities and he should stop playing stupid short-term political games. Short term opinion poll ratings and getting a few favourable headlines in the Daily Mail and Telegraph about ‘credibility,’ ‘maturity’ and ‘returing to the fold’ should not be considerations for social democratic politicians.

I’d be saying that too if I had his job. Not that it would make it a lot of fun.

In fact quite the opposite. Balls will get a lot of stick in the short-term from the Tories and many in the party but in fact it is the coward’s way out.  

And I also have to say, his focus on jobs is right, although forcing real pay cuts on the state sector is not sustainable forever – and he must know it. But jobs have to come first. That’s essential to the recovery – and for the people of this country.

Why not both? Why this false dichotomy? Why are we making ordinary people pay when the solution is staring us in the face? Or are we so in thrall to Thatcherite economic reality that we just have to play by their rules, all the fucking time? We can jobs and equitable pay settlements!

Now, when is he going to talk the tax gap? Because that’s not a spending commitment, that’s a revenue commitment and that’s something quite different?


PS And if Ed Balls doesn’t mean what I think he means then my opinion changes. So I’m hoping I’m right.

Sadly you’re wrong. He did mean that, and that’s why this is so depressing.

There are many in the left-wing media trying to portray this as nothing of significance, when in fact it is an abject political capitulation, and a complete betrayal of all the people up and down the country who are opposing the Tories austerity agenda. Firstly, he can oppose the cuts even though he might not be able to stop them. (But in any case surely this government does respond to pressure if it is applied strongly enough?) Or are we supposed to give up fighting and just wait for a malevolent Labour government to get re-elected and then make it ok again?

The second thing a Labour shadow chancellor can do is argue that the government’s policies are irrational and immoral, outline a progressive alternative and then commit to restoring the damage done to our social fabric by this government. Making the headlines ‘Labour accepts the cuts’ is just barmy if you intend to build support around challenging them to get back into office. If that wasn’t the intent, and I can see no evidence to suggest it wasn’t, then are we saying that Balls, one of the most formidable operators in British politics, couldn’t see what would ensue when he said this and what spin the Tories and their rottweilers in the media would put on it?

As I said yesterday, Balls wound the government up because he was hurting them. He simply won’t be able to do that anymore as every time they will throw these comments back at him. Of course, there are many on the Labour front benches who will be perfectly happy with that state of affairs.

And if Richard Murphy is right, maybe he would like to explain this that has just appeared in the Daily Mail? Or are all of those people completely wrong too?

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