Three things we learnt about Ed Balls from his New Statesman interview that he probably didn’t intend

by Atul Hatwal

Yesterday, George Eaton landed one of the most revealing interviews with a front rank Labour politician of the past few years.

The topline might have been about Ed Balls’ acceptance that he could work with Nick Clegg, but the broader content of the interview was actually far more interesting. Here are three things we now know about Ed Balls,

1. The relationship with Ed Miliband is as dysfunctional as suspected

One of the most revealing passages of the interview is when George asks whether Ed Miliband has guaranteed Balls will be shadow chancellor in 2015. The response is priceless,

“I’ve never had that conversation with him.”

Think about that for a moment. Despite the constant stream of articles discussing the potential for Ed Miliband to replace Ed Balls, and the endless tea room chatter in the Commons, neither man has felt able to address the elephant in the room in their discussions.

In any normal workplace, the union or staff representatives would demand some clarity if an employee’s position had been subject to so much public speculation.

But it’s not normal, it’s Westminster.

With an election rapidly approaching, Ed Balls would not be human if he did not wonder if he was still going to be in post over the coming months. As both Eds’ know from their time advising Gordon Brown in opposition, the effort involved for a shadow chancellor to prepare for an election, is enormous. It requires hard work, commitment and the full faith of the leader.

As a result of yesterday’s interview, we know that Ed Balls does not feel confident enough to ask for this backing and Ed Miliband is unwilling to give it voluntarily.

Labour’s shadow chancellor is essentially on a zero-hours contract.

2.       Ed Balls has shifted on spending cuts and is now a hawk

The Labour line has always been that the government’s approach to deficit reduction was beyond the pale. “Too far, too fast,” was the phrase in virtually every press release from 2010 through to 2012. For Ed Balls, even the spending reduction path set out before the last election by Alistair Darling was too aggressive. In 2010 he said,

“In government at the time in 2009 I always accepted collective responsibility, but at the time in 2009 I thought the pace of deficit reduction through spending cuts was not deliverable, I didn’t think it could have been done.”

But now, it’s all different.

“I understand totally why Nick Clegg made the decision that he made to go into coalition with the Conservatives at the time. I may not have liked it at the time, but I understood it. I also understood totally his decision to support a credible [emphasis added] deficit reduction plan, because it was necessary in 2010. I think the decision to accelerate deficit reduction, compared to the plans they inherited – which was clearly not what Vince Cable wanted – I think that was a mistake.”

Unlike 2010, Ed Balls now seems to accept that the Darling plan was the right plan. In yesterday’s interview, the cuts which in 2010 were “not deliverable,” had suddenly become “credible.”

For Ed Balls, the emphasis has shifted from warning of the dangers of reducing spending to actively embracing the need for cuts.

It looks like the impending round of budget negotiations between Balls and his shadow cabinet colleagues is going to be tougher than some had envisaged.

3. Ed Balls doesn’t buy Andy Burnham’s big idea about whole person care

Andy Burnham’s defining vision for health is something called “whole person care.” In practice it means pooling central government health budgets with local authority social care budgets to offer a joined-up approach to looking after our elderly. It makes eminent sense but carries with it a big uncosted price tag.

When asked whether Labour would protect health spending, Ed Balls’ response was,

“I always think in politics revealed preferences are a very powerful indicator of future actions and, at every stage, Labour has ring-fenced and supported ring-fences for the National Health Service. I would be staggered if we are anywhere other than wanting to ring-fence the NHS going forward in 2015-16 and in the future.”

No hint to prepare the way for a fundamental revision of how the exchequer funds health services. No mention there about the new finance structures required for whole person care or any suggestion of the pooled budgets that would be needed.

Instead, the clear emphasis was on the NHS. This is not a shadow chancellor thinking outside of the healthcare box. In Ed Balls’ world view, the NHS – not some new integrated system – remains the centrepiece of Labour’s health offer.

Overall, the interview gives heart to those who yearn for a more fiscally prudent approach from Labour which addresses public concern on the party’s spending habits. But this also means the budget negotiations with the shadow cabinet, as part of the zero based spending review, are going to be painful.

In this context, the less than fulsome support offered to the shadow chancellor by the leader is worrying.

Its inevitable that members of the shadow cabinet are going to kick back as cuts are imposed on their budgets by Ed Balls. How Ed Miliband reacts when the calls start coming into his office from aggrieved shadow secretaries and stories start appearing in the newspapers will be critical.

If the two Eds’ aren’t united, the whole process could easily unravel in a very public mess.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut


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14 Responses to “Three things we learnt about Ed Balls from his New Statesman interview that he probably didn’t intend”

  1. uglyfatbloke says:

    Trouble is, as long as Ed Balls is shadow chancellor there will always be problem with economic credibility. There must be better candidates in the PLP and if there’s not it says something very sad indeed about the quality of our MPs.

  2. Red Rag says:

    Dan Hodges beware, there is another blogger parking his tank on your common.

  3. Madasafish says:

    Hmm

    I don’t really know how to respond to this article.

    Clearly it is pleasing to see Ed Balls recognising economic reality.
    Clearly it is worrying it has taken nearly 10 years to get to this stage and it has been obvious – like in your face obvious -since 2008.

    Given that Ed Miliband has depended upon Ed Balls for economic policy – and it is clear it has been a complete fiasco – I would be looking for a new Shadow Chancellor.

    Given the closeness of the next Election, Ed Miliband would not be looking foe a new Chancellor – stability and credibility being paramount.

    I fail to see how Mr Balls cabinet colleagues can have any respect for a Chancellor who has been proven wrong for so long. The temptation must be to think “well what do you know? Balls has been wrong for so long, he may very well be wrong again”

    A Chancellor has to have some credibility and respect…Balls cannot score than zero 0 out of 5 for credibility and as for respect? Bullying, lying, master of undermining colleagues.. choose your score. If it’s in excess of 1 it’s likely over-rated.

    I would suggest the chances of a debacle are high – especially when things get tough… which they will if Balls comments on the economic recovery and its strength are to be believed (!..:-)

    Apologies for my robust scepticism.. I sense a slow train wreck. But my comments are based on what has happened and is in the public domain. If Balls had been a football manager or a Finance Director , this debate would not be happening: he would have been fired this year.

  4. bob says:

    Balls needs to remember Miliband is his line manager, not his employer, that’s the electorates job and he is in a poor position in terms of his majority, or a different analogy is the football manager getting the dreaded vote of confidence from the chairman.

    Balls is inept as a shadow chancellor, lacks perspective and is driven by hate not pragmatism. Darling would give Osborne a far harder job because Balls is a creature of Brown and the electorate will have that re-inforced by all side in 2015.

  5. Robert says:

    The differences between Darling and Balls on deficit reduction were minor. They both believed that Osborne’s plan to eliminate the deficit in one Parliament was unrealistic and they were right.

  6. paul barker says:

    To shift the metaphor, I see Labour as a large, unwieldy ship heading towards the rocks. Theres “Mutiny from Stem to Stern” & the response of Labour moderates seems to be hand-wringing & paralysis.
    My advice is “Man the Lifeboats!”

  7. QuinQue says:

    3 other things we’ve learnt about Ed Balls

    1: He shouldn’t be anywhere near the Labour front bench

    2: He Doesn’t think Ed Miliband can win an overall majority (hence the Clegg praise)

    3: He has yet to realise that there is a bloody good chance that Nick Clegg wont have a seat come 2015, and that he might just join Clegg on the unemployment line.

  8. Helen says:

    The two Eds are letting down all the Labour supporters if they allow this tension between them to go unresolved. Is there no collective decision making within the party mechanisms. Same old male adversarial politics, so destructive. Why not put the interest of the people poor and rich first with compromise and consensus. The NHS is destroyed by the politicians, right and left. Regular reorganisations, with the massive redundancy costs, destabilising the service and demoralising the staff. When has a reorganisation improved the NHS?

  9. Tafia says:

    Ed Milliband currently presents as ‘weak’. The public will vote for a strong bad leader before they will vote for a weak good one – always have done, always will.

    ED M has got one chance to win in 2015. By the time of the party conferences later this summer, he must clear out everybody he does not want – and very very publicly no matter how messy, and instil his own people. Byt the time of the 2014 Cionference, the Shadow Cabinet needs to be all his people and all singing his song without deviance.

    Otherwise you are looking at another 5 years of Cameron (incidentally, I reckon 2015 will see a Tory government with a working majority – and it’s lack of a nasty streak in Ed that is a big cause of that.)

  10. I happen to think that Ed Balls was right in his macro-economic analysis, the fact that ‘the economy’ is now growing (or at least GDP is rising) does not discredit Balls or any of the other Keynesian economists. (see Mainly Macro blog for detail http://mainlymacro.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/what-shall-we-tell-our-students.html).

    But I absolutely agree with the closing line by Atul “If the two Eds’ aren’t united, the whole process could easily unravel in a very public mess.” and the subsequent comment by Helen above.

    Ed Balls may have been right on the economics but he has essentially lost the public argument. The majority of people (the media included) seem to take everything that Osborne says at face value and ignore the salient facts. The Labour front bench must however take collective respnosibility for this. Unless the two Ed’s can work together they won’t recover the ground lost to the Tories on the economy > see this article by David Blanchflower for a more robust argument on the same lines. http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/09/osborne-won-battle-austerity-now-labour-must-look-future

    As I said I quite like Ed Balls, but I don’t know many that do. When he was on the TV news the other day my wife said simply “I don’t ilke him” when I asked why, she said “I don’t trust him”. But as others have said, is it too late for a change? If he goes that surely undermines any credibility that the front bench has? Ed M has made hime shadow chancellor so he has to stick with him. But becoming more hawkish on public spending for political expediency may backfire on them both.

  11. Ex_labour says:

    @ Robin Thorpe

    Anyone who quotes David Blanchflower is not credible. His predicitions on the economy, unemployment etc have been wildly wrong and he finally admitted this recently. Why should anyone take him and his malign attitude seriously ?

  12. Robin Thorpe says:

    @ex-labour;
    I presume you mean this article http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/my-big-mistake-of-2013-i-didnt-spot-the-pickup-in–consumer-confidence-yet-osborne-is-not-vindicated-9039978.html

    if you actually read the article Blanchflower explains that his mistake was not predicting the upturn in 2013, but that’s because he didn’t forsee the help-to-buy crackpot scheme. Orthodox macro-economic still holds and Osborne is still to blame for extending the recession and for the loss to the economy of 5% of GDP.
    I think I’ll continue to put my trust in an internationally respected economist

  13. uglyfatbloke says:

    Is it worth remembering that the Keynesian approach did not actually work in the late 30s? it was WW2 that saved the US economy. By 1940 the US had run out of money and was on the verge of an economic disaster. Lease-lend saved the day by giving the US government the opportunity to use the massive raft of British assets in the US (effectively nationalising them in fact) as security.

  14. swatantra says:

    So the penny has finally dropped; tough times call for tough measures. Only wish somebody would drop Balls.

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