Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Ed Balls briefing - and why he prefers David Cameron to Nick Clegg

Ed Balls gives his first major newspaper interview as Shadow Chancellor to The Times. The interview (£, Times paywall) with Rachel Sylvester, Alice Thomson and Roland Watson is well worth reading in full.

The Times news report (£) focuses on Balls' charge that both Chancellor George Osborne and Bank of England Governor Mervyn King are being "reckless" in refusing calls to consider a plan B if the recovery falters further.

Mr Balls, in his first newspaper interview since taking on the job, said that growth and consumer confidence were being hampered by the Government’s VAT rise and spending cuts. “The sooner they get out of their denial the better,” he said.

He also took issue with Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, for saying that the Government had set the right course and must stick to it. “The common view of the Chancellor and the Governor that this is necessary, correct and the right course, I think is reckless.”

Mr Balls questioned Mr Osborne’s credibility, saying that he had acted as a politician, not an economist: “He was looking back at 1979 thinking, get your pain in early, get your VAT rise in.” He added: “If you are going to be good at running the economy you have to be cautious. If you celebrate too early, the chickens can come back to roost.”

Balls argues that the improved performance of the US economy - with growth of 0.8 per cent in the final quarter of 2010 - where the policy focus has remained on the need for recovery prior to embarking on deficit reduction suggests that the Osborne-Cameron policy "is flying in the face of both economic logic and international evidence".


With The King's Speech leading the Oscar hopefuls, the extended interview (£) opens with Balls speaking about his own experience of overcoming a stammer, and how he found the film extremely stressful to watch.

It also contains Balls' most detailed comments on his relationship with Ed Miliband, where the Shadow Chancellor is keen to emphasise throughout that there will "not be a cigarette paper" between himself as Shadow Chancellor and Labour leader Ed Miliband, and this is reflected throughout the interview on key issues, such as the Darling plan on deficit reduction.

These are some of the key political features of the interview.

1. On not repeating the Granita pact

Balls does seems to challenge previous reports that there was a formal minute of their meeting before he took up the role following Alan Johnson's decision to resign, indeed suggesting that this would be to repeat the 'Granita pact' mistake of Blair and Brown back in 1994.

“I think we would both agree that the Gordon and Tony agreement on terms was a mistake, so we didn’t do that. I’ve not seen a note. The things we agreed were that this was both what we wanted to do, that I was happy with where we were on the fiscal plan and that we were going to work really closely together.”

2. On not getting the Shadow Chancellor job first time around

Balls tells The Times that he was "surprised" rather than "hurt" not to be offered the job of Shadow Chancellor in the Autumn, but that he "understood" the decision, and that there was no argument about it.

He says that he had a lot more free time as Shadow Home Secretary than he will have now: "It was great to have the job of Shadow Home Secretary. I learnt how to take part on eBay, I downloaded my first album on iTunes, I read the Red Riding Quartet [crime novels] in a week and a half. This is more stressful”.

3. On the future of the 50p tax rate

That includes sticking closely to the Alan Johnson version of the Ed Miliband line on the 50p rate, where Balls' leadership candidacy had supported beginning the rate at £100,000. The current Miliband-Balls line is also currently agnostic on the Ed Miliband argument that it should be a "permanent' feature of the taxation system, noting only that the party has made a decision about supporting the rate for this Parliament. (This keeps open how Labour will respond to George Osborne's plans to offer tax cuts just ahead of the next General Election).

What Ed Miliband and Alan Johnson said, and I have inherited, is that we would definitely have a top rate of tax for all this Parliament . . . I don’t think it’s sensible for people to go around saying as a matter of principle that a higher tax rate is better . . . But you have to find a way to have taxes which are fair.”

4. On supporting aspiration and equality

Balls rejects the claim in Tony Blair's memoir that he is among the intellectual types in the Labour Party who don't "get" aspiration, with Balls noting that his father was the first person in his family to go to university, and that he himself was motivated to try to get to the same college.

Balls says that Labour must demonstrate that it can address both aspiration and concerns about inequality and social cohesion.

“There was sometimes a sense in the Labour Party of old that to do well was not the right and virtuous path, a sort of puritanism. Actually most people want to get on, they’re quite keen for house prices to go up, they want to leave some money to their kids and that’s OK. Tony absolutely got that. But I don’t think any society which wants to be cohesive and fair cannot worry about equality.”

5. On preferring David Cameron to Nick Clegg

In The Times' traditional jokey "quickfire round" of questions at the end of its interviews, Charlie over Lola, and the like - Balls decides that he prefers the Prime Minister to his deputy.

David Cameron or Nick Clegg? David Cameron. At least he knows who he is

(The Times tries to bowl a googly with "Margaret Thatcher or Karl Marx", where Balls chooses Margaret Thatcher, but without comment).

1 comment:

Robert said...

Thatcher to the right, Blair to the right, brown would be left right middle to get elected, but then became a Blairite, Cameron to the right, Ed Miliband is again what ever will get him elected.

We have had a right wing middle of the road government for many years now.

But for god sake do not tell me Labours moving to the left because of course it's not.

It's all about getting elected staying in power for as long as possible then moving off to make your millions. unless of course you have the millions before you start