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Labour abandons Darling’s plan, to focus on growth, not cuts


9:20 am - October 17th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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It turns out Ed Miliband did recruit Alan Johnson as shadow Chancellor to sell his own vision of how the deficit should be dealt with.

The plans, revealed in the Observer today, show that Labour will be closer to Ed Balls’ plans than that by Alistair Darling.

In fact they go even further. There seem to be four strands:

1. A focus on economic growth to cut the deficit rather than cutting spending (which will make the deficit worse).

2. Making bankers pay their fair share of the cuts rather than absolving them of pain, as the Coalition is doing.

3. Stick with a four year deficit reduction plan, but change the cuts-taxes ratio from 66:33 (Darling’s plan) to 50:50 (preferred by Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna).

4. Focus on creating jobs though infrastructure projects.

I’m pleased by all this, especially the change in ratio. Raising the top rate of income tax on earnings over £150,000 a year to 60p had the support of 54% of people in a Comres poll yesterday.

Labour should focus on growth and jobs rather than simply being “tough” with cuts, as Alistair Darling wanted. And the party should also hammer the point that cutting the deficit is not the same as cutting spending; in fact the former would be better achieved through growth and jobs than cuts.

Alan Johnson will say exactly that, the Observer reports, tomorrow:

We are constantly told that there is no alternative to the current economic strategy pursued by the government. But there is another way. A balanced approach. That gets the deficit down, but recognises that growth and jobs are not a sideshow to an economic strategy. They are what it is for. And that approach requires thinking again about the role that capital investment plays and prioritising it.

Without growth, attempts to cut the deficit will be self-defeating. A rising dole queue means a bigger dole bill. And less tax coming in. The Tory plan, for all its Liberal Democrat cheerleaders, is a huge gamble with growth and jobs.

The Observer goes on to add that Wednesday’s cuts will amount to “the biggest public spending retrenchment since David Lloyd George’s programme of cuts in the early 1920s”.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


1. Alison Charlton

Looks like a good approach. Expect many people won’t be able to believe you can reduce deficit through growth – otherwise why aren’t the government doing it? They will be painted as ‘tax and spend’ so ultimately persuading voters will depend on how the coalition’s plan pans out.

I don’t think there is any great surprise here. It will be cast as populist and a shift (lurch?) to the left – but as long as Labour actually say what taxes they would raise and don’t pretend to be able to get all the money of nasty bankers and off-shore funds that myth should be fairly easilly dispelled.

Yep, this is what Britain needs. There’s always two ways to deal with debt – you can free up funds by not doing stuff you would ordinarily have spent them on, or you can make a shedload more money by kicking things up a few gears, do the equivalent of grabbing all the overtime you can & taking extra jobs. The LibCon coalition have committed themselves to the former, because their dogma is for the State to do as little as possible for the people, whereas Labour’s idea is if you want things doing right for the common people, you bring it in-house & manage it yourself, get the State to do what needs to be done instead of just expecting someone to emerge into the vacuum the Tories would sooner leave. This is why in bad economic times, the Conservatives are really the worst thing possible for the economy.

“the party should also hammer the point that cutting the deficit is not the same as cutting spending”

I just hope we can get this across; watching Johnson on Andrew Marr and even reading that Observer article, it seems very hard to get away from the idea that “cutting the deficit” and “promoting growth and spending” are two separate things running in parallel.

5. Duncan Weldon

Looks like an excellent starting.

First thoughts – keeping the 4 yr element is smart politics as it allows us to point to the OBR’s forecast that we would have managed to halve the deficit.

Tax changes welcome, buys us more space to oppose cuts. I assume that means keeping the VAT rise (hopefully whilst earmarking some of the £13bn raised for conmpensation to the worst hit). This should put some distance between us and Osborne on departmental cuts, even if he moves more onto welfare.

Increasing investment is superb (something I’ve argued for for the best part of 18 months). Anf increased investment doesn’t effect the structural deficit, which is welcome.

Let’s see Osborne’s detail on Weds and then respond.

The more we talk of jobs over the next few years the happier I’ll be.

When I read this headline on Politics Home, I assumed that Ed M was abandoning growth, and was going to focus on cutting! You need a comma after Labour abandons Darling’s cuts.

ie. “Labour abandons Darling’s plan, to focus on growth, not cuts”

7. Nicholas Ripley

It would be good if Ed choose to link up with the many other people, particularly across Europe, who are suggested pragmatic and progressive ways, and are critical of the paradigm of ‘deficit equals cuts’. For instance the ‘manifesto of the appalled economists’ sets out a series of challenges, and alternatives solutions to the agenda of cuts, and blame. It is coherent and actionable.

http://rwer.wordpress.com/2010/09/28/sign-manifesto-of-the-appalled-economists/

8. Mike Killingworth

I think the message can be got across. It’s the equivalent of a household spending above its income deciding to increase the latter (e.g. wife goes from part-time to full-time work) rather than cut the former.

The issue is whether the extra work is there for her to do, so to speak. My concern with growth is that it doesn’t translate into jobs in this country – indeed the whole point of signing GATT was to sign away precisely that premise. However neither Labour nor the Coalition want to talk about that.

“Raising the top rate of income tax on earnings over £150,000 a year to 60p”

I’d love to see the analysis that show that this will actually increase revenues.

The Laffer Curve really does exist you know…..

“Making bankers pay their fair share of the cuts rather than absolving them of pain, as the Coalition is doing.”

Erm, the Coalition introduced the bank levy – further than ZaNuLieBore ever did. Hey, I can call them that if you insist on ConDem (which sounds both like Condemn and Condom – how clever of you)

“change the cuts-taxes ratio from 66:33 (Darling’s plan) to 50:50 (preferred by Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna)”

Why didn’t they do this whilst in office?

Are they just saying whatever will get them opinion poll boosts? Of course 54% of people favour bashing the rich. That’s because they don’t mind taxes as long as it’s not them. Go after their child benefit, or their free university paid for by poor taxpayers, and they’ll be up in arms.

There are only so many “rich” people in the UK, you know. If you want a 50:50 ratio, you will need to hammer the middle class. Why not be honest about this rather than just tell the electorate there are no hard choices to be made and they can have everything they want?

@blanco

Your a pathetic libdem tribalist, the bank levy that your lot introduced was a pathetic 0.04% and more than paid for by the 4% cut in corporation tax. So, effectively you didn’t make the banks pay a bloody penny! Instead your making the students, sick & disabled, single mothers and unemployed pay for the bankers greed – how progressive!

“The Laffer Curve really does exist you know…..”

No, it doesn’t, you poor sap, and it’s about time you were disabused of any ideas you had about Santa, the bogey man, the big bad wolf, any of the beasts of Bodmin, Exmoor or Bolsover, the phlogiston, Jack O’Kent, all of the the cryptid faunae, Baal, Legion and Borat, while we’re at it.

Erm, Lenin, you really ought to try and catch up with the economic history of communism you know. Mid to late 20s, with the reversal of the NEP, tax rates on businesses went over 100% of what was being made by those businesses.

End result was that there were no longer private businesses because, well, on tax rates over 100% what’s the point of having a business then?

So, given that a tax rate of 0% raises no revenue then there really is a Laffer Curve, isn’t there?

Well, it looks like New Labour are truly dead. What a relief!

Of course, opposition is easy, but this does look like the coherent alternative many have been calling for.

Now lets see what Little Georgie comes up with.

The Laffer Curve really does exist you know…..

Stop talking about your fantasies Tim Worstall – let’s stick to facts and evidence here. Making a point about 100% tax rates doesn’t make you look particularly clever.

Alison – completely agreed.

Sue – good point, I’ve changed the headline.

Duncan – yes, also agreed. I think keeping to a 4 yr plan was the main nod to Darling. I’m glad they’re abandoning 66:33 and I’m glad about the explicit focus on creating jobs.

Sunny, the Laffer Curve isn’t a “fantasy”, it’s a mathematical certainty. There is a tax rate at which revenues are maximised and that tax rate isn’t 100%.

My oroginal point still stands: I’d love to see the analysis which says that a 60% top tax rate will actually raise more than the current 50% one.

You do, of course, given that you’re in favour of such a new, higher, tax rate, have such an analysis, don’t you?

17. Mike Killingworth

[16] Tim, the point you’re missing is that the set of tax rates which maximises tax income for the government may differ from the set of rates which maximises popular satisfaction with government tax policy.

“!I’d love to see the analysis which says that a 60% top tax rate will actually raise more than the current 50% one.”

Actually first we need to see analysis of what happened/is happening now when it was increased from 40% to 50% – particularly given the same opposition to the raise occurred then.

Similarly what happened 23 years ago when it was reduced from 60% to 40%? Did the revenue raised through higher rate tax go up or down?

The Labout government’s own analysis of the 40 to 50% tax rate was that it was marginal either way as to whether it would in fact raise revenue.

That’s not quite what they said in public of course, but when you get down into hte analysis, to the umms and ahhs, that is what they said.

This is not a victory for a Ballsian approach to the deficit, and it is daft to try and say that it is. Out of points 1 to 4 in your rundown of the policy, only point 3 (a 50:50 mix of cuts to tax rises) was not part of David Miliband’s deficit reduction plan. I think that change is an improvement, and am happy with it. But Balls’ big idea was always abandoning the 4 year timetable, and that has been conspicuously dropped. Honestly, I can’t help but find it amusing that, after all your railing against the four year timetable you would now declare yourself pleased with it, and claim victory.

“The Labout government’s own analysis of the 40 to 50% tax rate was that it was marginal either way as to whether it would in fact raise revenue.”

I’m afraid Tim’s right about this. The rationale for the 50% was more political than economic and the reason why the coalition won’t touch it at least in the short term. AS for polls telling us that a higher rate would be popular, haven’t we been here before? I know how this film ends and I didn’t much care for it then. A 60% rate mean bye bye to southern marginals. I really hope Ed is not stupid enough to do this.

21 Jimmy

So let me get this straight… you’re admitting that the imposition of a 50% tax rate may well raise more money, even if not much. It is also an act which would be undoubtedly popular (except in the nimby SE marginals, which are relatively minor in numbers or importance I would have thought). Lastly of course, it’s morally the right thing to do, as it sends a message that those who can afford it ought to be paying more.

And yet you think Ed shouldn’t touch it with a barge pole..? Interesting, but hardly a progressive or radical point of view.

Galen10,

I don’t say it’s undoubtedly popular. We’ve been misled before. People do not tell pollsters the truth about these things. To my mind there is nothing progressive about losing the next election. They say the definition of insanity is to repeat the same behaviour and expect different results. The last election Labour won outright proposing a top rate higher than 40% was in 1966. You’d think we’d have learnt by now.

60% tax rate – wow – not only has Neil Kinnock got his party back, so has Michael Foot.

Excellent news.

“They say the definition of insanity is to repeat the same behaviour and expect different results”

Another way of defining it could be to pretend it is the mid 90s again and the strategy that worked then is the only strategy that will work now.

I notice that while Osborne demonised benefits cheats as if they were equivalent to serial killers, he has merely suggested deferentially to banks that they might like to, er, reconsider their policies on advising one another and clients how to avoid paying tax.

Two laws in this country run by a two-party coalition, which plainly favours the “successful” rich (who must be spared paying a meaningful amount of tax lest it prompt them to cheat) over poor “losers” (who can barely afford the 20 per cent rate, if they are in work at all).

cjcjc – shame that most of the public support a 60p tax rate eh? I mean why would anyone want to run popular policies in politics?

Soho – actually I’d argue that sticking to a 4 year plan was the only part of the Darling plan that Ed M has kept. The rest – changing the mix and focusing on growth, not cuts, is very much what Ed Ball wanted.

I’m happy with a 4 yr plan as long as the mix is 50:50 and there is more focus on creating jobs. I suspect Ed Balls would be too.

23 Jimmy

Whilst it may be true that people can be economical with the truth when answering polls, I just don’t buy the line that proposing fairer taxes for the rich would ipso facto lead to losing elections.

Anyone earning over £150k (or indeed for that matter over £100k) is relatively wealthy. As long as the whole platform isn’t an extended suicide note pace the Foot years, there is no good reason this idea couldn’t be sold, and indeed be a vote winner.

This is particularly the case if it was twinned with measures to control mental banking practices, clamp down on all those tax loopholes, and point out to all the fellow travellers of the Tories that the amounts to be recouped from that dwarf the amounts supposedly wasted on the undeserving poor.

Yes, the left need to be in power to make a difference – but it’s not worth doing it if you end up being a bunch of crypto-Tories by swallowing the failed neo-liberal models of the past 30 years. There is a progressive, radical agenda out there – it’s a shame Ed isn’t outlining it!

“I notice that while Osborne demonised benefits cheats as if they were equivalent to serial killers, he has merely suggested deferentially to banks that they might like to, er, reconsider their policies on advising one another and clients how to avoid paying tax.”

Of course: “cheating” on benefits is breaking the law. Not just the spirit of the law, but the letter of it.

Tax “avoidance” is obeying the letter of the law. Tax “evasion” is breaking said law.

Of course the instructions are going to be different to the two groups: “Oi, you, stop breaking the law or we’ll throw the book at you” to one group and “Chaps, would you mind awfully not obeying the law so precisely” to the other.

You do understand the difference between, say, not working that 17 th hour in a week so as to claim your disability benefit and inventing some fictitious set of children to claim child benefit and tax credits for? The difference between organising your affairs so as to legally minimise your tax bill and not paying the tax which is legally due?

Yes?

Or should we start jailing those who refuse to work that 17th hour so as to keep their disability benefits?

Sunny, the Laffer Curve isn’t a “fantasy”, it’s a mathematical certainty. There is a tax rate at which revenues are maximised and that tax rate isn’t 100%.

Yeah, when you find out at which point it exists then let us know. Just saying it’s true at 100% or 0% doesn’t make a coherent argument.

OK: would John Maynard Keynes be a great enough authority on the point?

” When, on the contrary, I show, a little elaborately, as in the ensuing chapter, that to create wealth will increase the national income and that a large proportion of any increase in the national income will accrue to an Exchequer, amongst whose largest outgoings is the payment of incomes to those who are unemployed and whose receipts are a proportion of the incomes of those who are occupied…

Nor should the argument seem strange that taxation may be so high as to defeat its object, and that, given sufficient time to gather the fruits, a reduction of taxation will run a better chance than an increase of balancing the budget. For to take the opposite view today is to resemble a manufacturer who, running at a loss, decides to raise his price, and when his declining sales increase the loss, wrapping himself in the rectitude of plain arithmetic, decides that prudence requires him to raise the price still more–and who, when at last his account is balanced with nought on both sides, is still found righteously declaring that it would have been the act of a gambler to reduce the price when you were already making a loss.2″

John Maynard Keynes, The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes (London: Macmillan, Cambridge University Press, 1972).

Happy?

@Sunny:

“Soho – actually I’d argue that sticking to a 4 year plan was the only part of the Darling plan that Ed M has kept. The rest – changing the mix and focusing on growth, not cuts, is very much what Ed Ball wanted.”

Perhaps, but I was contrasting David Miliband’s plan – the one Johnson, and the majority of MPs, voted for. This plan already emphasised a strategy for growth, growth through infrastructure, building projects, etc., and increasing the contributions of banks. Indeed, of those ideas, only the first – growing out of the deficit – was also emphasised by Balls. Obviously, Balls’ most distinctive move was to nail his mast to the removal of the 4-year target. This is not Balls’ plan. It is almost David Miliband’s, however.

“I just don’t buy the line that proposing fairer taxes for the rich would ipso facto lead to losing elections.”

Given that hitherto it invariably has, this sounds like wishful thinking on your part.

“As long as the whole platform isn’t an extended suicide note pace the Foot years, there is no good reason this idea couldn’t be sold, and indeed be a vote winner.”

You don’t need to go back to Foot. In 1992 we proposed moving the top rate from 40 to 50. It killed us. It’s not simply a question of the effect on the relatively small numbers in the top bracket, but the effect on everyone whose ambition is to reach that bracket, and also feeding into the more general perception of Labour as high tax and high spending.

We also need to consider where we will be in 2015. The coalition will have implemented heavy cuts in the public sector but will go into the next election having loosened the purse strings for the last budget, saying the pain has been worth it in the sunny uplands are before us. We need an answer to that narrative. This isn’t it. Not by a long chalk.

@Planeshift,

“the strategy that worked then”

Well I’m relieved that at least one person here noticed that. I was beginning to wonder.

Soho: . Obviously, Balls’ most distinctive move was to nail his mast to the removal of the 4-year target. This is not Balls’ plan. It is almost David Miliband’s, however.

I don’t want to argue over semantics since I like the above plan. But Balls argued for that because he said 66% cuts over a 4 year period were too harsh and too deep. Now Labour is arguing for 50% cuts over 4 years, so it would suggest to me that they listened to the point Ed Balls and many on the left were making.

Hell, if they had a 25:75 plan to cut the deficit by half in 2 years time I’d buy it because it basically amounts to the same.

Jimmy: In 1992 we proposed moving the top rate from 40 to 50. It killed us.

I think lots of other things also contributed to that, but it’s also true that the public now is much more open to tax rises at the top (150k +) than then. Attitudes change.

The coalition will have implemented heavy cuts in the public sector but will go into the next election having loosened the purse strings for the last budget, saying the pain has been worth it in the sunny uplands are before us

This is a distinct possibility, and it needs to be dealt with – you’re right about that. Though it’s still debateable whether the economy will recover enough by then to make it electorally easier for them.

Well the interesting question is where Lab will say those taxes should be raised.

Since the 50% won’t raise much

http://money.uk.msn.com/news/money-news/articles.aspx?cp-documentid=154732913

nor will the higher rate.

What’s the answer?

Well Burnham was in favour of Land Value Tax, so that’s one. A financial transactions tax would probably go down well (even if a stupid thing to do).

Of course there is another way of increasing the tax take without increasing the spending burden – if only there was a way of instantly adding 1 million young single adults to the workforce without subsequently having to pay them any benefits via implementing a ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule.

cjcjc – I remember right-wingers were saying the same about the tax on bankers bonuses. Not only did the predicted exodus not happen, but the tax raised 4 times as much as the predicted £500m.

So thanks for your predictions, but I remain sceptical of them.

Versus Cable’s forecast I think you mean!

Brilliant point miss there though.

Even on an optimistic view there’s a lot more tax will need to be raised than that.
It will be interesting to see what he suggests.

The other option on personal taxation, which avoids any uncertainty about whether a 60% tax rate would increase revenues or not, is to move the thresholds for the current rates of tax.

Personally, now that talk about the ‘top 15%’ etc has become so mainstream, I’d be inclined to peg tax thresholds to certain percentiles in the income distribution – so that the 40p rate was transparently and specifically targeted at (say) the top 20% of earners and the 50p rate at (say) the top 1%.

That would mean the 40p rate starting somewhere just below £40,000 – which I think is about where it’ll end up anyway as it’s moved down to compensate for the tax-free threshold rising under the Lib Dem policy – and the 50p rate starting maybe just below £100,000.

I think that would send out a strong signal on ‘fairness’ and who counts as having ‘broader shoulders’ than the rest of the population.

“Personally, now that talk about the ‘top 15%’ etc has become so mainstream, I’d be inclined to peg tax thresholds to certain percentiles in the income distribution – so that the 40p rate was transparently and specifically targeted at (say) the top 20% of earners and the 50p rate at (say) the top 1%.”

Leave aside the actual tax rates you’re proposing and yes, I quite like the idea. We’ll set in stone what portion of the population are “rich”, “middle” and “regular” for tax purposes.

However, there’s a reason why no Chancellor would ever do such a dman fool thing. That reason is “fiscal drag”.

Wages, over time (no, not in every year, but over time) rise faster than inflation. In facft, real wages roughly double over a generation, quadruple over a lifetime. That’s the effect of a 1-2% increase in real wages each year when you add in the compounding.

Tax brackets, however, are not (I don’t think they ever have been but there might have been a year or two) raised along with real wages. They are raised, if they are raised at all, at the general inflation rate. So, over the decades, more and more people come into the tax net: more and more are captured in the higher tax rate.

It’s really not all that long ago, certainly in my lifetime (although probably not my working lifetime) that someone on average earnigs was only just starting to pay income tax at all. Higher rate income tax was something for the upper middle income earners and above, the professions etc.

Now? Someone on average earnings (what, £22k a year or so for full time work?) is paying income tax on £15k of that, and a policeman or nurse with a lot of overtime are paying higher rate income tax.

That’s fiscal drag, that’s the effect of raising the tax thresholds with inflation, not with rises in earnings.

Absolutely no Chancellor is going to give up this lovely way of increasing the tax take without anyone noticing.

33 Jimmy

Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but I don’t believe voters make their minds up on the basis of one policy. There is nothing inherently ridiculous in the concept that proposing that the richest few % of the population should pay more tax could, as part of a more progressive platform, be sold to prospective voters. Of course I would hardly expect New Labour, or those who share it’s values to agree.

As to the 1992 experience, sorry… that’s just plain wrong. I’ve NEVER heard anyone say the reason they didn’t vote Labour was they intended to increase taxes on those earning 3 or 4 times the average salary. Perhaps you just move in different circles?

I’m not saying the answer to the Coalition’s narrative (whatever it will be in 2015 if they last that long!) is a return to pre-1992 tax and spend. What I’m saying is that the answer isn’t what we’re getting from the coalition, nor is it a Newer Labour pale imitation of what the Coalition are doing anyway, still less a throwback to the heady days of New Labour.

Taxing those who can well afford it is only one aspect, and can’t be seen in isolation. Buying into the “there is no alternative, or the sky is going to fall” narrative doesn’t necessarily make you look wise, just spineless.

Tim W

It’s a good point; I hadn’t reckoned on fiscal drag. Still – we only need to find some other sneaky way of increasing the tax take incrementally year on year. Chancellors are good at that.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Labour abandons Darling's plan to focus on growth, not cuts http://bit.ly/cAlxKC

  2. sunny hundal

    As expected, Ed Miliband is sticking to his own plans on cutting deficit, not those by Darling http://bit.ly/cAlxKC

  3. sciamachy

    @UKLabour's plan for the economy: Growth rather than cuts. There is an alternative! http://bit.ly/cAlxKC

  4. Angela Pateman

    RT @sunny_hundal: As expected, Ed Miliband is sticking to his own plans on cutting deficit, not those by Darling http://bit.ly/cAlxKC

  5. Alison Charlton

    RT @libcon: Labour abandons Darling's plan to focus on growth, not cuts http://bit.ly/cAlxKC

  6. Rosie Downes

    RT @sunny_hundal: As expected, Ed Miliband is sticking to his own plans on cutting deficit, not those by Darling http://bit.ly/cAlxKC

  7. Melissa Nicole Harry

    RT @libcon: Labour abandons Darling's plan to focus on growth, not cuts http://bit.ly/cAlxKC

  8. Toni

    RT @sunny_hundal: As expected, Ed Miliband is sticking to his own plans on cutting deficit, not those by Darling http://bit.ly/cAlxKC

  9. safefromwolves

    RT @sunny_hundal: As expected, Ed Miliband is sticking to his own plans on cutting deficit, not those by Darling http://bit.ly/cAlxKC

  10. P. S. Wong

    RT @libcon: Labour abandons Darling's plan to focus on growth, not cuts http://bit.ly/cAlxKC

  11. Naadir Jeewa

    Reading: Labour abandons Darling’s plan to focus on growth, not cuts: It turns out Ed Miliband did recruit Alan Jo… http://bit.ly/cIYhTP

  12. Niall Millar

    RT: @libcon: Labour abandons Darling's plan to focus on growth, not cuts http://bit.ly/cAlxKC

  13. Alice Hood

    RT @libcon: Labour abandons Darling's plan to focus on growth, not cuts http://bit.ly/cAlxKC

  14. nobleaccounting

    Labour abandons Darling's plan to focus on growth, not cuts … http://bit.ly/bfy7f3

  15. newleader

    http://www.edballs.tk RT @AndyBurge @sunny_hundal http://bit.ly/bwBpko thank god you economy wreckers aren't in power to implement Balls luna…

  16. Matthew Teller

    @nikkibayley Along with everyone from George Galloway http://t.co/xaRT6HrN to Alan Johnson http://t.co/s2UXOYyP





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