Why the Labour left should welcome Ed Balls’ appointment


by Owen Jones    
6:59 pm - January 20th 2011

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Alan Johnson was put in charge of Labour’s economic strategy for two reasons. The first was for fairly gimmicky purposes. It was taken as read by the media that Ed Miliband would appoint Ed Balls or – on an outside chance – Yvette Cooper.

By not doing so, he won plaudits from right-media commentators as a leader with the capacity to ‘surprise’.

But the second reason was more important: it was to placate the still-powerful Blairite faction within the Labour Party who were incandescent that their man, David Miliband, had his supposedly rightful place on the throne usurped by his cocky younger brother.

Ed Miliband had won the leadership race fair-and-square by a healthy margin of votes, but the Blairites believed that his election was illegitimate because he owed his victory to trade union members. Blairites have even hinted that the Party should depose of the section of the electoral college that is most representative of Labour’s base and – for that matter – the public at large.

The key issue wasn’t competence for me, however. The Blairite faction have been pushing for Labour to accept the Tory cuts agenda, but to just quibble on details and timing.

Their political godfather, Tony Blair, effectively endorsed the Government’s economic strategy in its entirety in his memoirs. Under Johnson, the Labour leadership has effectively accepted the Tories’ underlying logic, but with the added caveat that it is being pushed too far and too quickly.

Labour’s hard right is in retreat: the likes of John Hutton and Alan Milburn have thrown the towel in altogether in favour of advising the Tories. Alan Johnson’s resignation has weakened them further, and they will be feeling rather demoralised this evening.

Ed Balls offers the promise, at least, of a different course. In a key speech he made during the leadership contest, he moved towards rejecting the logic of the cuts agenda in favour of a growth strategy. I don’t expect him, as things stand, to present a coherent alternative to the Tory onslaught, but he will be more amenable to pressure from below to do so.

What the Labour left needs to do now is get its act together and start pushing for that alternative. Despite the efforts of the likes of the Left Economics Advisory Panel, it has been a long time indeed since the Labour left has had anything like a detailed economic programme on offer. There is now the biggest potential opening for these ideas that there has been since the Blairite take-over of the Labour Party in 1994.

The Tories are currently using deficit hysteria to brush off the file entitled ‘Tory Right Wet Dreams That Are Politically Impossible In Normal Circumstances’. The danger remains that, without genuine opposition, they will establish a new political consensus.

Today’s resignation of Alan Johnson has undermined that project: we’ll see in the coming months by just how much.

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A longer version is over at Owen’s blog

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About the author
Owen Jones is author of ‘Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class’, to be published by Verso in May 2011. He blogs here and tweets here.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Labour party ,Westminster


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Reader comments


“The Blairite faction have been pushing for Labour to accept the Tory cuts agenda, but to just quibble on details and timing.”

That is why Johnson was a strange choice for me. New Labour has had it’s day. The public does not want anymore tory lite. They already have the Lie Dems .

New labour people should STFU now.

“The Blairite faction have been pushing for Labour to accept the Tory cuts agenda, but to just quibble on details and timing.”

This standard line continues to make no sense to me. The Tories also have a ‘tax rises agenda’; is it mere ‘quibbling on details’ to argue that they’re raising the wrong taxes at the wrong time, and not raising taxes overall by enough? Of course not. So why is it mere ‘quibbling on details’ to argue that they’re cutting the wrong spending at the wrong time, and cutting spending overall by too much?

3. astateofdenmark

Bit tasteless publishing this before full facts are out, especially if rumours doing rounds right now are true. But then the Brown/Balls faction have never been known for tact, compassion and selflessness.

Whilst I can never envisage myself welcoming Ed Balls into anything, this is a great piece and how lovely it is to see you gracing our pages x

Thank God for that.

Anybody remember Chris Dillow’s post here a while back telling us all what a great choice Johnson was and how we shouldn’t concern ourselves with the fact that he wasn’t an economist and didn’t really know anything about the economy. Apparently you don’t need to be an expert just have the common touch and the ability to spin a bit of folksy wisdom that resonates amongst the population, who are too thick to really notice anyway.

Well it didn’t quite work out that way. Johnson was a lightweight and boy did it show. Balls may have zero charisma and a terrifyingly intense stare but he’s smart, articulate and aggressive. That is exactly what we need right now.

Can we expect to see Labour returning to its Alternative Economic Strategy of the 1980s? I think it highly unlikely. If so they’re doomed.

7. scandalousbill

If Balls appointment means a shift toward a more positive growth oriented critique of Tory led coalition policy, it should be a favourable change. However, give AJ his dues. He did have a strong capability to highlight the impacts of Tory policies on people’s lives. If Balls can carry on this approach and focus it with his economic knowledge and Treasury experience, Labour could clearly take things up a notch. Osbourneomiocs are abysmal, they simply placate the old school elites and we could have a real opportunity to demonstrate this weakness.

“Why the Labour left should welcome Ed Balls’ appointment”

or

“Why anyone who wants Labour to win the next election should be afraid over Ed Balls’ appointment”

Ed Balls will be able to say that under the Tories, average house prices have been falling but with New Labour in government, house prices went up and up.

Houses ‘are less affordable’ than 50 years ago [20 January 2010]
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8468605.stm

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Labour Party named Ed Balls as its Shadow Chancellor Thursday, a combative figure who is expected to give the Conservative-led coalition a rougher ride on the economy [20 January2011]
http://news.google.co.uk/news/more?pz=1&cf=all&ned=uk&ncl=dmNMA-O5Y7mCYkM2fvgAI__GZKvFM&topic=h

Balls carves out his route to top job [19 May 2008]
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/452a482a-2524-11dd-a14a-000077b07658.html#axzz1Bc919ymo

Ed Balls ‘ran’ Labour’s smear unit [19 April 2009]
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6122756.ece

Floating voter who comes from the tradition of Speak truth unto power

Hopefully he will rattle a few cages. And that is what is needed at the moment with the Lie Dems, prostrate on the ground with their eyes wide open, staring at the stars.

Watching Balls shed crocodile tears over Johnson’s demise made my skin crawl, especially when it is known he was behind the briefing over Johnson’s affair.

Hopefully, when this is all out in the open, we will be looking for yet another Shadow Chancellor.

Wakey wakey Owen Jones.

It was Gordon Brown not Tony Blair that lost the 2010 election. Ed Balls may be the most appropriate Shadow Chancellor for the current situation, but a return to the economics of Labour’s hard left will result in years out of office, again.

Alan Johnson – a good man. We need more people like him in the party.

IMO Ed Ball’s credibility on the best options for economic policy in current cicumstances is about as good as the advice of Nigel Lawson – in other words, not much.

“Housebuilding fell to its lowest level for more than 60 years in 2009 – with just 118,000 new homes completed, according to government figures. The number is the lowest since 1946, when official records began and represents a 17 per cent drop on the number completed in 2008.”
http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/construction_and_property/article7032641.ece

But since it’s unlikely that we’ll have another general election for four years or so, there’s time enough to change shadow cabinet appointments several times over.

“Ed Balls offers the promise, at least, of a different course. In a key speech he made during the leadership contest, he moved towards rejecting the logic of the cuts agenda in favour of a growth strategy.”

Well Ed and logic don’t get along very well so that’s no great surprise.

On the whole I’m sad to see Johnson go, he may not have been perfect but if Ed “slimy things did crawl with legs Upon a slimy sea” Balls is his replacement then this is a turn for the worse.

@10

“especially when it is known he was behind the briefing over Johnson’s affair. ”

LOL – according to that most reputable of sources Guido “Paul Staines” Fawkes you mean?

@13

Of course you prefered Johnson, you’re a right-winger. Balls is going to tear your pathetic Osborne to shreds.

Oh please, who with half a brain believes that Guido Fawkes attempt at smearing that Ed B was behind the decision to brief against Ed B?

Can’t tell you people how happy I am to see Ed Ball’s in the shadow chancellorship.

He’s a gift for the coalition, given that he was behind a lot of Brown’s disastrous economic policies, and he’s a nasty scheming piece of work. He’ll tear the Labour party apart from the inside.

Honestly, it’s like having another birthday.

18 That’s the right wing spin this morning. How happy have Gove and May been when subjected to Balls who now has as his opponent the dumbest, most horrible man ever to be Chancellor. Trying to pin the blame for Brown’s incompetence on Balls won’t work because the public won’t give a damn when confronted with the sheer scale of this government’s greed, stupidity and viciousness

@18

Public won’t give a damn when confronted by Ball’s (or your) screaming hyperbole.

@15: “@13 Of course you prefered Johnson, you’re a right-winger. Balls is going to tear your pathetic Osborne to shreds”

I’m a declared Floating Voter and regard Osborne as personally obnoxious as well as an economic illiterate. It matters not a jot to me if Osborne is shredded. My complaint about Ed Balls is that on the record of New Labour’s economic policy, he has no remaining credibility:

“The chances of a child from a poor family enjoying higher wages and better education than their parents is lower in Britain than in other western countries, the OECD says”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/mar/10/oecd-uk-worst-social-mobility

See the Figure 5.1 posted in the relevant OECD report: Going for Growth:
http://www.oecd.org/document/51/0,3343,en_2649_34325_44566259_1_1_1_1,00.html

See too this LSE research monograph: Intergenerational Mobility in Europe and North America
http://cep.lse.ac.uk/about/news/IntergenerationalMobility.pdf

Btw for reasons already posted many times, I regard the “right-wing” v “left-wing” divide as silly twaddle intended for football lovers, which I’m not among. There was no way I was going to vote Labour with its manifesto for the 1983 election when Blair was first voted to Parliament.

This is going to be fun!

Oh please, who with half a brain believes that Guido Fawkes attempt at smearing that Ed B was behind the decision to brief against Ed B?

Yeah, it’s not like someone with a track record in briefing against colleagues was also the man with most to benefit from AJ’s departure. Means and motive are entirely irrelevant…

Sunny,

As you know, Guido is generally well-informed on things like briefings (and hardly partial – until Mr Johnson’s resignation distracted him he appears to have being tracking down briefers against Baroness Warsi within the Conservatives…). Furthermore, it would be characteristic of the remains of the Blairites (also arch-spinners) to pass this information on.

In terms of pure politics, anyway, my guess is far more people will believe Mr Ball did help push Mr Johnson that did not – not only does he have a track record and rather obvious naked ambition, but he comes across as ruthless and effective – exactly the sort of traits that would support this narrative.

“Sunny, As you know, Guido is generally well-informed on things ”

Says the ever so concerned troll who is always calling for balance. Hilarious!

Watchman pisses away any tiny last speck of credibility he had left.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Naadir Jeewa

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    Why the Labour left should welcome Ed Balls’ appointment | Liberal Conspiracy http://goo.gl/Me2M5

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    [...] It would be particularly churlish to link to pieces like this one, by Owen Jones, called "Why the Labour left should welcome the appointment of Ed Balls" [...]

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