Against All of My Instincts, I’m Leaning Towards Ed Balls

When the leadership campaign began, I knew one thing – I definitely wouldn’t be voting for Ed Balls. Now, having read his speech at Bloomberg this week and analysed the reaction (in particular from the Financial Times), I am starting to think he offers the most coherent response to the most important issue of this parliament – the spending cuts.

Ed laid out a Keynesian vision for growth, which as I’ve argued again and again, is the only genuine way to reduce the deficit without causing serious and lasting structural damage to the economy which could last a generation.Some commentators have suggested that Balls is taking a risky approach by nailing colours to a mast which may prove to be unfounded. I don’t accept this.

I don’t think the thrust of Ed Balls’ argument is “take my approach or face calamity”. He has laid out a viable and impressive alternative economic vision which has the weight of history behind it and allows for a more socially responsible approach to the deficit. What Labour does with Balls’ analysis is what’s important. It is not necessary to use the politics (or economics) of fear which has driven the coalition’s public approach to the deficit. With a reasoned and supported economic argument behind him, Balls has opened the door to new way of challenging the cuts agenda.

The media has bought wholesale the need for cuts to reduce the deficit and the question now is where the pain should fall. Balls is tackling the premise behind this. Labour can never win public support if they simply challenge where the cuts should happen – they will appear sniping and incoherent. An alternative (quasi-Keynesian) vision for economic recovery based on investment, fair tax rises and, yes, some spending cuts gives Labour a platform to challenge the underlying assumption which currently gives the coalition the opportunity to ideologically cut at will.

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether the worst downside of the austerity drive comes to pass, with Balls’ vision, there exists an alternative idea to hold up to people and say “Even though we avoided a violent double-dip, we could have tackled the deficit in a much fairer way.” There is nothing at all wrong in basing Labour’s approach on Balls’ view, because it has intellectual weight regardless of the outcome of the coalition’s actions. Put simply, the recovery is not black and white and even if the coalition don’t fail utterly, a viable alternative can retain credibility. I think the risk to Labour is in failing to have an economic vision which underpins Labour’s opposition, rather than worrying about being notionally “wrong”.

For this reason, with my ballot still uncast, I find my pen hovering above Ed Balls’ name for the first time. It’s not something I thought would happen, but if nothing else, it’s proved the value of the context in drawing out what’s important in our new leader.

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8 Comments

Filed under Economy, Labour Party, Leadership Election

8 responses to “Against All of My Instincts, I’m Leaning Towards Ed Balls

  1. Julie

    Must be something in the air – have had exactly same feelings for last few days. Was undecided before but am now in turmoil!

  2. I already voted for Ed Balls, as I intended for quite some time.

    I was disappointed to make up my mind early, had been looking forward to havering.

    Ed B is getting lots of things right, in a positive way for Labour and shunting his opposite number, Mick Gove, into a siding labelled “has been”

    Balls current essay for a better economic policy is bold and wise.

    It doesn’t just represent a great weapon in the public debate on the economy, an exocet aimed at osborne & co, it looks right, and to my mind (I read economics) is right.

    Martin Wolf of the FT respects Ed Balls, formerly of the FT.

    If Balls leads Labour we have a good shot at 2014/5.

  3. Sean O'Hare

    If I were a member of the Labour Party I wouldn’t be voting for Ed Balls because he is tainted by the smell of the Gorgon and would be a liability at a general election. As I’m not a member, and never will be, I am quite happy that you have come out in favour of Mr Balls. Well done!

    You tweeted that my approach to economics was too simplistic to be appropriate to government spending. Well I think the idea that you can go on raising taxes and spending more and more in some vain hope of fending off a double dip recession is somewhere in cloud cuckoo land. What’s more, by what God given right do you lefties think you can put your hands in my pockets and relieve me of my cash? It’s not your money, you haven’t earned it I did!

    • Amen to that, Sean.

      Benefits outperformed the minimum wage. A bloated public sector underperformed to significant levels. Public & Sovereign debt was allowed to spiral out of control.

      13 years ago Labour embraced Conservatism, then lost the plot. The Benefits Class System was destined for failure and now the country has to suffer from union backlash and demonstrations at a time when productivity needs to be maximised.

      The UK falling into a double-dip recession will only be the fault of an over paid, underperforming, union-subscribing, striking public sector and no one else.

      • It’s getting quite draining explaining this over and over again. How are you defining public and sovereign debt, because I’m pretty sure they are the same thing. Best save the clever terms until you understand them. And why not check the ONS site, where you’ll see that pre-recession, UK debt was comparatively lower than in 1997. Hardly a public sector out of control. I don’t mind debating this with you, but please find some facts to base your ‘argument’ on before you try again.

        How do you define an underperforming public sector? I suggest one taken to the brink of collapse by the Tories would be thought to be performing more poorly than one which steadily rose up the international rankings. In 2009 the NHS was ranked as one of the most efficient services in the world.

        Sorry to keep dragging you down with facts, I know they’re not your strong point.

        Finally, do you want to explain the dichotomy of the public sector being at once wasteful and ripe to be cut to pieces and somehow also capable of causing a double-dip recession? You can’t have it both ways. By your reckoning the public sector workers (nurses, police, teachers etc) are sucking the economy dry, so a couple of days of them not working should be good for the economy, no?

  4. (The Rambles of Neil Monnery) thank you for some of the ,most inspired responses to the paranoid,’we’ve got to clear the house debt’ brigade I have ever seen. Your explanations were witty and succinct with an air of information that should have led to clarity but instead stirred up the fear of destruction in their belief systems. Killed me. It was like trying to de-program a Jehovah’s Witness. Just when you think you’ve put it in a way that is reasoned and unavoidable, they respond by calling you the anti-Christ as they run away. Again thank you. My faith in humanity has returned.

  5. No way does a written document (could be done by any number of people) beat on-the-spot verbal content, for credibility.

    • I would be absolutely delighted to talk about this! An instant response is hardly a document, but you don’t agree with me, so I am not expecting praise. Have you at least grasped the argument?

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