The New Year got off to a bad start for the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband when Lord Maurice Glasman, his presumed guru, blasted him and the party for “showing no signs of winning the economic argument” in a wide ranging article in the New Statesman.
The media guns were swiftly turned on Miliband. But should they have instead been aimed at the other Ed – Balls. After all, the Labour Party leader has to lead on all fronts; it is the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ed Balls, who is meant to dominate the economic debate. Balls, who was an advisor, then a ministerial colleague of the Iron Chancellor, Gordon Brown, knows more than anybody how he jealously guarded his turf, especially as Ed was one of his economic enforcers.
I will return to this theme shortly but first I want to concentrate on the speech given by Ed Balls to the Fabian Society at their Economic Alternative conference held last Saturday. Whilst the Shadow Chancellor intoned the Labour Party economic policy mantra, the main theme of his address was a robust defence of Keynes.
Balls is a disciple of John Maynard Keynes. He told the conference:
“the reason why the real Keynes is so relevant today is that the global economy has been sliding into that rare and dangerous ‘special case’ that Keynes identified in the 1930s and Japan suffered in the 1990s.”
“You either learn the lessons of history or repeat the mistakes of history.
“With growth stagnating around the world, every country pressing ahead with deep cuts risks being a catastrophic mistake.
“Which is why Ed Miliband and I have argued for a global plan for growth, with clear medium-term plans to get deficits down, but stimulus now, to avoid a global slump too.
“Rejecting the complacent isolationism of the 1930s and instead following Keynes’ lead by setting out a global solution to global problems – an economic alternative based on growth, job creation and balanced deficit reduction, which is the only sane way forward for Britain – and the only way back to credibility in the Euro area too.”
There were few detractors to Balls message and those that there were formed two camps. Some felt that Balls, having argued the Keynes case, didn’t go on to reach the Keynesian conclusion, whilst others had no time for Labour’s timid approach on the economy.
On my way to the Fabian Society event held at the Institute of Education, part of the University of London in Bloomsbury, I passed through Gordon Square. A blue plaque on one of the buildings tells us that it was here that John Maynard Keynes spent many years of his life. I wondered whether Ed Balls’ female side may have got to him and he would have placed flowers on the doorstep before his speech but sadly no.
This is relevant because after Ed Balls’ speech, I spoke to a number of people who said how impressed they had been with his performance as normally they found him repulsive; he was simply too aggressive. At the Fabians he was amongst friends but if Labour supporters rejected him because he acts in the media like an aggressive pit bull terrier imagine what a negative impact he must have on floating voters.
After Balls speech I sent out a Twitter on this theme. Here are just a few comments but I did not receive one in support of the present Balls style.
“Well that’s his and Gordon’s fault then; bring the real Miliband back and maybe, just maybe, people will start listening.”
“He was always shallow and selfish in power. Now out of power why would that change?”
“Balls past behaviour and failings undermines everything he says and does now. People are neither stupid nor amnesiac.”
Now my point is this. It is all very well Ed Balls warmly embracing John Maynard Keynes, but for the majority of voters the only Keynes they know is Milton. If he presents himself to the public as a rabid dog of war: first he is not seen as a Chancellor in waiting; secondly he is roundly rejected by the majority of the population, thirdly and worst of all Labour’s economic message is lost because the voters do not like the messenger.
So this presents Ed Miliband with a major problem. He has a shadow Chancellor who is identified by the majority of voters with the economic failures of the last Labour Government. He has an economic policy that is not even getting heard because of Balls’ aggressive stance. Hence when Glasman states Labour is showing signs of not winning the economic argument it could be said the good lord is merely stating the obvious.It was Tony Blair who said the New Labour project would only be complete when the Labour Party loved Peter Mandelson. I am not sure all the party ever did but Ed Miliband has a tougher job on his hands. He has to persuade the voters to love Ed Balls and, when they have done that, to also embrace his economic policy. Sadly time is not on his side.Tags: Domestic (UK)
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This post was written by David Eade