Miliband should sack Ed Balls

Labour cannot hope to rebuild its economic credibility while Balls remains shadow chancellor.

In his upcoming reshuffle, Ed Miliband should replace Ed Balls as shadow chancellor.

The Labour party is currently becalmed, and with it Miliband's leadership. In the 12 months since he replaced Gordon Brown, Labour's poll rating has risen one per cent according to the most recent Populous poll, two points according to MORI. Despite riots, war and economic stagnation Labour's leader cannot break beyond the margin of error.

Those wondering whether phone hacking would be a game changer have their answer. It has changed nothing. Despite his deft response to the crisis almost half of Labour supporters cannot picture Ed Miliband as prime minister, and his general approval ratings are plumbing new depths.

But it's not only Ed Miliband the polling furies have chosen to mock. Unemployment is rising. Business confidence declining. Growth estimates are being frantically revised down. Yet unbelievably, the Conservative party has now opened up a ten point lead over Labour on the issue of who has the best economic policies for the country. Even more staggering, their lead has actually increased since March. The worst things get for the economy, the better things seem to get for George Osborne and his party.

There is a simple reason for this paradox. Labour's own economic policy has no clothes. The deficit is the defining issue in British politics. And Tory attempts to brand Labour as deficit deniers have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. In fact, they have not so much branded shadow ministers as embalmed them, placed them in a glass case and erected a sign "Deficit Denier, official exhibit, 2010 - present".

No one within the Labour party is prepared to even glance at, never mind acknowledge, this elephant in the shadow cabinet room. Nor are they prepared to acknowledge the even larger elephant balancing upon its shoulders. The person who must take responsibility for this parlous state of affairs is Ed Balls.

Labour's shadow chancellor is one of the few political heavyweights on the front bench. But in this specific brief he is an albatross around his party's neck. All the opinion polls indicate the public blames the economic policies of the previous Labour government for the cuts to thier services, along with the hardship they are experiencing, more than the coalition. And Ed Balls is the individual in the shadow cabinet more closely associated with those policies than any other.

Ed Miliband is acutely aware of the toxic legacy of the Brown premiership. Hence his reluctance to even raise the issue of the economy in the wake of the publication of the Darling memoirs. But if he is wary of discussing economics when David Cameron has a copy of Back from the Brinksitting on his lap, how can he hope to make a case whilst he has Ed Balls sitting on his own?

Nor is this just an issue of legacy. Ed Balls was instrumental in rebuilding Labour's economic credibility from the rubble of the 1992 election defeat. He did it by adhering to a simple golden rule. If Labour couldn't ditch their tax and spend image they were unelectable. Prudence became the watch word. Shadow ministers were banned form making any commitments on spending. Gordon Brown, at Ball's urging, pledged to stick to Tory spending limits, and did so even after Labour's landslide 1997 election victory.

Yet as shadow chancellor Ed Balls seems intent on unlearning every rule he once imposed with iron, and occasionally brutal, discipline on others. Labour's policy has not just regressed to tax and spend. It's now cut tax and spend. New expenditure commitments are tossed around like confetti. Tax cuts bounced out with no internal consultation. Prudence has been ditched, replaced by that leather clad vixen, Ms Pump Primer.

What is Ed Balls thinking? It's not just that he's trying to get the voters to embrace an economic agenda they rejected decisively at the 2010 election. They're being asked to endorse economic policies they rejected at the 1979 election. The perception of fiscal profligacy isn't a dead end for the Labour party. It's political hemlock. We know this because Ed Balls told us it was. And he was right.

Labour's economic policy is no longer grounded in political reality, but in a combination of misguided loyalty, stubbornness and Keynesian economic orthodoxy. Ed Balls seems to believe distancing himself from the policies of Gordon Brown would represent a form of betrayal. It would not. It's just the price of doing business for a new party of opposition. He also seems to equate dogma with strength. Yet by sticking unflinchingly to the failed strategy of a failed manifesto he is reinforcing every negative stereotype his enemies have ever sought to construct around him. "The reckless thing to do is plough on regardless", he told Tribune this week. Too right.

Ed Balls is shadow chancellor. His is not chancellor. His prescriptions for the nation's ills may be economically sound. But they are politically unsustainable. Saying 'I was right, you were wrong' to your political opponents, is one thing. Saying it to the voters is a different matter entirely.

He seems unable, or unwilling, to acknowledge this. A destructive combination of loyalty, stubbornness and pride have locked him into a strategy from which he cannot escape. Which is why, at the next shadow cabinet reshuffle, Ed Miliband needs to set Ed Balls and his party free.

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Easing gender recognition rules is about more than convenience – it's a step towards bodily autonomy

Amendments to the legal process are a small victory on the way to a much bigger goal.

Growing up and coming out as a young trans person in the shadow of the Gender Recognition Act, I was constantly met with stories of medical professionals refusing to validate or support my friends and partners.

Swathes of trans people were forced into claiming a stake in maleness or femaleness, that didn’t reflect their non-binary identity. For years, I felt that any attempt to medically transition, or to take steps to be recognised in the eyes of the law, would be met with ridicule or disdain.

As a non-binary person, I heard and still hear countless stories of trans people like me forced to lie about their identity, existing in their own spaces as complicated and beautiful creatures, only to pigeon-hole themselves into rigid forms of gender.

The wider implications of the act and its rigid fixation on gender normativity where damaging. Trans men I knew were routinely told that experimenting with make-up, or feminine presentation, were grounds to be denied a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). Similarly, any sign of masculinity in a trans woman would be used as proof that her desire to legally change gender was little more than a fetishistic romp. 

It's for these reasons that I greet the news that the act is to be reformed with cautious, but excited optimism. The amendments, which will make it easier for people to change gender on their birth certificate and be recognised as a man, woman or non-binary person, should be celebrated as an important and fundamental step in the long-fought struggle for transgender liberation.

The removal of gender dysphoria as a diagnostic criteria, and the re-assessment of the need to “live as one's chosen gender” for arbitrary periods of time, herald a new understanding of our lives in the eyes of the law, and the beginning of what hopefully will be a gradual move away from the pathological and essentialist view of trans identity the legislation currently takes.

Maria Miller's announcement, taken at face value, is a commitment to the attempted rebranding of the Conservative Party's relationship with the LGBTQ community, a tribute to what Theresa May envisages as a move away from the image of the “nasty party”.

Yet it is from within the Tory party that the harshest condemnation of the amendments has come. Mary Douglas, of the Grassroots Conservatives, has compared calling a trans person by their chosen gender to agreeing with an anorexic's delusion of fatness. Her comments would be laughably risible if they were not so offensive. To equate the constant self-destructive dangers of anorexia with the positive realisation of one's gender is patently absurd. Agreeing with an anorexic's belief in their weight is deadly – agreeing with a trans person's chosen gender is often life-saving.

As long as a valid GRC remains a pivotal step in accessing NHS gender services, we must fight tooth and nail against the Douglases of this the world, who ironically would rather see a drastic decline in the mental health of trans people than any steps to relieve the constant pressure and stress of living under transphobia.

In a far more literal sense, the easing of access to a GRC can prove pivotal to the survival of some of our most marginalised community members. There is an ongoing and severe problem with the placement of transgender women in male prisons, which was put under the spotlight by the tragic suicide of Vicki Thompson.

Her death brought to the forefront a crisis barely spoken about outside trans circles. If a trans woman in prison lacks the relevant GRC, they are assigned to a male facility. While the wider issue of trans prisoners itself could fill another whole article, it is cruel, worrying and dangerous that something as arbitrary as a GRC determines the placement of prisoners.

Frequently, stories come out of trans women in prisons subject to harrowing sexual, physical and emotional violence. That this can be prevented by the simple possession of a GRC must surely show not only how important it is to fight for them to become accessible, but also how fundamentally broken our approach to trans issues is.

Removing hurdles put in the way of trans people by the current system is much more than simple convenience. It is part of the continued struggle for bodily autonomy, for liberation, and for a world where we are free to exist as our authentic selves. I am not naive enough to believe that these reforms alone will secure this. I have my own criticisms, and yet again find myself excluded by our government’s lack of non-binary gender markers.

But for the trans man turned away from hormones for lipstick, the trans woman denied electrolysis for wearing trousers, the Vicki Thompsons of the world forced into violent and dangerous situations, we must understand, this is a small victory. And it is a step on the road to a far bigger one.

Marilyn Misandry is a trans activist and performance artist from Manchester. Her work focuses on existing as a radical trans person