Are two Eds better than one?

The appointment of Balls is a superb move by Miliband.

Alan Johnson's departure has shocked hacks and politicos alike. I'm told that AJ told Ed M he'd be quitting "several days" ago -- in the words of one shadow cabinet minister I spoke to, "I'm amazed it didn't leak out earlier."

Whatever Johnson's "personal reasons" are for quitting the Labour front bench -- and I suspect we'll know in the not-too-distant future -- I'm delighted to see that Ed Balls, Labour's pre-eminent economist, has succeeded him. I made my own views clear in a column ("Only Ed has the balls for shadow chancellor") back in September 2010:

Balls's speech at Bloomberg in the City of London on 27 August, in which he set out a coherent and credible alternative to the coalition's fiscal sadism, has since been hailed by respected commentators such as Martin Wolf and Samuel Brittan of the Financial Times as well as leading Keynesian economists.

Memo to the Milibrothers: be bold. Ignore the deficit hawks, the Tory partisans and the faint-hearted on your own back benches. There is no alternative to Ed Balls as shadow chancellor at this time of national emergency.

So Balls's time has, finally, come. And he won't be needing an economics primer or textbook to help him prepare for his new brief. He was born to be shadow chancellor in an "age of austerity" and a Tory-led government. I suspect Theresa May will be delighted to see the back of this tenacious Labour attack dog; George Osborne, meanwhile, will be rather nervous to face Ed B at the next Treasury questions in the Commons. In the words of one wag on Twitter:

What's that I hear? Must be George Osborne's knees knocking together . . .

The problem Balls will have, however, is how to reconcile his own oft-stated and legitimate Keynesian criticisms of the Alistair Darling deficit-reduction plan -- ie, halving the deficit over four years -- with Ed Miliband's and Alan Johnson's adoption of the Darling plan as official Labour Party policy in October 2010. Here is Balls speaking at Bloomberg last August:

I told Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling in 2009 that -- whatever the media clamour at the time -- even trying to halve the deficit in four years was a mistake.

The pace was too severe to be credible or sustainable.

As both history and market realities teach us, the danger of too rapid deficit reduction is that it proves counterproductive . . .

Will Balls have to swallow his views in the name of collective responsibility and deference to his party leader?

On a side note, Gordon Brown might be joining the Home Secretary in cracking open a bottle of champers tonight. The top four jobs on the Labour front bench -- leader (Ed M), shadow chancellor (Ed B), shadow home (Yvette Cooper) and shadow foreign (Douglas Alexander) -- are all held by children of Brown.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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I am special and I am worthless: inside the mind of a narcissist

There's been a lot of discussion about narcissists this week. But what does the term actually mean?

Since the rise of Donald Trump, the term “narcissistic” has been cropping up with great regularity in certain sections of the media, including the pages of this journal. I wouldn’t want to comment about an individual I’ve never met, but I thought it would be interesting to look at the troubling psychological health problem of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

People with NPD (which is estimated to affect about 1 per cent of the population) have a characteristic set of personality traits. First, they have a deeply held sense of specialness and entitlement. Male NPD sufferers frequently present as highly egotistical, with an unshakeable sense of their superiority and importance; female sufferers commonly present as eternal victims on whom the world repeatedly inflicts terrible injustices. In both cases, the affected person believes he or she is deserving of privileged treatment, and expects it as a right from those around them.

Second, NPD sufferers have little or no capacity for empathy, and usually relate to other people as objects (as opposed to thinking, feeling beings) whose sole function is to meet the narcissist’s need for special treatment and admiration – known as “supply”. In order to recruit supply, NPD sufferers become highly skilled at manipulating people’s perceptions of them, acting out what is called a “false self” – the glittering high achiever, the indefatigable do-gooder, the pitiable victim.

The third characteristic is termed “splitting”, where the world is experienced in terms of two rigid categories – either Good or Bad – with no areas of grey. As long as others are meeting the narcissist’s need for supply, they are Good, and they find themselves idealised and showered with reciprocal positive affirmation – a process called “love-bombing”. However, if someone criticises or questions the narcissist’s false self, that person becomes Bad, and is subjected to implacable hostility.

It is not known for certain what triggers the disorder. There is likely to be a genetic component, but in many cases early life experiences are the primary cause. Narcissism is a natural phase of child development (as the parents of many teenagers will testify) and its persistence as adult NPD frequently reflects chronic trauma during childhood. Paradoxically for a condition that often manifests as apparent egotism, all NPD sufferers have virtually non-existent self-esteem. This may arise from ongoing emotional neglect on the part of parents or caregivers, or from sustained psychological or sexual abuse.

The common factor is a failure in the development of a healthy sense of self-worth. It is likely that narcissism becomes entrenched as a defence against the deep-seated shame associated with these experiences of being unworthy and valueless.

When surrounded by supply, the NPD sufferer can anaesthetise this horrible sense of shame with the waves of positive regard washing over them. Equally, when another person destabilises that supply (by criticising or questioning the narcissist’s false self) this is highly threatening, and the NPD sufferer will go to practically any lengths to prevent a destabiliser adversely influencing other people’s perceptions of the narcissist.

One of the many tragic aspects of NPD is the invariable lack of insight. A narcissist’s experience of the world is essentially: “I am special; some people love me for this, and are Good; some people hate me for it, and are Bad.” If people with NPD do present to health services, it is usually because of the negative impacts Bad people are having on their life, rather than because they are able to recognise that they have a psychological health problem.

Far more commonly, health professionals end up helping those who have had the misfortune to enter into a supply relationship with an NPD sufferer. Narcissism is one of the most frequent factors in intimate partner and child abuse, as well as workplace bullying. The narcissist depends on the positive affirmation of others to neutralise their own sense of unworthiness. They use others to shore themselves up, and lash out at those who threaten this precarious balance. And they leave a trail of damaged people in their wake. 

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times