Balls should be listened to on cuts

He is setting out the clearest alternative to dangerous cuts in public spending.

Balls

Ed Balls has a thoughtful piece in today's Times (reproduced on his own website) on the "three traps" that Labour must avoid if the party is to win back votes. They are:

1. Focusing fire on the Lib Dems and letting the Tories off the hook.

2. Appeasing the media by agreeing to savage cuts in public spending.

3. Allowing the right to seize the centre ground from Labour.

It's the second of these that is most significant. Balls writes:

Labour needs strong leadership to make a credible argument against slashing public spending and raising VAT, which will increase unemployment and risk a double-dip recession. Labour must have the confidence to set out an alternative based on a more sensible timetable for deficit reduction, fairer tax rises and a plan to boost jobs and growth.

To those who claim that Balls is returning to the Brownite mantra of "investment versus cuts", he will reply: "Exactly." Balls has long let it be known that he believes Labour could have won the election, had it adopted a more distinctive position on spending cuts. Indeed, it is hardly surprising that when offered a choice between Labour cuts and Tory cuts, voters decided they wanted the real thing.

Conversely, a new Demos/YouGov poll suggests that Labour lost because it was too soft on the deficit. The survey, of 45,000 voters who supported Labour in 2005 but deserted it in 2010, found that many believed that state spending had reached -- or even breached -- acceptable limits.

We'll never know how voters would have responded if the argument that there was an alternative to big cuts had been made at length. But the study is a warning to Labour that the party should avoid the belief that public spending is a good in itself.

Balls's piece is a little short on detail for my liking. For instance, he refuses to tell us what ratio of spending cuts to tax rises he favours. David Miliband has defended the 67:33 split favoured by Grodon Brown and Alistair Darling, while Ed Miliband has called for a 50:50 split, the ratio adopted by Kenneth Clarke during the last period of significant fiscal tightening, in the 1990s.

But, in his persistent belief that there is an alternative to dangerous cuts in public spending, Balls is spot on.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Inside a shaken city: "I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city's residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station - which backs onto the arena - was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. With a capacity crowd of 18,000, on Monday night the venue was packed with young people from around the country - at least 22 of whom will never come home. At around 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents - the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swathes of police descended, shutting off the main city centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street - closed off at Exchange Square - was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground while officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island, when an alert came over the tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door onto the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me.

“We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack.

“We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city, we were watching it all these morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “we were too young to really understand”.

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“Theres nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before - but so long ago that the stunned city dwellers are at a loss. In a city which feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat

“We saw armed police on the streets - there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and ahead of a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the North.

But the community values which Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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