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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.