Marathon men (and woman)

Labour leadership hopefuls complete yet another hustings.

The five candidates for the leadership of the Labour Party have completed the latest in a series of public debates that began back in June with the New Statesman hustings in Westminster. Sky News hosted a debate this morning in Norwich. You can read Ruth Barnett's live blog of proceedings here.

Frankly, very little was said that we haven't heard before, though there was some confusion about the date of St George's Day -- with only David Miliband and Ed Balls giving the correct answer of 23 April (something that seems to have particularly exercised Jonathan Isaby of ConservativeHome). There was an interesting moment, however, when Balls aimed an implicit rebuke at the rhetoric of both Miliband brothers. He said that talk of "values" and "change" is all well and good, but "policies" matter, too. Spoken like a true Treasury technocrat.

Balls has certainly impressed this summer as he has taken the macroeconomic fight over cuts and deficit reduction to the government. But one of the things that the general election campaign surely showed is that technical arguments aren't enough.

As Ed Miliband put it in his June speech on the future of social democracy, and as his brother argued in his Keir Hardie Lecture the following month, some fundamental questions of political economy remain to be answered, and they are as much about an overarching vision and, yes, "values" as they are about detailed policy.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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