Balls makes his final job application

Digested read: "make me shadow chancellor, Ed".

With David Miliband set to announce his departure from frontline politics, Ed Balls is finally within touching distance of the prize he's craved for weeks: the shadow chancellorship.

A bold, if rather hoarse, Balls (too much karaoke) has just delivered his speech to the Labour conference, the closing passages of which are best described as an extended job application.

He lavished praise on Ed Miliband, something he wasn't keen to do at the New Statesman hustings in June, where the pair repeatedly clashed. After a particularly verbose answer from Balls, Miliband quipped: "It's like being back in the Treasury." To which Balls humourlessly replied: "Tell us the answer then, Ed, like you normally do."

But today he delivered an encomium of praise to Labour's new leader:

Working with him for 16 years in opposition, in the Treasury and in Parliament, I always knew that - for Ed - fairness, opportunity and social justice weren't just slogans, they were his reason for coming to work in the morning - they were his defining purpose. Ed, I've been proud for 16 years to call you a colleague and a friend. And now I'm proud to call you our leader.

To translate: make me shadow chancellor, Ed. The only other figure with the intellect and political nous required to do the job is Balls's wife, Yvette Cooper. But, as my colleague Mehdi Hasan reported, Cooper has already agreed, as she did over the Labour leadership, to give her husband a free run.

And, to Balls's credit, he body-slammed the IMF with the full weight of a Harvard-trained economist:

Two years ago, the Irish government convinced itself they had to slash public services and cut child benefits to get their deficit down as fast as possible and reassure the money markets. The IMF praised the Irish government for its "sense of urgency". And what has happened since? Recession turned to slump, unemployment at a 16-year high, 19 consecutive months of deflation, consumer spending and tax revenues plummeting, and the deficit worse now than when they started.

We can now look forward to a four-year political wrestling match between Balls and George Osborne. As Peter Oborne recently wrote, the contest between the two will define this Parliament. Balls believes that economic recovery is impossible with cuts, Osborne believes that it is impossible without them. Only one of them can be proved right. Which it is may yet determine the result of the next election.

UPDATE: Balls has just confirmed that David Miliband will not serve in the new shadow cabinet. Here's what he told ITV:

I don't think David Miliband is leaving because of reasons of politics or ideology or policy. I don't think this is a political divide, I think this it's a personal decision. He's decided, and it seems he's decided in the last few days if he has, that for personal reasons he doesn't want to serve with his brother. I understand that because it must have been incredibly difficult to have lost to your brother in that way ... If as a brother you've decided that it's too difficult I think people would understand that. I don't think it's fair to find some big political split or divide here. I don't think that it really exists.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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In defence of the metropolitan elite

Railing against low-paid academics will not solve Britain's inequality problem. 

It’s a measure of how topsy-turvy our political culture has become that Theresa May, a Conservative, Oxford-educated prime minister, can claim to be on the side of "ordinary working-class people" against a sneering "elite". But while Brexit has made this division central to our political culture, we’ve been heading in this direction for a while. 

Earlier this year, I was watching a heated exchange between centrist Labour MP Alan Johnson and Left Unity’s Simon Hardy on the Daily Politics show. At one point, Johnson bellowed across the table: "You’re a middle-class intellectual!" So this is now a stand-alone insult, I thought to myself, and took to Twitter to share my indignation. A friend immediately replied: "He means you." And she’s right. I am indeed a middle-class intellectual, a member of the metropolitan elite. Given the prevalence of post-Brexit elite-bashing, I’m loath to stick my head above the parapet. But as my liberal intellectual English lecturers used to say, these terms need unpacking. 

The right-wing anti-elitism that we are seeing all around us co-opts the left’s opposition to financial and corporate dominance and converts it into opposition to those who are educated. To listen to Tory speeches now it’s as if the top 1 per cent didn’t own half the world’s wealth, as if the sales of individual global corporations hadn’t overtaken many national economies, as if CEOs didn’t earn 300 times the salary of the average worker. No, it’s the liberal, metropolitan elite that’s the real menace – those mighty "experts" and "commentators". As Michael Gove, another Oxford-educated Tory, declared during the EU referendum: "People in this country have had enough of experts." 
Anti-elitism conflates political office and cultural and educational distinction on the one hand, with social privilege on the other. But there’s no intrinsic reason why there should be a homogenous "political class", or that those with expertise or artistic judgement should necessarily be rich. In 1979, 16 per cent of MPs had a background in manual work; in 2010 the proportion had dropped to 4 per cent. The history of the Worker’s Educational Association and the Open University reveals a lively tradition of working-class intellectualism. It’s true that, right now, political and cultural capital are appallingly centralised, and there is a revolving door between ministerial office and business. The range of people entering the arts and higher education has been narrowed by the removal of social security and block grants.

Today's anti-elitism, far from empowering the disenfranchised, covertly promotes neoliberal economics. High standards are equated with having the upper hand. Attacks on "cosmopolitan elites" - i.e. those who benefited from affordable education - entrench inequality, put the left on the back foot and protect the real elites – all this while producing a culture that’s bland, dumbed-down and apologetic.
This manoeuvre is everywhere. Brexit is a surreal pageant of inverted protest - May’s use of the royal prerogative supposedly represents the will of the people. The beneficiaries of the PM's grammar school "revolution", she claims, will be "the hidden disadvantaged children". Those who question the evidence base for this are simply metropolitan snobs. ‘This is post-referendum politics’, the BBC’s education editor reminded us tellingly on Today, ‘where the symbolic status of grammar schools as a chance to better yourself has trumped the expert consensus’.
The higher education bill currently going through Parliament brandishes the downtrodden student consumer as a stick with which to beat academics. According to the business-friendly University Alliance, academia’s reluctance to emphasise "employability" carries "more than a whiff of snobbery". Top-down curation is out; impact, feedback and engagement the new mantra. With their worth constantly weighed against the most pressing social priorities, cultural organisations no longer seem convinced by their own right to exist.
The "democratisation" of education, media and culture must be recognised for what it is -  a proxy for real democracy and any attempt to tackle social and economic inequality. Just as the redistributive work of politics is shunted onto embattled and underfunded sectors, the same anti-elitist pressure weakens politics itself. Democracy is thoroughly distorted by economic forces. But the solution is not, as right-wing populists do, to attack the system itself - it’s the only means we have of creating a fairer world. 
This anti-political sentiment is aimed disproportionately at the left, at do-gooding idealists and defenders of the "patronising" welfare state. Stricken with anxiety about being out of touch with its former heartlands, Labour is unable to strategise, put up a credible leader, or confidently articulate its principles. Unless it can tell a positive story about informed debate, political institutions and – yes – political authority, the left will remain vulnerable to whatever Ukip contorts into next.

It’s time to stand up proudly for good elitism – for professional judgement, cultural excellence and enlightenment values. Once, conservatives championed political authority and high art. But now that they’ve become scorched-earth modernisers, it’s time for progressives to carry the torch. Otherwise, disparities of wealth will become ever sharper, while the things that give our lives meaning dissolve into mediocrity.



Eliane Glaser is a senior lecturer at Bath Spa University and author of Get Real: How to See Through the Hype, Spin and Lies of Modern Life.