Round one to Ed Balls

Balls’s calm and assured response was exactly what Labour needed.

Ed Balls wisely resisted the temptation to boast that he had been vindicated by today's terrible growth figures. Instead, in an appearance on The World At One, he calmly offered himself as the voice of experience to an economic novice.

"I worked at the Treasury for ten years. My advice to George Osborne is: don't think up excuses about the weather, don't dig yourself into a hole," he said. Quoting Keynes, he added: "If the facts change, I change my mind. George Osborne should do that."

The shadow chancellor sensibly pointed to the fact that the deficit for 2009-2010 came in at £156.3bn (£21.7bn lower than the original Treasury forecast) as evidence that Labour's policy of "going for growth" was beginning to fill the hole in the public finances. Osborne's insistence that Labour doesn't have a "credible deficit reduction plan" ignores that, without growth, neither does he.

Elsewhere, as the Spectator's Peter Hoskin has noted, Balls refused to predict a double-dip recession. Asked if he thought one was likely, he replied: "I really hope not. I think the most likely outcome is months of stagnant growth, unless George Osborne digs himself out of this hole." The risk of a double dip is real, as the NS economics editor David Blanchflower argued this morning, but this was an act of necessary caution from Balls.

Osborne's decision to put so much emphasis on the weather in his response to the figures has already been widely ridiculed and was a clear misjudgement. As the Office for National Statistics pointed out in its briefing, if you strip out the effects of the snow, growth is still flat at 0 per cent. The Chancellor could only reply that "estimates are highly uncertain at the moment".

When asked for a "plan B", Osborne responded that he can hardly "cancel" the cuts, a caricature of his opponents' position. But he could have easily cancelled the VAT rise, which, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, will reduce GDP by 0.3 per cent alone. History may record that as his biggest misjudgement.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496