Balls toughens Labour's stance on the euro

Shadow chancellor says that there is "no possibility" of Britain joining the euro "in my lifetime".

Speaking in the Commons, Ed Balls has just made the remarkable declaration that "there's no possibility anytime in my lifetime of a British government joining the euro". His statement represents a significant shift of policy by Labour, which had previously said only that it was unlikely that Britain would join the single currency in the near future. In his recent speech on the EU, Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, said that while joining the euro "is not on Labour's agenda" there "is no need to be dogmatic on these questions", noting that "future generations of politicians may find that circumstances have changed".

But Balls, who is deservedly proud of his role in keeping the UK out of the euro, felt that an unambiguous statement was needed. Labour's policy reversal leaves the Lib Dems as the only one of the three main parties refusing to rule out euro membership.

Incidentally, for a list of prominent political figures who still support UK membership in theory, see my blog from last month, "Who still thinks Britain should join the euro?"

George Eaton is political 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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