Ed Balls on why he's committed to "responsible capitalism"

The shadow chancellor rejects claims that he lacks enthusiasm for Miliband's agenda and declares his support for "a different kind of economy".

One of the criticisms made by some in Labour of Ed Balls is that he is not committed enough to Ed Miliband's "responsible capitalism" agenda. The shadow chancellor is often viewed as less concerned with rebalancing the economy away from finance and with introducing a tougher system of bank regulation. One Blue Labour figure recently described him to me as "a conventional Brownite politician", suggesting that his philosophy was little changed from the days when the party advocated a "light touch" approach to the City. 

But when I put this charge to Balls during my interview with him for this week's NS, he responded with one of the best summaries yet of how his views have evolved and why he is as committed as Miliband to a reshaped capitalism. Here's the full quote, which I didn't have room to include in the piece.

The last Labour government didn’t build enough homes, and we’ve got to have a big drive on housing. The last Labour government didn’t do enough to regulate banking and we need to have a different approach to competition and to the regulation of banks. The last Labour government tried to persuade business to invest in skills for the adult workforce, and I don’t think it worked very well. The last Labour government went softly, softly on the agency workers directive and that was a mistake. The last Labour government talked about finding ways to have more long-term incentives and rules of the game for takeovers and capital markets, but we didn’t act.

In every one of those areas, the next Labour government has said that it’s going to act. The last Labour government tried to find ways to encourage, to fill that market gap for small business lending, but the next Labour government will have a British Investment Bank as an institution to drive small business support across the country.

On every one of those areas, Ed and I are working closely together on the policy agenda to deliver a different kind of economy. It’s a different Labour leadership, it’s a different kind of Labour Party, it’s a different political challenge, it’s a different policy agenda and it’s suited to different times and we’re working on it closely together. I’m not sure where the difference is, or where the lack of enthusiasm comes from, because it doesn’t come from me.

Ed Balls speaks at the CBI conference in London, on November 4, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.