Why Miliband hasn't guaranteed that Balls will be Chancellor

It would look presumptive to start naming his cabinet before the election and would put him under pressure to guarantee others their jobs.

In his interview on The Andrew Marr Show this morning, Ed Miliband again guaranteed that Ed Balls would be shadow chancellor at the time of the general election. Asked "is Ed Balls safe in his job at the moment?" he replied: "Ed Balls is doing a really good job and, absolutely, I've said that he's going to be the shadow chancellor going with me into the election". That should put an end to speculation that Alistair Darling could return to his old job after the Scottish independence referendum, or that Chuka Umunna or Rachel Reeves could be rapidly promoted. But some asked why Miliband didn't go further and pledge that Balls would serve as chancellor in a Labour government. Is he planning to replace him after May 2015? Is he holding out the post for the Lib Dems? The speculation goes on.

But as one Labour source pointed out to me this morning, there are two considerations that likely explain why Miliband chose not to give this guarantee. The first is that it would look "presumptive" for him to start announcing what jobs his shadow cabinet ministers will do in government (akin to "measuring up the curtains"). It would give the impression that Labour believes the voters have already made up their minds. The second is that guaranteeing Balls will serve as chancellor would inevitably lead to speculation about other top positions. Will Harriet Harman be deputy prime minister? Will Douglas Alexander be foreign secretary? Miliband can't have one rule for Balls and another for them. For these reasons, much as journalists may wish otherwise, don't expect Miliband to start naming his cabinet in advance of 7 May 2015.

Miliband went on to say of Balls: "People have their critics; the thing I'd say to you about Ed Balls? He's got a clear sense of what this economy needs, he's working with me on tackling the cost-of-living crisis that we face and he's got the toughness to stand up to lots of people who want more spending when actually it's going to be tough for Labour."

Ed Miliband and Ed Balls at the Labour conference in Brighton last year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Paul McMillan
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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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