Ed Balls wields a rather vague axe. Photo: Getty
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Ed Balls: We will cut every year until the deficit is down

As Labour confronts the deficit problem today, the shadow chancellor warns his shadow cabinet colleagues that they will make cuts every year.

It's the moment the Labour party has been trying to avoid: addressing the deficit. And its reluctance is little wonder considering it is jumped upon by the right every time it suggests a tax rise or a whiff of an unfunded spending commitment, and by the left when it discusses continuing the government's austerity project.

However, today is the day that Ed Miliband will address the deficit problem and explain how his party would tackle it if it is voted into government next year. George analyses what Miliband is expected to say today about cutting the deficit, and reports that there will be new announcements in the speech. However, whether these will include protecting public services or plans for cuts is another story.

It is clear Labour is holding something back, and not just until Miliband speaks today. The shadow chancellor Ed Balls, interviewed on the BBC's Today programme this morning, would not answer the question about when he would like to balance the books by, insisting that such answers are impossible to give until tax revenues are in and give a better idea of how much money there is (George Osborne was disappointed on tax receipts when delivering his Autumn Statement last week).

This shows Labour's reluctance to make the same mistake as Osborne and set itself up for missing a target, and therefore being vulnerable to a hammering from its political opponents. While it is wise to learn from the Chancellor's missed target, the Labour party does sound like it is prevaricating over the subject that it has so vocally decided to face head-on: balancing the books. There is the argument that it is even unnecessary for the party to devote a whole speech to this subject at all, considering the deficit is the way in which the Conservatives frame the economic debate, and are still more trusted by the public with fixing it.

However, in a harsher and more specific message, Balls also reiterated on Today his warning to shadow cabinet colleagues (aside from the shadow health and international development secretaries) that their departments, if they make it to government, will have to cut every single year until the deficit has been eliminated:

You should be planning on the basis that your departmental budgets will be cut not only in 2015/16, but each year until we have achieved our promise to balance the books.

Labour's biggest challenge will be to tell us what those cuts would include, and how deep they would be. As Labour has taken the risky decision to directly tackle the deficit question, it's time for Balls to sharpen the rather vague axe he is wielding.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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An alternative Trainspotting script for John Humphrys’ Radio 4 “Choose Life” tribute

Born chippy.

Your mole often has Radio 4’s Today programme babbling away comfortingly in the background while emerging blinking from the burrow. So imagine its horror this morning, when the BBC decided to sully this listening experience with John Humphrys doing the “Choose Life” monologue from Trainspotting.

“I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got Radio 4?” he concluded, as a nation cringed.

Introduced as someone who has “taken issue with modernity”, Humphrys launched into the film character Renton’s iconic rant against the banality of modern life.

But Humphrys’ role as in-studio curmudgeon is neither endearing nor amusing to this mole. Often tasked with stories about modern technology and digital culture by supposedly mischievous editors, Humphrys sounds increasingly cranky and ill-informed. It doesn’t exactly make for enlightening interviews. So your mole has tampered with the script. Here’s what he should have said:

“Choose life. Choose a job and then never retire, ever. Choose a career defined by growling and scoffing. Choose crashing the pips three mornings out of five. Choose a fucking long contract. Choose interrupting your co-hosts, politicians, religious leaders and children. Choose sitting across the desk from Justin Webb at 7.20 wondering what you’re doing with your life. Choose confusion about why Thought for the Day is still a thing. Choose hogging political interviews. Choose anxiety about whether Jim Naughtie’s departure means there’s dwindling demand for grouchy old men on flagship political radio shows. Choose a staunch commitment to misunderstanding stories about video games and emoji. Choose doing those stories anyway. Choose turning on the radio and wondering why the fuck you aren’t on on a Sunday morning as well. Choose sitting on that black leather chair hosting mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows (Mastermind). Choose going over time at the end of it all, pishing your last few seconds on needlessly combative questions, nothing more than an obstacle to that day’s editors being credited. Choose your future. Choose life . . .”

I'm a mole, innit.