George Osborne and Ed Balls attend the State Opening of Parliament on May 8, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why Balls is so confident about attacking Osborne's cuts

The shadow chancellor remembers that it was fear of "Tory cuts" that handed Labour victory in 2001 and 2005, and denied the Conservatives a majority in 2010. 

On the day of last year's Autumn Statement, as George Osborne's chief of staff Rupert Harrison briefed journalists on its contents, a nearby Labour strategist texted me highlighting a line in the new OBR document: "Check out para 1.8 (page 6) of the main document. On projections of the share of GDP consumed by govt. Alarming...". This apparently obscure reference went on to provide the basis for an entire new line of attack by Labour. The relevant section read: "Total public spending is now projected to fall to 35.2 per cent of GDP in 2019-20, taking it below the previous post-war lows reached in 1957-58 and 1999-00 to what would be probably be its lowest level in 80 years." It was this finding that allowed Labour to warn that George Osborne would cut spending to its lowest level since the 1930s - before the creation of the NHS and comprehensive education. 

To mark the start of this election year, Ed Balls takes up the charge in today's Guardian, declaring that "There are moments in politics when, amid the fog of accusation and rebuttal, things suddenly become crystal clear. And it’s now clear that last month’s autumn statement was another of those rare defining moments – the day Chancellor George Osborne ceded the political centre ground to Labour". 

He adds: "In the runup to the autumn statement we all knew the ongoing squeeze on living standards was leading to a huge shortfall in tax revenues, throwing deficit reduction plans badly off track. What took everyone by surprise was that, in the face of forecasts that this loss of tax revenues would continue, Chancellor Osborne would choose to make up the shortfall with massively deeper spending cuts in the next parliament."

The confidence with which Balls attacks Osborne on territory previously considered unfavourable for Labour is striking. But a clue is provided in the second line of his piece: "I remember well the speech in summer 2000 when the shadow chancellor, Michael Portillo, set out Conservative plans to cut public spending to fund tax cuts – the moment we knew they had lost the 2001 election." As Gordon Brown's former chief economic adviser, Balls recalls better than most that it was fear of Conservative cuts that handed Labour victory in 2001 and 2005. 

It was awareness of this failure that led David Cameron and George Osborne to pledge in 2007 to match Labour's spending plans in the next parliament (thus denying Brown "baseline" advantage). But the financial crisis and the resultant surge in the deficit led the Tories to abandon their commitment, instead promising an "age of austerity". Their subsequent failure to win a majority is partly blamed by Osborne on voters' fear of the cuts to come. Labour was able to warn (accurately, as it proved) that child benefit, tax credits, Sure Start and the Education Maintenance Allowance were all under threat. 

By vowing to continue cutting even after the deficit has been eliminated, the Chancellor has provided the opposition with a new opportunity to depict him as a dangerous ideologue. Balls's claim that Labour now owns the "centre ground" is supported by a recent ComRes/Independent survey showing that 66 per cent do not believe that cuts should continue until the deficit has been eradicated with just 30 per cent in favour. Polls have also long shown backing for the party's pledge to impose higher taxes on the rich, such as a 50p rate of income tax and a mansion tax. 

The challenge for Labour is combining its attack on Conservative cuts with the acknowledgment that it, too, would reduce spending. As Balls writes: "Let me be clear, including to those who would wish it were not so: Labour will need to cut public spending in the next parliament to balance the books." Labour is left with precisely the dividing line that Brown wanted to avoid in 2010: good cuts against bad cuts. The SNP and the Greens are seeking to capitalise by attacking the party's embrace of austerity. But Labour believes that a commitment to cut spending (albeit by far less than the Conservatives) is necessary to counter the fear that it would allow the deficit to rise and "crash the car" again. Just as only Nixon could go to China, so the party hopes that only it will be trusted to "balance the books" in a fair way. 

Should fear of "Tory cuts" cost the Conservatives victory for a fourth time, Osborne will truly have been snared by his own creation

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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No, the battle in Momentum isn't about young against old

Jon Lansman and his allies' narrative doesn't add up, argues Rida Vaquas.

If you examined the recent coverage around Momentum, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was headed towards an acrimonious split, judging by the vitriol, paranoia and lurid accusations that have appeared online in the last couple days. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that this divide was between a Trotskyist old guard who can’t countenance new ways of working, and hip youngsters who are filled with idealism and better at memes. You might then be incredibly bemused as to how the Trotskyists Momentum was keen to deny existed over the summer have suddenly come to the brink of launching a ‘takeover bid’.

However these accounts, whatever intentions or frustrations that they are driven by, largely misrepresent the dispute within Momentum and what transpired at the now infamous National Committee meeting last Saturday.

In the first instance, ‘young people’ are by no means universally on the side of e-democracy as embodied by the MxV online platform, nor did all young people at the National Committee vote for Jon Lansman’s proposal which would make this platform the essential method of deciding Momentum policy.

Being on National Committee as the representative from Red Labour, I spoke in favour of a conference with delegates from local groups, believing this is the best way to ensure local groups are at the forefront of what we do as an organisation.

I was nineteen years old then. Unfortunately speaking and voting in favour of a delegates based conference has morphed me into a Trotskyist sectarian from the 1970s, aging me by over thirty years.

Moreover I was by no means the only young person in favour of this, Josie Runswick (LGBT+ representative) and the Scottish delegates Martyn Cook and Lauren Gilmour are all under thirty and all voted for a delegates based national conference. I say this to highlight that the caricature of an intergenerational war between the old and the new is precisely that: a caricature bearing little relation to a much more nuanced reality.

Furthermore, I believe that many people who voted for a delegates-based conference would be rather astounded to find themselves described as Trotskyists. I do not deny that there are Trotskyists on National Committee, nor do I deny that Trotskyists supported a delegates-based conference – that is an open position of theirs. What I do object is a characterisation of the 32 delegates who voted for a delegates-based conference as Trotskyists, or at best, gullible fools who’ve been taken in.  Many regional delegates were mandated by the people to whom they are accountable to support a national conference based on this democratic model, following broad and free political discussion within their regions. As thrilling as it might be to fantasise about a sinister plot driven by the shadow emperors of the hard Left against all that it is sensible and moderate in Momentum, the truth is rather more mundane. Jon Lansman and his supporters failed to convince people in local groups of the merits of his e-democracy proposal, and as a result lost the vote.

I do not think that Momentum is doomed to fail on account of the particular details of our internal structures, providing that there is democracy, accountability and grassroots participation embedded into it. I do not think Momentum is doomed to fail the moment Jon Lansman, however much respect I have for him, loses a vote. I do not even think Momentum is doomed to fail if Trotskyists are involved, or even win sometimes, if they make their case openly and convince others of their ideas in the structures available.

The existential threat that Momentum faces is none of these things, it is the propagation of a toxic and polarised political culture based on cliques and personal loyalties as opposed to genuine political discussion on how we can transform labour movement and transform society. It is a political culture in which those opposed to you in the organisation are treated as alien invaders hell-bent on destroying it, even when we’ve worked together to build it up, and we worked together before the Corbyn moment even happened. It is a political culture where members drag others through the mud, using the rhetoric of the Right that’s been used to attack all of us, on social and national media and lend their tacit support to witch hunts that saw thousands of Labour members and supporters barred from voting in the summer. It is ultimately a political culture in which our trust in each other and capacity to work together on is irreparably eroded.

We have a tremendous task facing us: to fight for a socialist alternative in a global context where far right populism is rapidly accruing victories; to fight for the Labour Party to win governmental power; to fight for a world in which working class people have the power to collectively change their lives and change the societies we live in. In short: there is an urgent need to get our act together. This will not be accomplished by sniping about ‘saboteurs’ but by debating the kind of politics we want clearly and openly, and then coming together to campaign from a grassroots level upwards.

Rida Vaquas is Red Labour Representative on Momentum National Committee.