George Osborne and Ed Balls attend the State Opening of Parliament in 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour could end cuts next year and still meet deficit targets, says IFS

Ed Balls's less stringent plans mean a dramatic gap with the Tories.  

It's often written that Labour and the Tories are committed to near-identical levels of austerity after the election. The Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru all argue that Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have embraced the Osborneite consensus. Commentators question how a Labour-led government would survive while imposing further cuts. 

But, as I've noted before, these points belie the fiscal chasm between the two parties. Unlike the Tories, Labour is not committed to achieving an absolute budget surplus by the end of the next parliament (pledging only to balance the current account deficit), has left room to borrow to invest and would impose some tax rises to reduce borrowing (Osborne has pledged to use cuts alone). Even after the Chancellor scaled back austerity in yesterday's Budget, Balls would still have around £39bn more to play with than Osborne by 2019-20.

The true scale of the gap between Labour and the Tories has been further revealed by the IFS, whose director Paul Johnson said at today's post-Budget briefing: "Our latest estimates suggest that Labour would be able to meet its fiscal targets with no cuts at all after 2015-16". Balls has pledged to match the coalition's spending plans in that financial year (which starts next month) but will be free to determine his own path after that point. Among other things, he hopes to increase the growth potential of the economy through new supply-side measures and greater infrastructure investment. Today's IFS assessment suggests that could mean an earlier than expected end to the cuts. Should Labour be denied a majority at the election and find itself required to win over left-leaning backbenchers and, potentially, the SNP, that wriggle room could prove valuable indeed.

The political question is the extent to which Labour is prepared to highlight this flexibility before the election. Mindful of its profligate image, the party is wary of explicitly declaring that it would spend more than the Tories. But some on the Labour left would like nothing more than to be able to promise an end to the cuts in just one year's time. 

A spokesman for Balls told me: "We've been clear there will need to be sensible spending cuts and that we want to balance the books as soon as possible in the next parliament."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood