Ed Balls at the launch of Labour's "NHS Week" earlier this week in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Balls says IFS wrong not to assume Labour wants a surplus - but how would it be achieved?

The shadow chancellor emphasises growth while the IFS emphasises austerity. 

Most of the sections on Labour in today's IFS report focus on how the party's fiscal plans are more flexible than its austere rhetoric suggests. It notes that the party would only need "relatively small cuts" to unprotected departments to balance the current deficit and that it could outspend the supposedly anti-austerity SNP by 2018-19. 

But in his reponse to the report, Ed Balls argues that the IFS has overstated Labour's room for manoeuvre. He said: "[The] IFS’ numbers wrongly assume that Labour will get the current budget only into balance. Our manifesto pledge is to get the current budget not only into balance but into surplus as soon as possible in the next Parliament. How big that surplus will be, and how quickly we can achieve that in the next Parliament, will depend on what happens to wages and the economy." 

A tiny surplus of £100m (excluding capital investment) would of course still be a surplus. But Balls's words suggest that he aspires to a far larger figure than that. The IFS did note that Labour might want "a lower level of borrowing" but added that "if they did, it would require them to introduce more tax increases and/or spending cuts" than set out. But while they focus on fiscal measures, Balls emphasises the performance of the economy. The shadow chancellor hopes that by boosting jobs and wages (for instance through its jobs guarantee programme and its £8 minimum wage pledge) Labour would be able to stimulate more growth than the Conservatives. He is also aware (as George Osborne learned to his cost) of how quickly changes in the economy can blow deficit reduction off course. Better to be flexible now than to capitulate later. 

In response, the SNP, which was accused by the IFS of misleading anti-austerity rhetoric, has attacked Labour for planning to "cut more" than thought. Finance Secretary John Swinney said: "Ed Miliband is claiming the IFS is wrong and that Labour would cut more than the IFS suggest to create a surplus – exposing Scottish Labour’s attempts to pretend they are opposed to austerity." As Balls's words make clear, his hope is that a significant surplus would actually be achieved through greater growth. But that Labour has knowingly exposed itself to this attack shows that the party believes combating its profligate reputation is a greater priority than countering the "anti-austerity" left. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Steve Garry
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The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism