The Fork In The Road
On a rainy Thursday morning in London, Ed Balls delivered his first speech as Shadow Chancellor to a small crowd gathered in a lecture hall at LSE.
Would this be a speech announcing Labour’s soaring economic vision for the future? Would it be a biting rebuttal of every aspect Coalition policy? Well, it turned out to be neither, although this was no bad thing. The Shadow Chancellor informed us that what he actually wished to do was offer some sound advice to his counterpart, in the hope that Mr Osborne would realise that ‘as long as he is prepared to start putting economics over politics, it is not too late to change course.’
Although the CSM anticipates, and understands, George Osborne’s probable trepidation about taking advice from a party he is touting as the cause of the economic crisis, we wonder if it would be a step in the right direction for all parties to work together on an issue that transcends party politics. Indeed, Proverbs 20:18 tells us that 'Plans are established by seeking advice;' (NIV) It would be wise of George Osborne to listen to that piece of King Solomon's advice.
As Ed Balls pointed out in his speech, ‘the question is not the cost to George Osborne of paying for this temporary emergency tax cut, but the price our country will pay if he carries on regardless.’ Surely, at this time more than any other in the last decade, all parties and voters concerned would benefit from a progressive politics drawing on the expertise and experience of all the members of the house.
Mr Balls acknowledged that certain aspects of the last Labour government’s policies were not sufficient in halting the banking crisis, admitting that banking regulations were not tight enough and the constant change in how primary care trusts functioned were ‘destabilising and wasteful’. He stated that ‘every government gets things wrong’, but that ‘George Osborne must put the national interest first and stop trying to score cheap political points by blaming Labour for all his problems.’
The Shadow Chancellor highlighted three markers to test whether or not an economic plan is credible:
‘- first, there has to be a transparent plan with clear medium-term goals;
- second, that plan must command sufficient political support for it to be implemented;
- but, third, it also has to work – which means, crucially, that the goals must be realistic and achievable, the plan must deliver results and the policy must be flexible enough to deal with unforeseen events.’
Whilst acknowledging that George Osborne has achieved the first two, he argued that we are still to see any signs that his plans are working. Ed Balls suggested that, were he chancellor, the first step he would take to stimulate the economy would be to reduce VAT immediately, arguing that this would have an instantaneous effect on consumer buying power: ‘The inevitable increase in consumer confidence would help the struggling retail sector. It would help to push down inflation, and so reduce the risk of a recovery-choking interest rate rise later this year. And it would give the flatlining economy the jump-start it so urgently needs, boost jobs and help us get the deficit down for the long term.’
It is self evident that, in politics, a full and robust opposition is necessary to ensure that every opinion gets voiced, every idea is heard, and the needs of the most vulnerable are highlighted. However, at the recent Tawney Dialogue, Maurice Glasman made a case for the importance of relationships in politics, and argued that an increase in the importance placed upon the nurturing value of relationships would benefit the Labour party - and, may we suggest, politics as a whole. Would it be too much to ask, we wonder, for the Chancellor to swallow his pride and demonstrate a belief in true coalition politics, based purely on expertise and a common goal, and not just on party ties?