Saturday, 8 June 2013

An iron chancellor in waiting and a party without a point

Winter fuel payments should be taken away from ‘wealthy’ pensioners, this isn’t the latest edict from the bunker inhabited by Iain Duncan Smith, it’s the latest plan from Ed Balls to rebuild Labour’s reputation for managing the economy. In terms of utility it is right up there with the chocolate fireguard.

In a speech made at the London headquarters of Reuters the shadow chancellor said it would be ‘completely irresponsible’ for Labour to promise increased public spending given the ‘bleak’ state of the country’s finances.

If returned to office an incoming Labour government would, he said, ‘inherit a substantial deficit, we will have to govern with much less money. We will need to show an iron discipline.’

Ed Balls didn’t, of course, give specific details of what would be in the Labour manifesto for the 2015 election, but he did drop a few thrilling spoilers about ‘tough fiscal rules’ to be followed and a ‘re-prioritising’ of the money ‘held within and between budgets. As part of this removing winter fuel payments from ‘wealthy’ pensioners would raise £100million; peanuts in comparison to the welfare budget.

Just to make sure the point that Labour can cut just as ruthlessly as the Tories little Ed Milliband announced this week that if returned to office the party would cap welfare payments and stick to spending targets set by the coalition.

The motivation behind the announcements is clear, they are designed to demonstrate that Labour understands the fiscal difficulties faced by the UK and is therefore fit to govern. Unfortunately it hasn’t worked; in fact it has made them look more muddled than ever.

The whole project is too drearily unambitious for words, Middle England, the market every party wants to woo, is hardly likely to take ‘re-prioritisation now!’ as its battle cry. There is also more than a touch of hypocrisy about a politician preaching ‘iron discipline’ on matters fiscal when a parade of his brethren have once again been trooped before the cameras accused of fiddling the system.

That the Labour Party is prepared to go down this route highlights the continued political naivety of the party leadership. They are willing to dismantle the principle of universality in return for a mess of financial pottage and the vague chance of having the Daily Mail, maybe, saying something nice about them; frankly the game isn’t worth the candle.

The two Ed’s have made the mistake of thinking the trick pulled by New Labour in the 1990’s, stealing the economic clothes of an unpopular Tory government, is the party’s route back to strength and office. It is nothing of the sort.

In fact, as Martin Pugh points out in his excellent and provocative history of the Labour Party it was always a symptom of the party’s decline as a political force. Times have changed, people are crying out for an alternative to a society where the lucky few sail happily through dappled sunlight whilst everyone else splashes like mad just to stay afloat.

By sacrificing its principles on the altar of expediency Labour isn’t winning votes and demonstrating its fitness for office, it is making enemies and exposing its weakness and lack of direction.


The secretive to the point of being weird Bilderberg group is holding its annual conference in, drum roll please, Watford; oh the glamour eh. This is either the convocation of a sinister world government as the conspiracy theorists have it or a get together for sad pseudo alpha types who think turning up makes them look important. Given that George Osborne and Ed Balls are on the guest list, they’ll be letting Nick Clegg in next; I’d say it was the latter.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is getting a D-I-V-O-R-C-E, I wonder if like most divorced men of a certain age he will get a silly haircut and a second hand sports car; come to that who will get custody of the political prisoners? There are so many questions, most of which I’d get sent to Siberia for asking were this being written in Russia.

Prince Charles says there should be a wildflower meadow in every community to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the coronation. Bless, the poor booby probably thinks this will be the place where smock wearing yokels will merrily frolic in the sunshine, pausing only to nibble on biscuits sold at a huge mark-up under the Duchy Originals brand. I’m not the biggest fan of the Prince of Wails, but on this issue he’s got a point. I too would like to see a large patch of open ground in every community, they’re called school playing fields, what a shame the current government and the one before have sold most of them off.

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