Ed -ucating Labour

An old online friend (a correspondent for ages, a fellow admirer of Mr Alan Johnson), is aghast at me. Why am I cheerful at the accession of Ed Balls to the shadow chancellorship – and why did I say that Alan Johnson might have moved on before the next election anyway?

Fair enough. I shall explicate.

Like almost everyone in the Labour party (some in the LRC seem happy) I’m saddened by Alan’s premature departure. I had pictured him setting the foundation for Labour’s sensible deficit reduction, then once that was achieved, departing to plaudits and bouquets. Why departing?

Alan’s strength is his calm understanding of what really matters and his instinct and feel for the attitudes of those who are not always, by tradition or belief, Labour voters. That fundamental good sense was Labour’s first and greatest need in a shadow Chancellor – a realisation that whatever the debates about deficits, about keynesianism and QE, there was a need to ground what Labour proposed in the experiences and understanding of the voter.

So my first reason for a degree of optimism is that in his departure, Alan has revealed that in large part this work is done. The need to reduce the deficit, sensibly, carefully, but thoroughly, will not depart from our message. The focus on jobs and growth (which I’ve long been an advocate of) will continue with Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor. In other words, Alan already achieved the most essential task he had as Shadow Chancellor.

Second, once that broad policy thrust had been established, I always imagined that Alan would not really hunger to be Shadow Chancellor in the run up to the General Election. Maybe this is just me, but while he had a firm grasp of economics, he appear to want to present himself as a detail and data guy. Perhaps he felt it would be inauthentic. He’s an honest man.

Unfortunately, while it’s not quite true that the Leader of the Labour party must be a dessicated calculating machine, there’s certainly a lot of use in a Labour shadow chancellor resembling an ultra cooled super-computer that can process tetraflops of data while playing chess with a Grand master. Which is why, in the back of my mind, I pictured Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper or Douglas Alexander attending the daily press conference alongside the leader.

Since this unfortunately came to pass earlier than I expected, and the foundations Alan laid are being adhered to, I am optimistic.

But my third reason for optimism is Ed Balls himself.

Now, I might be a bit naive, but let me tell you my experience of Ed Balls and his team. During the leadership election I wrote a piece suggesting that, inter-alia, Ed Balls would not be elected as leader, and that he should probably turn down a shadow cabinet job and go off and make telly programmes about football or some such. As you can imagine, I had a little trepidation about how it would be recieved.

The response from team Balls was a friendly note from someone very close to Ed, saying they’d enjoyed the piece and asking if I fancied going on a campaign visit with them sometime. It was about as threatening and paranoid as a bouquet of posies.

On top of that, every encounter I’ve had with Ed (It’s not been many) he’s been intellectually rigorous yes, but also direct, engaging and funny.

Others appear to have more bruising encounters with him. I don’t doubt that he was single minded and even brutal in the service of his chief, and this has certainly damaged his reputation in the eyes of the media but since becoming his own man, my impression is that he’s more comfortable, less aggressive, more engaging and open. His first tweet after being chosen as Shadow chancellor? Agreeing with Gaby Hinsliff that people should not use such aggressive imagery in describing his appointment.

So I think Ed Balls knows it’s in both his and Labour’s interest to have a different political reputation to the one he enjoyed when Gordon Brown was his patron. It is in his interest to be, in the corny phrase, a uniter, not a divider. It is in his interest to be as close to the Leader of the party as he can be.

Of course, Ed Balls and Ed Miliband, as a team, will be attacked by the Tories for their roles in our time in office. I’m not bothered by that. If anyone thought the best way to a Labour election victory was to hide from the last thirteen years, they’re deluded. We have to be frank about what we did, defend what was good and admit where we went wrong, as Alan and Ed did. Having Ed Miliband and Ed Balls in the top jobs might make that process easier, not harder.

An open, engaging, campaigning and yes, inclusive, Ed Balls is precisely what Labour needs. Labour actvists hunger for the political and campaigning drive and the economic calculating machine that got Labour tweeters so excited yesterday, but we also need to show that we’ve changed, that we’ve learned, that we’ve listened.

Alan Johnson did Labour a great service by ensuring Labour stuck closely to what voters thought about the deficit, jobs and growth.

Having established that consensus, Ed Balls and Ed Miliband together could well provide the campaigning and intellectual energy to make it an appealing prospect for voters.

We need rigour and the drive, but we also need humour, inclusiveness and openness. Both men need to show it, both men need to demonstrate how to make it work.

Crucially, I think Ed Balls and Ed Miliband know that too. Labour suceeds best when it is in touch with voters concerned, discplined on building prosperity, inclusive to those who are not “of Labour”, energetic, intellectually vibrant and passionate.

I think Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have the opportunity to be all that, and in large part, Alan Johnson can take the credit.

25 Responses to “Ed -ucating Labour”

  1. HampsteadOwl

    “My first reason for a degree of optimism is that in his departure, Alan has revealed that in large part this work is done”.

    Tiny logical flaw here however: Johnson did not depart voluntarily, but was forced to resign because of a crisis in his personal life. The idea that his departure tells of some kind of biblical revelation as to the essential truth of Labour’s economic policy is as laughable as it is naive. Keep up the wishful thinking though, if it helps.

    Reply
    • hopisen

      Well, if that was what I was saying, I’d agree with you.

      But it’s not.

      Reply
      • Liam Murray

        Hate to be a pedant but can’t see how you’re saying anything else?

        “My first reason for a degree of optimism is that in his departure, Alan has revealed that in large part this work is done”

        ‘In his departure….he has revealed’ – but his departure wasn’t by choice, it was essentially forced by events in his private life. Are you suggesting he was considering resigning, reluctant because he thought the intray was still chunky but then discovere hey, what do you know – I’ve actually finished?

        That’s not credible.

        And if this post needs a ‘short version’ (as is your habit) try:

        Yes, if Balls is ‘as he was’ we’re in a bad place but if he changes a little then perhaps…..

        Reply
      • hopisen

        Because it’s the fact of his departure that has revealed something to be true*. The manner of it, whether he resigned, was beamed up to the starship enterprise, did a John Stonehouse, or had to be asked to leave for making squawking noises in shadow cabinet, is irrelevant.

        He was there, and i thought his presence was needed to achieve something, and now he’s gone, and it turns out that thing has been achieved.

        *or more accurately, it has revealed something to me, which I beleive to be true.

        Reply
  2. Greg Lovell

    Agree entirely. My brief meetings with Ed Balls have shown him to be funny, approachable and clever. And he bought a very generous round of drinks after the hustings in Bristol.

    However, key to this is the challenge it presents to Osborne. As the numbers turn against him, he’ll need more than “it’s all Labour’s fault”. The impact of his own decisions will become clear. I think Ed Balls is better placed than Alan Johnson to critically assess these outcomes. In the early days, Ed might have been seen as too confrontational and unwilling to accept mistakes. Now, as the focus shifts to the coalitions economic policies, he is intellectually and ideologically precisely the person Labour needs to be pressurising Osborne.

    Reply
  3. Brian Hughes

    Well said, you’ve cheered me up.

    My reasons for reacting with a “damn” to the news were my admiration for Alan Johnson and the realisation that there goes almost the last of my generation. I cheered with the best when one of the Millibands told the 2007 Conference that it was time for a new generation to take control of the party but, even before I’d stopped applauding, suddenly realised that that meant “not yours mate” (or, more significantly perchance for those who like to read between the lines of such speeches, not Gordon Brown’s).

    My only close encountered with young Mr Balls was at that same conference when another elderly delegate and I managed to intimidate him, at one of those early morning delegates only sessions, on the topic of secondary school parental “choice” nightmares in our county. He did have the good manners to smile at my observation that the only winners from the system were the local coach operators who get to ferry pupils vast distances as a result of it.

    So perhaps he’s not as fierce as people allege. As to the effect on ye Great British Public of his economic past life, being closely involved with Black Wednesday doesn’t seem to have damaged that young Mr Cameron’s prospects, so, even though it will give right-wing bloggers and the like something they think of as incisive comment to trot out, we needn’t fret….

    Reply
  4. bert

    Hopi, it’s great to see your myopic sycophancy has been tempered with the advent of the new year……

    Reply
  5. Newmania

    BALLSITE ENFORCER ‘Did you call our boss Bat`s piss … ?’
    TERRIFIED QUIVERING SEN ‘Well yes I merely meant to say that viewed correctly this is a golden arc in the darkness’ ( Python)
    This post reads like the dazed gibbering of a captive Pilot on video. Boy oh boy did you back the wrong horse
    Look at this ..
    ..Labour’s first and greatest need in a shadow Chancellor – a realisation that whatever the debates about deficits, about keynesianism and QE, there was a need to ground what Labour proposed in the experiences and understanding of the voter.
    Gawd help us that’s pathetic . It was ..
    1 Not to give Brown`s boot boy a power base
    2 To have a Blairites in a position of power ( now none )
    4 To disassociate Ed M from the unrepentant deficit denial cult of which Ed Balls made himself the high priest, especially after Ed himself was too left wing for the Parliamentary party .
    But you know all this much of the rest of it is random nice words and ( daringly ) some little unrealistic hopes ( careful Sen , they are watching you know ) .Had any notion that you were not stuck, the anecdotal stuff about Balls being a fluffy bunny rabbit really would give it away.
    A fantastic post …. oh jesus the bit about Balls following the Johnson song sheet …priceless.

    Reply
  6. Gilliebc

    At least Labour have now got a Shadow Chancellor who is more than qualified to do the job. I’m not ignoring the huge deficit that was allowed to spiral out of control when Ed B was part of the team. Some economists would say that this deficit was perfectly sustainable, but I believe that the sooner it’s tackled the better. However, once again the Tory led government is going too far much too fast. Ed Balls will be more than a match for George Osbourne in the House of Commons.

    Reply
  7. Glenda

    Maybe this is just me, but while he had a firm grasp of economics, he appear to want to present himself as a detail and data guy. Perhaps he felt it would be inauthentic. He’s an honest man.

    Making many and various assumptions about what you meant…20% and 12.8% are very different creatures. Don’t know the man, don’t really care whether he’s nice or not, not really that bothered about his personal circs (beyond the usual – ‘Ah, that’s sad’).

    Very pleased that I won’t have to hide my head in my hands and sing ‘Nah nah nah’ the next time the Shadow Chancellor comes on.

    Reply
  8. Liam Murray

    “He was there, and i thought his presence was needed to achieve something, and now he’s gone, and it turns out that thing has been achieved”

    Glorious – should be your new masthead. Needs no retort….

    Reply
  9. HampsteadOwl

    “He was there, and I thought his presence was needed to achieve something, and now he’s gone, and it turns out that thing has been achieved”

    So jammed have we become in the tortuous by-ways of your expression that I have by now entirely forgotten what “that thing” was in the first place.

    It all comes to the same place however: Johnson’s departure, unscripted as it was, reveals to you some profound contentment with Labour’s economic policy that has not been observed by any other non-partisan commentator. The general consensus meanwhile is that it is a complete and utter mess.

    Reply
  10. Events Dear Boy, Events

    Lets climb over the current fashion of instant political history and go back in time. Prime Ministers, and therefore by definition Leaders of the Opposition, become successful by winning elections; having a long period in office (winning a second or third term) and; more importantly, changing the political weather. To achieve this a leader must have a strong team and have a partner that a Prime Minister can depend on, trust and be a loyal deputy, although not necessarily by name. Some examples. Macmillan had R A Butler. Wilson, arguably did it all himself, but had to put with George Brown (odd how the name Brown causes various leaders problems) for a while before Barbara Castle come along. Heath had Iain Macleod, and after his untimely death Ted lost his way. Callaghan had Healey, and it could be argued Foot; both served him loyally. Thatcher had Whitelaw, and it was only after his departure that her period in office start to unwind. We will skip over Major/Heseltine and Blair/Brown.

    For a Leader of the Opposition to be successful the person has to make an instant impression, take the country by storm and demonstrate that they are a Prime Minister-in-waiting (sealing the deal). Wilson, Thatcher and Blair all did this in spades and won election after election. Heath was an exception and look what happened. Macmillan, Callaghan and Major fall into a different category as they succeeded in office.

    Now we come to Cameron, who does have a good deputy in Osborne, but failed on all three counts as set out above, and therefore failed to win the election. And without a mandate will lead to huge political problems for him, which are beginning to emerge.

    Finally, in this sweep through leaders past and present, we arrive at Ed Miliband. My contention is that he has failed already. There has been no instant impression; no taking the country by storm and; moreover he can hardily be described as a Prime Minister-in-waiting. The poor chap has made rather a mess of things, both with his team and on the policy front. Unless Labour admit in big heavy bold type that various policies were wrong under Brown, the party can’t move on. But policies are only part of the problem, after all Thatcher arrived in office deliberately camouflaging what she would do once elected. Blair, on the other hand, hadn’t thought his policies through and therefore wasted his first term, and, it could be argued, lost interest in domestic policy due to the obstinacy of Gordon Brown. Maybe that is a reason why he buried himself in foreign affairs?

    I failed to comprehend why Alan Johnson accepted the job of Shadow Chancellor. He wasn’t suited to the role and never had any desire for an economic portfolio. If Miliband had been wise he would have used Johnson in a Willie Whitelaw type role, but that wasn’t to be; EM didn’t want Balls and the last three months have been a tragic waste.

    I just can’t see the EM/EB double act working. The two don’t get on, Balls believes he is senior to Miliband (shades of Blair/Brown) and there is already a split on how the deficit should be handled, despite the transparent sticking plaster applied this week. Balls is not going to appear on Today or Newsnight and do a mea culpa. His interview on yesterday’s World At One demonstrated how he is going to handle the past. Moreover, he is unsackable, which leaves EM very exposed. Miliband will have to play second fiddle to Balls, who will peddle the wrong policies to challenge the Tories.

    Ok, it’s too late now but Labour had the ideal team staring them in the face before the election – Johnson with David Miliband as his deputy. With that team, Labour would have retained office and Nick Clegg would be far happier as part of a Lab-Lib government than he is now.

    Of course, the Cameron/Osborne little experiment may fail and Labour may get into office by default, but I wouldn’t bet my mortgage on it happening. Osborne is a clever lad, as Mandelson knew well enough. If the economy recovers through the private sector the Tories are home and dry. Don’t forget there will be the bank sell-off’s to come, which will result in neatly timed tax cuts.

    So, I believe Labour has the wrong team and is some way from developing the right policies. Little doubt they will maintain their poll lead, but it means little at this stage of the electoral cycle. We are where we are. At present we are stuck with EM/EB but when they fail, what then? Is there a leader-in-waiting that will rise up and take the country by storm? If there is, then Labour could well be in a position to win the next election.

    Don’t forget, the AJ4PM committee solved Labour’s problem before the last election but the Cabinet failed to act. The committee’s little local difficulty at the moment is that we don’t have a suitable candidate.

    Reply
    • Brian Hughes

      It’s true that the result of the 2015 GE is likely to be determined primarily by the state of the economy. The Tories will be hoping that a global recovery and some asset sales (such as the banks) will be enough to convince the electorate.

      That being the case, what Labour does now matters not very much as long as it doesn’t go as bonkers as it did in the early 80s.

      The Tories want to repeat Mrs Thatcher’s success with her “there is no alternative” line. And she succeeded partly because, in the split opposition, there wasn’t anyone clearly articulating the alternative.

      It’s probably better now for Labour to have Ed Balls articulating the alternative, especially as it’s a genuinely credible alternative, than to have Alan Johnson looking slightly out of his depth.

      Reply
      • Newmania

        The damage done to the country by Balls Ed Brown and the other little plotters is not just over -spending .Its also what they spent on. Unreformed NHS , unconditional welfare , uncompetitive schools and Public Sector Pensions
        In my view the structural supply suide damage is far worse than the relatively manageable deficit , bad though that is. That you find this credible shows we are suffering form crediblity inflation as well as the traditional sort

        Reply
    • pregethwr

      While I tended to agree with you at the time about AJ4PM I think that…er… events have shown why that was never a good idea.

      Unfortunately in politics personality matters, on paper AJ was perfect, but he wouldn’t have worked…

      Reply
  11. Newmania

    This is quite a good Balls -up
    “I told Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling in 2009 that – whatever the media clamour at the time – even trying to halve the deficit in four years was a mistake.The pace was too severe to be credible or sustainable.
    As both history and market realities teach us, the danger of too rapid deficit reduction is that it proves counter-productive…”
    DOH

    Reply
  12. NightJack

    The Eds are beset by well established memes.

    When it all boils down, Ed Balls wants to lead the Labour Party and he still thinks he is the best man for the job. Ed M was 3rd favourite and every day that goes by confirms my opinion that he just can’t be made to like a national leader. He’s made of political and oratorical tofu. Every PMQ’s, every TV appearance, every policy launch that I see, he seems to die a little more. Sad.

    Ed B on the other hand should be just the sort of clever, ego driven bully boy that we are used to. He is a leader of sorts and my God doesn’t he know it. Shadow Chancellor is just a resting place where Ed B can rebuild and renew. It is tailor made for a leadership launch; he even gets to kick lumps out of The Boy George to a background of cheers and hurrahs from just about everyone.

    He has trumpeted his ambition about so much that from here on in, his every utterance will be battened upon for evidence of ambition and anything off-message. Before long Ed Milliband is going to look as uncomfortable as the mouse in a cat show.

    All well and good and the cleverest bully in the room gets to be leader of the gang and he is fairly clearly defined as believing that high taxation and high government spending is a-good-thing. Hope he’s good at selling that. He’ll need to be.

    Reply
  13. Newmania

    Fair comment from Night Jack and Ballsed -it-up can hardly disagree I can quote from his leadership efforts ” I don`t want to cut , I want to spend ”

    Pretty clear?

    Reply
  14. Quietzapple

    I made clear I believed that Ed Balls would become Shadow Chancellor before the next General Election. He will marmalise Osborne.

    I’m not at all sure Johnson achieved much, though the presence of any apparently old working class style person in politics humanises Labour’s front bench. (I was a postie for a year or so, Johnson’s leadership of the union was disasterous imho)

    It would have been better had he remained for another 6 months: by the time of the next election Balls will only need a relatively short while to humiliate Osborne, and only a year or so to rebuild Labour as the party of economic competence in the public mind; more runs risks including boredom, the public like a bit of novelty.

    Still Yvette Cooper is in the wings …

    Reply
  15. Quietzapple

    Oh re the trolls banging on about Ed Balls ambition to lead labour:

    Campbell-Bannerman led the Liberals and was PM from their great victory in 1906 – 08; Asquith then took over until the Tories and Lloyd-George drove him out in 1916, accomplishing great reforms.

    I doubt Ed Mili will pop his clogs in service as PM but Ed Balls may have his turn. Let us hope there is no further WW Recession on the scale of that we have just endured to address in either eventuality. We may be sure that a Labour Britain will co-operate with others to avert such as far as possible.

    Reply
  16. NightJack

    Well now, much as we may enjoy the comfort afforded by reference to some imagined analogous sequence of history, I think it profits us more to deal with the situation as it is today. Ed B was always the natural choice but I say again, Ed M kept him out of that job for sound political reasons whilst trying to consolidate an unexpected power base. That Ed M has had to throw the risky Ed B dice so early in his leadership is not an indication of strength or confidence unless he has a master plan to step aside in the interests of party unity. It’s necessary because it is too damaging to have both Shadow Chancellor AND Leader of The Opposition carted off the park quite so frequently.

    Sure enough, if proof of how sensitive the differences between the Eds are, there’s some very hard work being done at the mediaface this weekend trying to gain some fair wind. It buys a little time but the runes are set and the memes run free. Harriet Harman has been trotted out on Sky to square the circle. Wee Dougie is on BBC trying to sell the “all pull together line.” Elsewhere, in an apparent volte face from his platform position Ed B is now telling press briefings that he is “at one” With Ed M on economic policy. Well YYSSW.

    Reply

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