Ed Balls quickly announced he would be supporting Labour’s plan for halving the deficit within parliament, which is a notable continuation of his predecessors’ (Darling and Johnson) legacy. However, whilst this is disappointing, it would be unhelpful for a left knee jerk reaction, which neglects the progress and potential Ed Balls has for the left and progressive politics.
Firstly, from a Green Party perspective we have also signed up to halving the deficit within parliament, as quoted from our manifesto:
Our programme has to be paid for, and we accept that the Government borrowing of 12% of GDP is unsustainable. Like the Government, we would aim to more than halve the deficit by 2013, and the programme of taxation and spending in this manifesto is designed to achieve that.
With Ed Balls focusing much more than Johnson upon investment, growth and tax, there are some clear similarities between Balls and the Green Party’s plan. Of course, as mentioned before, Ed Balls’s environmental considerations are lax, but the desired speed for reducing the deficit is the same for both Labour and the Greens, illustrating areas of convergence that the parties can possibly utilise and work together constructively. Personally, I have warned against such a timetable, as targeting this level of reduction at this time can put adverse pressure and inflexibility upon economic strategies.
Balls has hardly lost his focus upon the ‘alternative’ he discussed so eloquently during his leadership campaign. Consider his recent blog; it barely mentions the ‘need’ for cuts (instead, he just throws a line in at the end), focusing rather on investment and taxation. Whilst he has reversed his criticism of Labour’s plan for the deficit reduction, this should be seen in context of Labour’s wider political situation.
Labour are being led by someone who clearly doesn’t know what he stands for, as he gets caught up in quandaries that often result in his adoption of the neoliberal line: he focuses on cuts, he distances himself from the ‘lurch to the left’, he criticises the unions, he ignores the welfare cuts effects on the poorest and he jokes about supporting protests. Labour are in dire need of direction, and whilst Ed Balls has to show respect for Ed Miliband, something Johnson never did; Balls’s firmer grasp of economics and the need for an alternative is essential for helping Labour rebuild as a progressive party ready to fight the capitalist enclosure.
The public need an alternative. Politics needs an alternative. If parties end up fighting the destructive battle of who cuts the best, then democracy will edge more towards meltdown. Ed Balls may have been undermined through the poisonous method of political consensus, but his dissent, whilst limited, will be key for Labour and the left fractions working within and outside the party.