Friday, January 21, 2011

Balls Up!

Get used to those jokes - I just hope that the tabloids run through their repertoire of testicular-related humour rapidly, so we can get down to the real business at hand.

I like Alan Johnson and he had a reputation as a decent bloke, so I'm sorry to see him go - his backstory was an excellent counterpoint to the privileged lives of his counterparts on the government benches and he has given long service to his party and country. The sad fact of the matter is that he was unsuited for the job of Shadow Chancellor by his lack of knowledge or Treasury experience. You can see why Ed Miliband appointed him - a clean pair of hands and rather hard to paint as responsible for the economic travails affecting us.

On the other hand, Balls is a serious economist for serious economic times and the opponent that any Tory cabinet minister least wants to face across the dispatch box. You only have to look back at the way he mercilessly battered Gove over the Building Schools for the Future debacle. Balls is not just proper economist, he is a combative opponent prepared to use that knowledge and experience to dismantle any poorly assembled economic policy.

And boy has he got an opportunity with Osborne, a Chancellor with no formal economic training or relevant experience, just a surfeit of superiority and an irredeemable smugness.

The Shadow Chancellor is the key power house of opposition with the task of undermining and exposing the untruths and deceptions that make up what passes for an economic policy. In particular, he must have the weight and credibility to put a case to counter the mantra that there is no alternative to the path down which we have been taken by this Conservative-led government. Balls certainly has that - I can't imagine that Osborne has rested easily with the knowledge that he will - just like Michael Gove and Teresa May - be held to account by the Balls.

Once the foundations are damaged, the reality of Tory policy will lie bare without the bodyguard of economic lies that currently accompanies it. The fact that they - aided by their Liberal friends - are taking a wrecking-ball to our public services to meet an ideological agenda can then be tackled. We cannot hope to raise an effective defence of health, education or local government unless we expose Tory policy and then propose credible alternatives.

Appointing Balls does not come without risks to Ed Miliband - he is well aware that the Shadow Chancellor will be a power and public profile almost to match the leader himself and it seems unlikely that Balls has entirely abandoned his ambitions of advancement. Learning the lessons of history, Miliband has apparently insisted that the Eds will work together and share a communications team - worried that a machine loyal to Balls would provide an internal opposition to the leadership, recalling the Brown/Blair turf wars fought out by their respective media people.

I hope that these two will commit to a different future - our party and country needs it. Their futures are bound together and I hope they are not condemned to repeat the errors of the recent past.

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