Labour - what did they mean by that?


What, if anything, does Labour's latest economic announcement tell us? Some argue almost nothing. I believe something rather more than that.

This is the case for the prosecution: Ed Balls is only telling us what he would do now if he was chancellor, not what he will do if he becomes chancellor in 2015.

By then, the proceeds of the 4G sale will not be his to spend - the money will already have been accounted for by his predecessor. The promise to increase capital spending by £3bn - if it survives into Labour's manifesto - is also meaningless, goes the argument, unless you know what the baseline is going to be ie £3bn on top of what.

Thus, Labour is merely coming up with an eye-catching announcement which confirms what we already know - Ed Balls would spend a bit more than George Osborne if he were in office now.

All of that is true. The reason I am still interested is because of what it tells us about Labour's strategic thinking. The two Eds are doubling up on the political gamble they've made that the government's deficit reduction strategy will soon be proved to have failed and that Labour needs to continue to highlight what they would do differently.

So, they have decided to pledge to spend more public money to build our way out of recession. They have said they would spend the windfall gain from selling 4G licences even though Gordon Brown used the sale of 3G licences to pay down the debt, and even though Labour has said that any windfall from selling bank shares should be used in the same way.

If Labour were being led by David - not Ed - Miliband the party would probably be using this conference to underline the lessons learned from Labour's past, to indicate how the party could be trusted with the nation's purse strings again and to reinforce that the next Labour government was likely to have to make painful choices of its own.

Behind the scenes those close to the two Eds argue that the public would be confused if they talked simultaneously about the need to spend more now than the government and the need to make cuts in the future.

They insist that the party is showing its fiscal rectitude by fighting with the unions over backing public sector pay curbs and pledging a post-election "zero-based" spending review (that is, one which starts from zero rather than starting with asking whether to cut existing budgets). They say that both Eds talk constantly of the need for iron discipline over spending.

Nevertheless, their choice is revealing.

PS: There is one other reason why today's announcement is interesting. It confirms that housing is once again at the heart of the debate about economic policy, just as it was for many decades when parties competed to promise they'd build more homes. The coalition says it can do it by underwriting first time buyers' deposits and private sector housebuilders whilst Labour say that public money is what is needed and needed now.

Nick Robinson, Political editor Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    Atlee's intentions were in part a reaction to his own experiences of WW1 at its worst (a country fit for heroes) and the glaring inequalities that followed. It was an attempt to deliver a more fair society like a free health service. Admirable though it was his downfall was in part due to prescription fees, something never intentioned. Balls is a boil on the backside of humanity in comparison.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    Mirror mirror on the wall, who tells the biggest porkies of all? You Mr Balls!

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    Normannippy I couldn't have put it more succinctly myself. Politicos don't half love their platitudes and big ideas don't they All i want is someone to get on with the mundane job of running the country properly and get us out of this terrible mess. Bit like they do in countries like Norway and Canada and Switzerland full of politiicans I've never heard off. I can't see it happening anytime soon..

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    Meaningless claptrap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    As expected, a bunch of inane pointless rubbish designed to make the party faithful cheer. I'd love to see a labour politician with real principles giving out a real message that he shows he genuinely believes in. Another schoolboy in long trousers with no real experience of life! What a shame!

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    What boring, predictable, little boys' rubbish. Bring back Attlee and Macmillan. These little babies with their juvenile speeches are just a joke. Speak loudly to elicit the applause from a hall of ghastly geeks with nothing better to do in their lives

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    "Well if you share some of your views ... what's the Daily Mail saying on that?"

    Actually, the Daily Mail has lots of articles on Kim Kardasian. Give it a try saga, you'll probably like it. Just thought I'd keep it at your level.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    No parties will put a programme of building what the older of us knew as "council houses" the preference is to pay housing benefit to private landlords, sustaining high rents. Money invested in Council Housing at sensible rents has the potential of reversing the present cash flow into an income stream. If, as reported, there are a million unused houses then compulsory purchase for a quick supply.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    house prices

    Stable & Affordable, one way

    Tabula rasa: all properties for rent, all of us equal stakeholders in national income, all family groups equal in relevant market sector

    Before ending next Apology On Our Behalf, apology for our oppressive forebears, forgiveness of debt, grant of equality to wrongful possessors

    No real pain, castle or palace: Queen an employee of Palace Show

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.


    We could join the EZ and take the whole thing (sound money) right out of domestic politics, couldn't we? Not the most crazy thing imaginable.


    Well if you share some of your views (on the big political issues of the day, I mean) I might be able to incorporate one or two of them and you'll be a deal happier. Like fiscal discipline, for example ... what's the Daily Mail saying on that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    #218 Sagamix

    You raise a good point.

    Rule-based fiscal policy, or discretionary fiscal policy? The latter is more likely to be corrupted by politicians (of all parties) hoping to be re-elected.

    Anyway, this is strictly for wonks such as you and me. I'm sure Milliband will explain Labour's policy this afternoon. Everything will become clear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Years conned

    Voting for the most keen that Keys to Kingdom be in Keeping of those 'making-it' to Top of Pile

    Don't feel too guilty, other parties similar, rank-and-file of all 'dogmatic', leaders trapped, 'history & careers'

    Yes, mines, field, factories, sun, rain 'still with us'

    So too steel collars & wall-chains, locked

    Keys ('our' currency) awaiting 'trickle-down', or fire-sale

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    Despite Labour previously stating that Tory cuts are "too deep and too quick", the obvious party political result of the grim economic landscape is being realised - largely homogenous policy.

    If the best offering the opposition are able to make against the current gvt, in spite of all of their sins, is "We are not as posh as them" then I think it will be disappointing and worrying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    Vote for us AND when We get in, we shall deliver a ... erm...spending review!
    Big deal! Emperor Balls has no clothes.
    Vote Miliband, get Balls and Harmen: two architects of Labour's and the country's self-destruction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    "Ah, Strictly, excellent - chance for me to dumb down. Let me not spurn it."
    I'm glad you told me, I wouldn't have known otherwise.

    "'Keeping up with the Kardashians', for example. That's quite close to being almost watchable"
    Not much boom but lots of bust, eh? It fits your political views very nicely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    "brave stuff"

    On implicit promises, journalists more than match for hapless politicians

    Under thumb, 'human nature' dictates survival, taking-sides or affecting 'halo'

    Brave under 'halo', to risk generalised impatience with politics

    More interest in 'explanation' of 'patience' amongst anonymous, us!

    "All have to learn" & "Learning no end"

    'Sociology' of 'blogosphere employment'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    @ 216

    Growth the key to cutting the deficit? Yes, that's true.

    It's Ballsian, in fact.

    But in your case, Andy, it's ... well let's just say that Ian has left the building.

    Growth in the UK economy we need - not in the bank balances of corporates and high net worth individuals.

    They may, as you say, trickle down on the rest of the populace but only an oddball would want to see that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Mabelode @179
    "If any had answers"

    Parties not even asking: How to ensure Full Employment?

    Morality abandoned: economics students taught 'necessity' of The Pool - a fact-of-life

    Few voices for more education, apprenticeships, even conscription: lost 'on expense', govt, tax-payers, employers, 'counting the cost' of NOT spiting own future!

    Need 'transfer-lists', on Full Pay

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    jh 209

    Sounds like Brown's 'golden rule'. Too subjective and (as we've seen) malleable. What's a boom? What's current as opposed to capital? And as for 'economic cycles' - each is as different from the others as gorgonzola from cheddar.

    I'd like to see a legislated debt ceiling (e.g. 200% of tax take). If a Chancellor wants to exceed this they must go on YouTube and Twitter and explain why.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    "promising to solve"

    Making a difference? Governments just 'help or hinder'

    Beneath govt role, +/- 3-30%, reliance is on The People

    Without freedom for The People, govt risks hindrance

    With freedom, all secure, 'in conscience' not against

    Growth in value - not necessarily 'tonnage' - unlimited

    New politicians. perhaps: new Social Contract, urgent

    Income Equality unlocks future


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