Friday, May 8, 2015

How Ed Ball's austerity-lite agenda ruined Labour's election chances

 

One of the great joys of election night is watching particularly despised politicians getting their comeuppance. These occurrences have become known as "Portillo moments" in homage to the unseating of the the Tory Defence Secretary Michael Portillo in 1997.

Thanks to the SNP landslide in Scotland and the implosion of the Lib-Dem party, General Election night 2015 was full of "Portillo moments" including Danny Alexander (George Osborne's Lib-Dem sidekick for the last 5 years), Esther McVey (Iain Duncan Smith's vile DWP henchwomanJim Murphy (the Blairite Scottish Labour leader), Vince Cable (the Lib-Dem who flogged off the Royal Mail on the cheap), Steve Webb (the Lib-Dem DWP minister who defended "Bedroom Tax" to the hilt), Douglas Alexander (A key Ed Miliband ally and adviser) and Ed Davey (the Lib-Dem energy minister with the incredibly flexible principles).

Despite all of these high profile oustings the biggest "Portillo moment" of the night belonged to the Labour Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls, who lost his Morley and Outwood seat to a Tory.

I never liked Ed Balls. He always struck me as a pompous and patronising buffoon who would surely have been more at home in the Tory party. A "Tory in a red tie" of the kind that have become all too common since the Labour Party was usurped in the mid-90s by Tony Blair and converted from a social democratic party to a Thatcherism-lite one.

In my view, one of Ed Miliband's very biggest mistakes (of which there were many) was his decision to appoint Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor and hand him control over the economic message that the Labour party conveyed to the electorate.

To be fair to Ed Balls he did start out with a fairly decent and coherent message. His oft repeated assertions that the Tories were cutting spending "too hard, too deep and too fast" was completely vindicated by the way that Tory ideological austerity completely killed off Labour's nascent post-crisis mini-recovery and plunged the whole UK economy into a prolonged economic stagnation between late 2010 and early 2013.

The problem is that instead of sticking to his story, or even strengthening his position with slogans like "Austerity is a con", "Osborne's economic incompetence" or "They've created more new public debt than every Labour government in history combined" he decided to backtrack and start mimicking George Osborne's failing austerity agenda with an austerity-lite agenda of his own.

The absolute nadir of this ludicrous austerity-lite strategy came in January 2015 when the Labour leadership whipped their MPs into actually endorsing Osborne's ideological austerity agenda in a parliamentary vote (just five Labour rebels defied this suicidal order from their leaders - see footnote).

This decision to begin copying the demonstrably failing economic policies of the Tories left the Labour Party in a serious bind. How on earth could the point out how badly Tory austerity has failed without looking like complete idiots when people point out that Labour voted in favour of continuing ideological austerity and promised to stick to George Osborne's spending plans?

The astonishing success of the SNP is a demonstration that it is possible to win an unprecedented electoral landslide with a coherently explained and passionately expressed message of opposition to ideological austerity. Ed Balls' ridiculous decision to adopt the language of austerity-lite robbed the Labour Party of their ability to set themselves up as a "real alternative" and ensured their electoral defeat.

I mean who on earth could ever get passionate about a political agenda defined by its advocates as "austerity-lite"? How is it even possible to to convince people to get passionate about defeating the other side when you're offering the same thing as them, just not quite as bad?

When Balls was appointed Shadow Chancellor I swore to myself that I would never support the Labour Party as long as he was in their cabinet. Now that he has been ousted I hope that they turn to someone from the left of the party who had the sense to oppose austerity, rather than going for someone from the right of the party in the hope of appeasing Rupert Murdoch. Judging by the Labour Party's appalling track record of strategic incompetence it wouldn't surprise me at all if they demanded an unelected seat in the House of Lords for Ed Balls and brought him back into their shadow cabinet as an unelected peer.

As I said before, Ed Balls always struck me as a "Tory in a red tie", so I can't help thinking that a Tory inside agent within the Labour Party probably couldn't have come up with a better election losing strategy than Ed Ball's ludicrous "austerity-lite" narrative.


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Footnote
Only 20 MPs (including tellers) voted against George Osborne's absurd "Isn't Austerity Great" bill.

All six SNP MPs (Scotland) opposed it: Stewart Hosie, Angus Brendan, Angus Robertson, Mike Weir, 
Eilidh Whiteford, Pete Wishart
All three Plaid Cymru MPs (Wales) opposed it: Jonathan Edwards, Elfyn Llwyd, Hywel Williams
All three SDLP  MPs 
(Northern Ireland) opposed it: Mark Durkan, Alasdair McDonnell, Margaret Ritchie
The single Green MP opposed it: Caroline Lucas
The single Alliance MP (Northern Ireland) opposed it: 
Naomi Long
One of the eight DUP MPs (Northern Ireland) opposed it: Jim Shannon

Just five of the 258 Labour MPs opposed it: Dianne Abbot, Katie Clark, Roger Godsiff, Austin Mitchell, Dennis Skinner



MORE ARTICLES FROM
 ANOTHER ANGRY VOICE 
                 
Austerity is a con
                                       
The terrifying scale of political illiteracy in the UK
                
Anti-Austerity = Epic Win / Austerity-lite = Massive Fail
                         
How George Osborne has created more debt than every Labour government in history combined
                        
The "all in this together" fallacy
           
The Tory ideological mission
                     
Austerity and economic illiteracy
                                                
David Cameron's "austerity to infinity" speech
                            

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