Peter Hoskin

A Labour leadership candidate needs to take on Balls over spending – and quick

A Labour leadership candidate needs to take on Balls over spending – and  quick
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A week ago, I wondered whether the Labour leadership contest might produce a "cuts candidate": someone prepared to responsibly debate the fiscal situation as part of their campaign. But, as Danny Finkelstein has noted, none of the candidates so far has even mentioned the deficit, let alone suggested solutions for trimming it. Their wilful silence on the issue is starting to look bizarre, to say the least.

The worry, though, is that it will also prove dangerous.  So long as the d-word doesn't get a look in, Ed Balls is blissfully free to do what he does best, and bang on misleadingly about "investment vs cuts".  He certainly seizes the opportunity with relish in his article for the Mirror this morning: in only the second sentence, he claims that George Osborne was "struggling to contain his glee," as he announced plans to "cut £6bn from public services this year and put the school-building programme on hold."  And what follows isn't much better.

Now, you could say that this doesn't matter – Balls is stuck on the sidelines now, so his scaremongering won't take root.  But my view is that the fiscal situation will require an open, expansive and considered debate, by all sides, over the course of years if not decades.  And I can't see how Balls fits into that, so better that his approach is combatted now.  Just in case.