Peter Hoskin

Balls: let’s remain on the centre ground and oppose cuts

Balls: let's remain on the centre ground and oppose cuts
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As the New Statesman's George Eaton suggests, there's quite a lot packed into Ed Balls's piece in the Times today (also on his website for those who can't venture beyond the paywall). And, what's more, some of it makes sense. Take his argument that Labour shouldn't cede the "radical centre ground" of British politics to the coalition. That's the right argument to make, even it if is rather undermined by Balls's own efforts to drag the party leftwards.

As usual, it all starts to unravel as soon as Balls gets to the public finances. His position is blunt and straightforward: that "Labour needs strong leadership to make a credible argument against slashing public spending and raising VAT, which will increase unemployment and risk a double-dip recession." Ok, there's a place in the debate for someone questioning the depth and pace of the government's cuts. But Balls's aggressive insistence on this point doesn't quite chime with a Demos/YouGov poll today, which suggests that many Labour voters switched support in the election because "they believed that state spending had reached – or even breached – acceptable limits".*

Balls's approach will probably be to claim that at least he's being upfront about his position – which isn't entirely untrue. None of the Labour leadership contenders, including Balls, have set out their detailed thoughts on fiscal policy. But Balls has still done more than enough to establish himself as the anti-cuts candidate.

* That poll also has the eyecatching finding that, "a third of those who stuck with Labour believed that the priority for the NHS was to avoid cuts". Which could strengthen or undermine the Tories' decision to ringfence health spending, depending on how you look at it.