Fraser Nelson

Balls pitches for the leadership

Balls pitches for the leadership
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The Ed Balls leadership cart is revving up a gear. He wants to position himself as the main mover behind the election campaign, now that Gordon Brown is dead in the water. It was his plan to stop Darling jacking up VAT to 20 percent, so he can accuse the Tories of wanting to do that (it’ll be more like 22.5 percent IMHO - but that’s another story). And now Balls has told tomorrow’s Sunday Times that Labour’s election focus will be on the family. “In the past I think our family policy was all about children,” says Father Balls. “I think our family policy now is actually about the strength of the adult relationships and that is important for the progress of the children.”

Does Balls have any idea about the extent of which the welfare state under Labour has robbed the low-income family of its economic function, about how adults are no longer better off together, and incentivised to split up with all the effects that has on the children? But it gets better. Rather than look at and erode government policies that undermine the family, the obvious thing to do, Balls will have a Green Paper. According to the piece:

'In compulsory sex and relationship lessons to be introduced from 2011, children from the age of seven will be taught about the nature and importance of marriage and stable relationships for family life and bringing up children.'

More borrowed money will be thrown at state-run marriage guidance services. Children are to be given lessons in the importance of relationships from 2011. More resources may be given to marriage guidance services. It’s like Balls is mentally living in 1975 Moscow. Family problems? Why, the Party will simply ask the schools to simply program the kids to be better at relationships.

Balls is right to identify the problem, and has obviously realised the majority of voters agree with Cameron’s position on the family. But every solution, for Balls, involves the nanny state teaching the voters how to behave. In these austere times, wouldn’t it be cheaper to stop the state doing harm? To change the welfare system to ensure that no family is financially better off apart from when it is together? Balls might ask himself how many middle-class marriages would survive if the woman were guaranteed her husband’s income without his presence. For this is what his government offers millions of low-waged or unwaged families (one in five UK kids lives in a workless household, the highest proportion in Europe).

I have always been amazed at how someone as young and as smart as Balls (yes, CoffeeHousers, smart) could take such a 1970s view on life, and have a faith in state power which is seldom seen in free economies. But Balls is a genuine lefty, and he is likely to fight Labour’s leadership election as one.

UPDATE: Red Thread asks: what’s wrong about the aspiration of keeping families together? Answer: the aim is fine. It’s the means that makes it 1970s. The idea that the state will do it, that schools are instruments to programme children to shape the society of the future. Teaching them Maths and English would be a start: the idea of thinking you can teach relationships is a joke. But not to Balls who is hugely ideological, and seems to regard schools are an instrument where the Party can shape the minds and behaviour of the voters. Didn’t work for Soviet Russia, won’t work for Britain. Nor do targets and five-year plans, come to think of it. The public know all this, but Balls’ policies have always been pitched at the Labour Party selectorate. So please, Ed, keep ‘em coming. You’ll keep us here in Coffee House very well entertained in the process.