Ed Balls has just delivered quite an odd post-Budget briefing. It was odd because he didn’t really want to criticise anything. Of course, when the Chancellor has just unexpectedly announced major reforms to the pensions system, it would be foolish for an opposition to start criticising a reform that it probably doesn’t quite understand. But the furthest the Shadow Chancellor would go was that it was ‘underwhelming’. He said:
‘Overall we thought that was pretty underwhelming: Ed Miliband had written pages of his speech which weren’t used in the end because they referred to things that might be in there but weren’t and, so, you know, he obviously had to fill the space by going on and on about Michael Gove’s comments…’
Balls explained that the speculation about a rabbit in the Budget had led Labour to suspect that there might be further moves on tax, but that this had not happened in the end. But it’s interesting that he decided to drop those comments about Miliband’s speech into the briefing. Perhaps he is still smarting from the way Labour colleagues dumped on him after his own poor response to the Autumn Statement.
Labour will vote in favour of the AME welfare cap, and will examine the pensions changes. But there was nothing the party wanted to oppose outright today other than a failure to talk about the cost of living. Labour doesn’t seem to want to say very much about today’s Budget, be it criticism or its own thoughts on policies. As Fraser says on today’s podcast, Labour hasn’t been left with very much to say.
What the party did seem to spend a fair bit of the Chancellor’s speech doing was trying to wake up Eric Pickles.