David Blackburn

Oh brother, where art thou?

Oh brother, where art thou?
Text settings

All eyes have turned to the future Labour front bench, particularly the identity of George Osborne’s shadow. Ed Balls has made his most obvious pitch yet. In a piece for the Guardian, bluntly titled ‘Now let’s offer a real choice – and nail the Tory lie on cuts', he writes:

‘Being a united party is not enough. We must also win the argument. If we do not give people a positive reason to vote Labour, rather than just a temporary outlet for their protest, we will not persuade them to stick with us come the election.  

First, on the economy – of course we will need tough choices to get the deficit down. But we must win the argument that the speed and severity of the coalition's cuts are both unfair and unnecessary, and will put the recovery at risk. We must make the case for an alternative plan that puts jobs and growth first. That is the credible way to reduce the deficit and get the economy moving again. It is a tough argument to make, but the most vital one to win. We must lead public opinion and not be driven by focus-group polling.

Second, and just as important, we must at every stage expose the coalition's big idea of a "big society" as its big lie – a cover for cuts to core public services, more market dogma, and a return to the charity of the 19th-century workhouse.’

The article is precise and pugnacious, with the crass ‘investment versus cuts’ dividing lines clearly delineated, more proof that Balls is suited to opposition. Its tone is strident, Balls asserts that he and Ed Miliband will shape Labour’s future. Time will tell, but Balls must be worth a punt on being shadow chancellor; such confidence can be persuasive, even when it masks obvious intellectual inflexibility.

On the other hand, there is the Miliband melodrama to resolve. The Telegraph and the FT add to the clamour that David Miliband could become shadow chancellor, a role that is sufficiently grand for the former Foreign Secretary and one to which his centrist politics are well suited compared to Balls’ tribal bellicosity. However, Nick Robinson reports that David is poised to withdraw from frontline politics, giving his brother space to renew the party and challenge the coalition by ending this familial psychodrama. (He refused to be drawn on the question earlier this morning.) He’s got another thing coming if he thinks his absence will achieve that.