Peter Hoskin

The ballot closes

The ballot closes
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"Quietly confident." That's how Diane Abbott felt as the Labour leadership ballot entered its final hours today. I can only assume that she meant "…of victory," but the bookies, and all sensible observers, are telling a different story. With the polls now closed, Ladbrokes has David Miliband as the 4/7 favourite, Ed Miliband is on 5/4, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham are both 100/1 shots – and Abbott? Well, Abbott is wheezing along at 150/1.

Whoever wins, one thing is for certain: we are about to enter a new cycle in British politics, and one which should clear up a few itchingly persistent questions. How will the coalition fare against an opposition which actually has a proper leader in place? Who will be shadow chancellor? What will become of the losing Miliband? And will Labour manage to concoct a coherent economy policy in the 13 days it has before the Spending Review?

To my mind, it is the last of these questions which is, in many ways, the most important. How Labour strikes out should determine the contours of our political landscape. A Balls style approach, and we'll be into "investment vs cuts" all over again. A Darling style approach, and subtler arguments about the "right type of cuts" should drift to the fore. Much will depend, of course, on who occupies the shadow chancellorship – and on how much influence they are permitted to wield.

I, for one, would prefer Labour to veer towards fiscal sanity. It might make them more electable, sure – but it would also harden the consensus around spending cuts. We have already seen, over a decade long period, how the Fiscal Incontinents can warp the economic debate. It would be a pity if, unrestrained, they get another chance.