David Blackburn

The Postie’s twinkle

The Postie’s twinkle
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The Postman's eyes twinkled as he met George Osborne across the dispatch box for the first time this afternoon. With the air of an apologist who isn't remotely contrite, Alan Johnson told the House of his 'vast experience in this job' and gave the impression he was having a blast.

This jolly masque hid an insubstantial performance. Johnson latched on to Chris Huhne's vow that he would not be 'lashed to the mast' of needless spending cuts - Johnson wondered if the deficit might not be eradicated within one parliament. Osborne said that it would. Then Johnson repeated the substance of his attacks of the weekend. The government lacks a growth strategy, he said, and then argued that it is suicide to cut before private sector recovery was established; we were moments away from the promise of a double-dip. Chris Leslie, a Labour Treasury shadow, made the exact same points in a later exchange.

It was as if Johnson, and Labour, was living off the memory of conversations he witnessed between Gordon Brown and Ed Balls. Labour's criticism of the government's poorly articulated growth strategy is legitimate - Osborne's bleating about 'tough choices' and 'Labour's fault' is not illuminating. But that's all Labour has. The opposition has a week to develop a credible alternative to the government's economic policy because that twinkle will soon lose its sheen.

PS: In other news, Ed Miliband used his first shadow cabinet meeting to ban spin. Faction is also out in MiliE's Brave New World. True, there are few Blairites left to smear; but I credit Ed 'I've never briefed against a colleague' Balls with inspiring Miliband to continue in the generous spirit of his leadership campaign.

PPS: Well that didn't last long. Nick Robinson is reporting that the counter-briefing has already begun, with Alan Johnson and other shadow cabinet members openly stating that they will not support Ed Miliband's pet graduate tax even if it becomes party policy. This is a direct rejection of Miliband's vow that Johnson and the party will follow his lead, which he made on Sunday's Politics Show (16 mins in). Ironically, higher education funding may prove to be the first test for a Labour leader who was elected without the support of his parliamentary party.