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Labour’s economic policy: forget the personalities, the party should decide

The press will continue to speculate about policy differences and rivalry between the two Eds. That’s what they do, and, let’s face it, Labour fed their frenzy for years. But it isn’t like that now. Sure there may be differences of view about economic policy. We have made it clear where we stand on the deficit — Ed Balls is the right choice as shadow Chancellor. The question is how to resolve those differences. Ed Balls told us during the leadership campaign that the Leader shouldn’t decide policy. It was a line we hadn’t expected and which impressed us. We agree. Nor should the Shadow Chancellor. The line on the deficit that was hammered out between Ed Miliband and Alan Johnson may be fine for now, but how many will still be arguing for halving the deficit by the end of this parliament as unemployment and interest rates rise as a result of Tory policies? The party’s policy will be reviewed and decided by the party.

Though some in the Westminster village are nervous about the relationship between the two Eds, we don’t believe we face another round of devastating rivalry in the new generation:

  • The two Eds share too much personal politics and their political constituencies overlap too much, especially on economic policy, less so perhaps on civil liberties, immigration or Iraq. There is insufficient space for Ed Balls to build a base for a leadership challenge, even if he wanted to, either on the Blairite right, or to their Left in the party and the trade unions.
  • The two Eds have worked together in a team for a very long time, having to put up with the foul temper of their shared boss. Teamwork isn’t something most MPs do or have to do — Blair and Brown were friends and neighbours not co-workers before they became rivals, which is very different.
  • The two Eds are not the psychological polar opposites that were Blair and Brown. Their skill sets overlap more. They are each more collegiate than either Blair or Brown. They haven’t done a deal — and there will be no duumvirate.
  • The difference between the two Eds on the economy are fine and nuanced, and reflect the different concerns of their different positions — notably the Leader’s desire to create an effective and sufficiently united party. As leadership candidates, they were both committed to giving the party more power in determining policy. The policy review and the reform of the party’s structure to restore internal democracy are underway. These will lead to decisions by party conference which will resolve the party’s policy.

    During the leadership campaign, Ed Balls told the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) — which met with both Eds in order to determine its recommended second preference — in response to detailed questions about policy, that the Leader shouldn’t decide policy — the party should. It was a winning line (or at least it might have been if Ed Balls hadn’t been too far behind in the race), and not an evasion.

    Ed Miliband won’t make an open-ended commitment to abide by every dot and comma of policy decided by party conference, but everything he has said to date suggests he will respect party conference decisions and seek to resolve any differences he has with them. Of course the party needs a policy now in response to the devastating cuts the Tories are imposing, but Labour’s policy will evolve, moulded by events and the decisions of the party’s conference.

    2 Comments

    1. Mellie Agon says:

      Absolutely agree that Ed Balls is best choice for Shadow Chancellor: because he understands that investment, not cuts, are the way out of recession. Contrary to Tory nonsense, the deficit does not require us to cut a single penny of public spending. The way to reduce it is investment-led growth that gets people into work, raises tax income, etc. Cuts will simply starve the economy even more of the investment it desperately needs.

    2. Syzygy says:

      Mellie Agon … I agree with you.

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