openDemocracyUK

Balls' speech to conference: little new, nothing bold

You might say the Shadow Chancellor had an easy job yesterday, persuading the Labour conference and the world outside that he is a better man than Osborne to hold the wheel of the sinking British economy. But while Balls may have succeeded in sounding credible, there was no big Labour vision for the future, and more than a flavour of Brown.

Robin Ramsay
2 October 2012
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Ed Ball’s speech to Labour conference was an odd mixture. The Shadow Chancellor made sure to warn of "tough choices in the years ahead" and acknowledge that "under Labour there would have been cuts and that – on  spending, pay and pensions – there will be difficult decisions inthe future from which we will not flinch." We had the restatement of fundamental difference between Labour and the government, the dominant wing of which, led by Osborne and Cameron, seems unable to grasp that; "if more people are on the dole, not paying taxes, you can’t get the deficit down. If businesses are going  bust, not hiring new workers, you can’t get the deficit down. If the economy’s not growing, you can’t get the  deficit down." And we had a wish list: "a modern industrial policy to support long-term wealth creation, with strategic support for our advanced manufacturing and service industries" and "radical reform to separate retail and investment banking."

None of this would have raised dissent from Business Secretary Vince Cable; Balls was presumably appealing to him and his Lib Dem party when talking of "Building a consensus which crosses party lines, without chopping and changing one parliament to the next. A consensus to re-build Britain for the future." And we had a Brown-like nod towards the City with "fiscal responsibility in the national interest", which "puts the national interest first, just as we did over a decade ago when we made the Bank of England independent." (And look well how that turned out!)

None of which the mainstream national media took much notice of, concentrating instead on the tiny squeak of promised action: Labour would use £4 billion raised by the sale of the 4G mobile phone spectrum to build 100,000 houses over two years. In the midst of a deep and worsening recession, in the face of an enormous trade deficit and mass unemployment, all the Shadow Chancellor can think of is building 50,000 houses a year, when over 300,000 a year were being built in the 1950s and 60s... OK, it’s a conference speech and one of its key aims is to get a headline or two the next day. Even so, this is desperately thin stuff in the face of the crisis we now have. Is this really all there is?

Robin Ramsay’s  Well, how did we get here? A brief history of the British economy, minus the wishful thinking has just been published in Kindle format.

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