The appointment of Ed Balls as shadow chancellor means that deficit denial becomes the central economic policy of the Labour Party. In essence both the Eds intend to argue that it was the banking crisis and only the banking crisis that caused the deficit. In taking this policy direction they repudiate the more sensible realistic policy followed by the last Labour Chancellor, Alistair Darling.
It also flies in the face of statements made by Tony Blair in his memoirs and as recently as last Friday at Davos. Since Balls isn’t an idiot we have to ask ourselves: why is he trying to deny reality? Does he think the voters can be convinced that overspending wasn’t a problem until the banking crisis? Here he is telling Andy Marr there was no structural deficit under Labour:
Clearly both the Eds think they can blame it on the bankers, popular understanding of the deficit is hazy. The huge one-off costs of bailing out the banks and the constant government-debt-bloating-deficit are confused in the popular consciousness. Even the debt and the deficit are confused in many people’s minds. Whenever Ed Miliband is cornered on spending or taxes he reaches for the banker bogeyman – tax them more and it will sort everything out. None of this adds up to anyone with any financial literacy, which unfortunately is a minority of voters, the majority of voters do blame and detest the bankers.
For this argument to make sense of course requires Ed Balls to deny that there is, or ever was, a structural deficit that had to be tackled. Which is exactly what he did on the Marr show today.
Denying the deficit and blaming the government’s debt crisis on the bankers is an attempt to absolve Brown, Balls and the Labour Party of the blame. It thus allows Balls to claim that, since there is no structural deficit, the cuts are unnecessary and ideological. Which is exactly what he does.
The problem for Balls is that the public senses innately that the government under Brown’s chancellorship and premiership was overspending. If Osborne can keep that national memory alive over the next three years the public will forgive him doing what is necessary. If they forget, or prefer to believe Ed Balls’ claim that cuts are not really necessary, they will blame the government for the coming hardships. The deficit blame game will have to be played until the next election.