Ed Balls told the Fabians that one of his most precious material belongings is a first edition of a Keynes pamphlet, “The Economic Consequences of Mr Churchill”. Keynesianism is the chosen intellectual mantle that Balls is trying to use with the Labour base to justify pivoting towards the voters and away from union demands for ever more deficit spending and borrowing. Already the Labour left are screaming “sell-out“.
Earlier this year Vince Cable argued that Keynes would not support the demands of latter day über-Keynesians. Cable reminds us that the politicisation of Keynes as a heavy spender is misplaced because Keynes was a liberal, not a socialist and he was writing at a time when the level of state spending in the economy amounted to half of today’s level. Keynes was not a friend of socialism, his policies were intended to save capitalism. Would Keynes have believed government deficit spending at twice the share of GDP as in the 1930s was desirable or sustainable? Cable thinks not, does Balls?
The proof will be in the policy pudding, Labour politicians reflexively oppose every reduction in welfare spending, they are conditioned to do no other. Even when senior Labour politicians know it is electorally toxic, for example opposing the £26,000 housing benefit cap, the “progressive” logic of maximum welfarism that grips their activists brooks no reason. Ed Balls can’t command credibility until he accepts that the deficit is a problem that has to be addressed rather than just acknowledged in theory. In interviews he now says vaguely that he wants to bring down the deficit, yet he is on the record during the Labour leadership election, where he ran from the left, as opposing even Alistair Darling’s modest deficit reduction proposals. Balls ideologically opposes as “too fast, too far” spending restraint by the Coalition. It is hard to believe that Balls isn’t now repositioning towards the centre again for purely electoral reasons, rather than some Damascene rejection of deficit denial.