Thursday, 20 January 2011

Ed Balls as chancellor is the way forward for Labour

In a major shadow cabinet reshuffling, the Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, has appointed Ed Balls as the new shadow chancellor of the exchequer, after the resignation of the original chancellor, Alan Johnson. What is more, Yvette Cooper has taken over as shadow home secretary and Danny Alexander as shadow foreign secretary. 

This, I believe, is a defining moment in Labour politics and, moreover, a wonderful turn of events for the party. 

Alan Johnson, though an articulate and likeable character, was never the right man for the job. He joked back when he was first given the position of chancellor that he would have to read an economics primer in order to familiarise himself with the subject. Well, I use the word "joked" loosely; I have a sneaking suspicion that Economics for Dummies may have been Johnson's bedtime reading for quite some time. The fact is that Johnson was not a strong enough voice; he simply wasn't fit for the role he was given, regardless of Ed Miliband's assertions otherwise. 

I was very disheartened when Alan Johnson was first appointed as I, and many others, saw it as shallow pandering on Miliband's behalf to the right-wing media and to the Blairites in the Labour Party. Johnson did not oppose the Coalition's cuts powerfully enough, in fact, he seemed to agree with them and felt that it was the right course of action, but that the ConDems were going "too far, too fast". This softly, softly approach pleased the likes of the Daily Fail and the Torygraph and also the right-wing of the party. It did not please those on the left. 

However, with Johnson's resignation over "family issues", comes Ed Balls appointment. 

Ed Balls was, all along, the person who should have been made shadow chancellor. He is an eloquent, approachable figure, a politician with conviction and presence. What is more, he is an economic expert and there will be no place for a beginner's primer on his bedside table. Balls is, undoubtedly, on the left of the Labour party and has forcefully opposed the Tories' economic plan - stating that he also disagreed with Alistair Darling's course of action to try and  halve the deficit over four years. Ed Balls believes that deficit reduction must be a much, much slower process, and that the real emphasis should be on growth, job creation, and the expansion and development of the public sector. He's a radical figure, there's no denying it. That is probably why Miliband did not originally appoint him. After all, the right-wing media complained that his becoming Leader was thanks only to the unions and, just minutes after the announcement, the term "Red Ed" had already entered the political vernacular. 

But the past is the past, and we now must look to the future. Soon, the full effects of the Coalition's Comprehensive Spending Review will be felt across the country. The Conservatives are using the current economic climate to establish these cuts and reforms as the government of 1914 used World War I to pass the Defence of the Realm Act. They are dismantling our state, damaging our public services, privatising our NHS and attacking the most vulnerable in society. And they must be stopped. Labour, with the departure of Johnson, now has someone in place not to afraid to speak their mind, someone who will demolish George Osborne and his political agenda and someone who can offer a genuine, intelligent and better econmic alternative. This is a fantastic opportunity to mobilise and establish a credible left-wing opposition, at last. Now, with Ed Balls as shadow chancellor, Labour can re-establish itself as an electable party - something it must do in the coming months, for the sake of the country. 

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

On Alarm Clock Britain and Mr Clegg

In today's edition of the ever-reputable and informative The Sun, the deputy PM and Leader of the Lib Dems, Nick Clegg, unveiled his latest political analogy - Alarm Clock Britain.

Alarm Clock Britain, we are told, consists of "the hard-working Brits" who "snub the benefits culture and get up early to go to work". Essentially, Mr Clegg is describing the middle-classes who will be hardest hit by the wave of cuts and the rises in tuition fees and VAT. There seems to be a rather glaring paradox in what the deputy PM is saying. He's a big fan of what he calls Alarm Clock Britain, and yet he, along with his iniquitous coalition partners, intends to deal them the worst financial hand. Clegg argues, however, that he is helping this societal demographic by raising tax thresholds from April. He says, "The Liberal Democrats made a promise to voters on the front of our manifesto". Well, we all know of the Limp Dems' track record when it comes to "promises", and one wonders whether this is another of Clegg's commitments to the electorate that they will "fight for" but in the end will have to "compromise over" because, hey, "that's how coalition politics works". Yes, British public, get with the programme, for goodness' sakes. And that includes the ones who get up early.

Furthermore, the whole article (if one can call it that) reeks of neo-liberalism. Phrases like "people who don't rely on state hand-outs" and "benefits culture" leave one aghast and rather disgusted. Not once does Nick Clegg make a reference to the impoverished who need benefits, people who need the Welfare State. Yes, Clegg makes it explicit that he is referring to those who do not seek out work, but what he doesn't make explicit is that there are those who receive benefits for valid reasons. There isn't a mention of such a person. And thus he seems to demonise those who are on state support. Imagine if you were someone genuinely in need of benefits and then you were unfortunate enough to read Clegg's piece. It would leave you devoid of self-worth. I wonder if he has been in league with the Nasty Party (which it still very much is) for too long, for the whole article wouldn't be out of place in the Daily Mail.

The last point is perhaps the most obvious. Nick Clegg has chosen to ignore the plain and simple fact that Labour did not single-handedly cause the black hole in Britain's finances. He says, "We are having to make cuts to pay off Labour's debts" and "It is their hard graft...that will get us out of the hole Labour left us in". And the same hollow phrases are trotted out by Lib Dems and Tories alike almost every day. In case these parties have failed to notice, we have just come out of one of the worst global recessions in history, caused by the collapse of the global banking system, fuelled by the unsustainable and reckless nature of unregulated, Western capitalism. I don't know if Clegg still has distant dreams of Britain being an imperial power, but, and this may come as a shock to him, the former Labour government did not solely cause the international financial crisis. And it is that crisis which has lead to our fiscal deficit and the subsequent cuts; although the extent, speed and depth of those are, of course, fuelled by political ideology. Clegg, however, breezily forgets this in his sickly, misleading, inaccurate, offensive and rather patronising  love letter to the readers of The Sun and Alarm Clock Britain. Surprise, surprise.

So, I don't think this phrase will catch-on. I don't think it deserves to. Frankly, Nick Clegg may try and try to scrape together the remains of his political integrity, but he has already doomed his party. And he may well try and convince the British public that he is working for their best interests, but, contrary to what Clegg may believe, based on his condescending scribblings in The Sun, we aren't stupid, and we know when we're being taken for a ride. Nonetheless, still set those alarm clocks. You never know, you may wake up to find the Deputy Prime Minister on your doorstep with a few gold stars.