Labour Party and Public Spending: The case for reallocation

Another look at what engendered a lot of anti-Ed Balls sentiment, even from inside the Labour ranks, as I put it on a Liberal Conspiracy entry;

“On CiF, and during an interview with Radio 4’s World at One, Balls spelt out his reasons for wanting to go ahead with spending, along with why fighting within the Labour ranks is hurting the party, and giving the Tories a free ticket to political high ground.

But Balls in the interview was clearly more cautious than some have now made out – like Liam Byrne, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, for example, who said

“We are going to decide how the growth in public spending is divided up much closer to the time. Looking into a crystal ball and understanding what the economy looks like in the year of the Olympics, I just don’t think is possible right now.”

Balls boldly stated that the moves on spending, to outdo Tory plans on 10% spending cuts

“will depend upon what happens to the economy and to unemployment and debt interest. But I think that with tough choices we can see real rises in the schools budget and the NHS budget in future years.”

These careful claims are justified, but why has Byrne not understood them? Has he let anything out the bag? And more importantly, why is the Chancellor’s department not backing the plans?”

I stand by my main thesis; that Balls is a cautious pursuer of future public spending, is stridently opposed to the Tories’ staunch commitment to cuts, and in order for the Government to promote the “quality of life” – or the “missing link” as Pete B has put it – spending should begin the minute our finances can allow for it.

What’s more, is that Byrne appeared to want to distance himself from Balls. But Byrne, over the weekend in the Guardian, has said that with a dash of cuts in capital expenditure, power to people, economy boosts, “Public services are the way in which we … open up those new horizons … [for] a more equal Britain”, in order or the Labour Party to be at the centre of the public services debate.

So there was clearly no anger directed at Balls for his optimism – for public services are what Byrne, as well as Brown, consider to be the fighting issue at the next general elections.

But what it could be is that Balls’ talk of “tough choices” – which I have translated as reallocation of money from other departments and/or expenditure – is implying that no new money (scroll down to see Jonathan Freedland for his criticism of this) will be achieved by the party.

Though it doesn’t necessarily imply this at all.

The fact that Balls has been cautious when saying spending “will depend upon what happens to the economy and to unemployment and debt interest,” proves that Balls doesn’t know what is around the corner (and he certainly hasn’t pretended to be looking into any “crystal ball” as Byrne noted). But whether the economy perks up or not, serious considerations should be taken in order to prioritise on sensible spending, aimed at “supporting families and improving services“.

Whether or not we experience spendthrift times in the future, perhaps we the Labour Party could utilise some methods of reallocation – and renegotiate necessity – in places where possible, and without necessarily predicting the worst in the state of the economy.

ID cards today looked to be scrapped by the always ID-sceptic Alan Johnson (and now, since he is Home Secretary, such a move is not as “embarrassing” as this Mail article would have us believe). A Trident U-turn in the pipeline? These examples for a start seem, not only ideologically redundant, but an excess in terms of financial commitment. If reports are to be believed, a hold on these two issues would save £29bn itself.

A re-think on policies and spending that has working families and services – once the heartland of the Labour Party – in mind, is a tactic that can work alongside the creation of real money in the future. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

And furthermore, Balls’ talk of “tough choices” can be a practical presence to all the good talk Labour are doing to counter the Tories’ real commitment to 10% cuts.


Best case scenario; that red light go green on the road to Socialism

Remaining consistent with calls for reform, such as Ed Miliband’s concern that Parliament “looks to many people like a 19th-century institution“, Jack Straw has set the ball rolling for a cross-party talk on constitutional reform, one in which David Cameron has been kind enough to agree to, setting his views on reform in today’s Guardian.

Those reforms, in brief (thanks to an article posted on Liberal Conspiracy) are;

• Limit the power of the prime minister by giving serious consideration to introducing fixed-term parliaments, ending the right of Downing Street to control the timing of general elections.

• End the “pliant” role of parliament by giving MPs free votes during the consideration of bills at committee stage. MPs would also be handed the crucial power of deciding the timetable of bills.

• Boost the power of backbench MPs – and limit the powers of the executive – by allowing MPs to choose the chairs and members of Commons select committees.

• Open up the legislative process to outsiders by sending out text alerts on the progress of parliamentary bills and by posting proceedings on YouTube.

• Curb the power of the executive by limiting the use of the royal prerogative which allows the prime minister, in the name of the monarch, to make major decisions. Gordon Brown is making sweeping changes in this area in the constitutional renewal bill, but Cameron says he would go further.

• Publish the expenses claims of all public servants earning more than £150,000.

• Strengthen local government by giving councils the power of “competence”. This would allow councils to reverse Whitehall decisions to close popular services, such as a local post office or a railway station, by giving them the power to raise money to keep them open.

The LC article goes on to comment on how Cameron continues his party’s opposition to proportional representation. This sets a precedent for Alan Johnson to push for a referendum on electoral reform and his support of Alternative Vote Plus.

Certainly proportionality, representation and equality are issues that could well return voters back to the Labour Party, and away from the fringe parties – whose presence is only, as this European election will prove, to provide a protest.

Roy Hattersley has been speaking today at Hay Festival about;

“There are many other basic ideas that socialists have to apply, with some care, to the modern world – among them the relationship between freedom and equality and the extension of genuine democracy.

Support for those principles is stronger than support for the Labour party itself. Far more people support socialist objectives than vote Labour. Many Liberals want a sustained assault on inequality. So do many Greens. Thousands of voters who feel no allegiance to any political party, and are antagonised by the unavoidable expediencies that accompany party politics, support all or part of the egalitarian agenda. The best, and perhaps only, way to secure a sustained period of progressive government is to mobilise all those forces in a radical alliance.”

And how true this is.

More influence in reform by Alan Johnson could at least margin the view by voters that Labour care little about the reform agenda, at best it could ask some serious questions again about the responsibility Labour has to return to socialism. For socialism is not simply a political referent, but a committed agenda for representation, and its high time questions like these are asked.

Moreover, it is hardly surprising that David Cameron, amid talks on radical reform, is not shifting on the question of electoral equality.

Of rumours and reshuffling

Regarding Brown’s comments on Hazel Blears, it was going to be jolly difficult playing down the rumours that there was tactical bitterness between the two; Blears criticising the YouTube performance, Brown responding by highlighting Blears’ unacceptable expenses claims.

Harder still will be playing those rumours down now that Brown has defended two other cabinet ministers James Purnell and Geoff Hoon, whose abuses seem rather identical, according to Toby Helm.

He added: “Were Hoon and Purnell less guilty because they had not slagged Brown off the weekend before the expenses revelations started to emerge (as Blears had done)?”

The argument from Hoon’s people, as the blog entry continues, is that there was no confusion as to which was the first and second home to the authorities, whereas with Blears there had been.

With ongoing uproar surrounding the expenses scandal – which claimed its first Labour Member of Parliament, Wirral South’s Ben Chapman, today – the bar with which we, the public, now judge abuse has been lowered since MP’s left, right and centre have been highlighted (perhaps Polly Toynbee has hit the nail on the head, calling for a system of fewer MP’s, although cutting MP’s in half might have its own set of attached abuses). Consistency – in this case Hoon’s – counts for so much more nowadays.

To Helm’s question What’s the difference between Hazel Blears and James Purnell? the answer seems to be not much by everyday standards, but in our new set of parliamentary rules, Hoon comes up trumps.

Although Hoon, like Blears, is not completely safe from a reshuffling. In fact they are both noted as most vulnerable.

Ed Balls is likely to be shifted, too. And plans for Alan Johnson to take a role as party spokesman will keep leftwingers appeased.

Peter Mandelson has come out in support of David Miliband’s continuation as Foreign Secretary – a long time sought after role for Mandy.

Miliband’s upkeep of US backing has today brokered further loyalty when addressing the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. His tone was apologetic when noting that “the invasion of Iraq, and its aftermath, aroused a sense of bitterness, distrust and resentment. When people hear about Britain, too often they think of these things.”

Gracing his presence in the dialogues with Pakistan, announcements of a new China and the chuminess with the US, Miliband’s job is secured. And the rest of the world is spared our privatisation-fetishist PM (Peter Mandelson, that is).

Second most important break-up

I suppose in some ways I’m overjoyed to hear about the Peter Andre/ Jordon break-up, it does mean that the break-up of the Labour Party could be only the second most important this year. Although let us get one thing clear, though David Miliband has been accused before (and, to be sure, after Tim Shipman’s article for the (sick) Daily Mail today will be accused again) he will not be fronting a rebellion. Absolutely not. He realises that if his eyes are on the prize (which, okay, they obviously are) then a pre-2010 rebellion, let alone a post 4 June rebellion, would hurt his chances. Those likely to support Miliband’s leadership will most likely be the ones who call for unity.

One commentator who may well support an eventual Miliband leadership, but who will certainly moan and create a fuss (if she hasn’t, in anticipation done so already) about an Alan Johnson leadership is Anne Perkins, leader writer for the Guardian. In her article today, pouring scorn on Polly Toynbee’s call for a Labour plot, she notes that “[s]acking the prime minister with no sensible way of replacing him …would not rescue the party or the government” for the reason that “[w]hat this government needs to do is go home and prepare for opposition.”

Surely Perkins doesn’t mean prepare for an opposition victory. But I will say that if we don’t take heed of what Toynbee has said, prepare for an opposition government is what we shall have to do. Has Perkins seen the popularity polls? But change should not be just about polls, Brown’s inability to render a truly leftwards shift is as good a reason as any.

And Perkins’ wholesale dismissal of Alan Johnson on the basis that, in her words, “he has been in government for a long time, with … a record of studious loyalty” is not a good enough reason to ignore a prosperous Johnson leadership in the future.

My eggs are in no basket of realistic leader challengers yet, I hasten to add. But we will definitely need another leader to inform the public of the 2.5 million unemployed this summer, provided that Brendan Barber, General Secretary of TUC, has predicted this figure correctly. Moreover, we will surely need another leader to tell the public that something will be done about it, not just the offering of  hypothetical tory-led outcomes.

The long awaited presence of policy by Brown has come, as the Times has rightly noted, a little too late for voters.

The tories of course have one up over Labour on the expenses front, with Cameron calling for serious punishments if his party don’t pay them back (although Harriet Harman has said she has something in the pipeline).

In addition to Cameron himself paying back the £680 he had claimed to have wisteria and vines removed from the chimney of his constituency home, he has said that;

• Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, would repay £7,000 he claimed for furnishing a London property in 2006 before “flipping” the second home designation to a new one in his Surrey Heath constituency.

• Oliver Letwin, who is in charge of the Tories’ general election manifesto, would repay the £2,000 he claimed to replace a leaking pipe under a tennis court.

• Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, would repay £2,600 for home improvements.

• George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, would repay the £440.62 paid to a chauffeur company to drive him from Cheshire to London.

• Alan Duncan, the shadow leader of the Commons, would repay almost £5,000 for gardening expenses.

• Kenneth Clarke, the shadow business secretary, would stop claiming a single person’s discount on one of his council tax bills.

• Francis Maude, Chris Grayling and Theresa Villiers would stop claiming for their second homes in London.

David Willetts would repay £115 charged for electrical services.

Busy David Cameron also gave the Chingford Skinhead a right telling off today, warning him that with his comments on not voting for the main 3 in the european elections, he is treading a very careful path, and that if he slips off that path he could find himself an independent. That is until he joins the party of independence.

Of course, Nigel Farage, leader of the Ukippers welcomed Tebbit’s intervention, and frankly I welcomed this, its going to make backtracking far more difficult for Tebbit.

But an apology for inciting the far-right from him is about as likely as House of Commons speaker Michael Martin’s apology to Kate Hoey, for the “pearls of wisdom” comment.

On the subject of Tebbit, Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham, writing for the telegraph today asked us if we could ever imagine Tony Benn urging supporters and members not to vote Labour over nuclear disarmament or Nato. Though Benn, he added, “was hostile to Labour leaders and policies, he never called upon party members to desert their own party.” A lesson we might still cling on to, desparately, in these times of turmoil.

Change, can we believe in?

In Sweden its known as the “Toblerone affair“. In October 2005, the social-democrat Mona-Sahlin – the country’s youngest MP – was looking to replace Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, who had announced his resignation. Only these hopes were dashed when it emerged that Sahlin had used her government credit card to purchase a delightful chocolate snack.

In Sweden tax returns are transparent, and due to Sahlin not paying the money back, her petit crime was revealed (not to mention the private cars, unpaid fines etc etc).

So when apologies are being thrown about left, right and centre – Gordon Brown’s cross-party apology, David Cameron’s umbrella apology, Richard Timney’s porn apology (that cringeworthy video again) – and calls for system change are a symbol of repent, what is it that can change the expenses system?

(I don’t suppose it matters that they may be released early, does it?)

Do we really have to have everything out in the open. Do politicians’ tax returns need to be published?

One thing is for sure, if the tories win the apology game (today the Royal College of Nursing, tomorrow youtube, Wednesday Eastenders – provided its shown on a Wednesday, I don’t know, who cares) and the next General Election, they are still not “pure“, as Michael White in his Guardian blog noted, and the expenses system will still have to change.

As Jeremy Seabrook noted in a recent article,”You don’t have to agree with the British National party to see the legitimacy of its claim to represent those written off by Labour”. Something that “those written off by Labour”, by whom he means the white working class, should not expect to draw great influence from is the class differences in those things MP’s have made expenses claims on. As good as fraudualent claims have been made by both Labour and tory. But if I could for a moment point out that the excessive uses of taxpayer money to pay mortgages on houses that would be sold months after was a tactic used more by tories than Labour MP’s. Some Labour MP’s expenses crimes were rather more trivial than offensive; tampons, porn and 2 toilet seats.

Not to mention that among the lowest claimants were both Labour MP’s and sons of leading socialists; Ed Miliband whose Father was the left wing academic Ralph Miliband, author of The State in a Capitalist Society, and Hilary Benn whose Father needs no introduction. Its class War!

But apologies aside, the situation has escalated calls by many for Brown to either start a new popular war or the more realistic call of leadership change if (or, again realistically, when) the European elections nosedive for Labour. Nowhere has this latter message been more cutting than in Polly Toynbee’s comment today in the Guardian calling for Alan Johnson to take leadership unopposed.

In her knife wielding diatribe she told the world;

“It’s all over for Brown and Labour. The abyss awaits.”

and that

“He may be the best-read prime minister in decades, but his learning seems to hamper instead of illuminate his path […] But then the decisions he takes are too often tactical, not purposeful or strategic. Trident, the third runway or post office privatisation are mere positioning in some illusory business-pleasing ploy, their long-term damage far outweighing one day’s headlines.”

But then there will be those faithful’s that come out in support of pre-election unity, and one of those voices will be the ever grateful Peter Mandelson, who in a recent article, also from the Guardian, asked the electorate to concentrate more on imaganing for a moment how a tory government would have handled the events of the last year.

He elaborates;

“Northern Rock would have been allowed to fail, regardless of the potential costs in lost deposits and financial panic.

There would have been no fiscal stimulus. No VAT cut to generate £8bn-£9bn in retail sales that would not otherwise have occurred. No frontloaded government capital spending to boost construction. No lift for hard-hit car manufacturers. And as for the G20, David Cameron can hardly bear to go near Europe, let alone find his way in the rest of the world.

Instead, a Tory government would have stood aside, seeing the recession, as some shadow ministers have admitted in unguarded moments, as something that must just be allowed to take its course.”

To add to the list of clear advantages Brown’s government has acheived is the new proposals of locally usable criminal assets, allowing local communities to use £4million of criminal assets to pay for local projects.

Also the new deal with China’s stock exchange will help secure some political weight on an international level, but this could all become deadweight if the 4th of June sends a scathing message.

Will Polly Tyonbee be proved right about leadership change on the 5th of June, who will come to Brown’s support and who will come out yelling. Watch this space.