Ed Balls: Cameron? He's treading on thin ice

The Tory leader thought he could attract voters with his 'Year of Change', but his policies disintegrated under the first scrutiny

Share
Related Topics

This weekend, all across the country, Labour party members, MPs and candidates are out in the snow and ice – delivering leaflets, knocking on doors, or on the telephones in the warm talking to voters. And the strong message I am hearing from activists in my constituency and from MPs right across the country is that their labours are starting to bear fruit.

People who months ago felt let down by Labour as they feared for their jobs and their homes are now seeing that the action that we took on the recession – preventing financial collapse and investing in jobs and public services – has prevented a return to the misery of the 1980s and early 1990s.

And people on the doorstep remain deeply unconvinced by a Tory party which talks about a decade of austerity and threatens to freeze their pay and cut their local schools and hospitals. David Cameron thought that last week was his chance to persuade voters they could trust in his promise of a "Year of Change". He thought Monday was going to be all about his airbrushed posters and new slogans.

It turned out to be the day when his policies fell apart under the first proper scrutiny. This election is far from over – the more the voters hear from David Cameron the more worried they get. And the sense of optimism that Monday gave to Labour activists was bolstered as, on Wednesday, Gordon Brown got the better of his opponent in exchanges at Prime Minister's Question Time. David Cameron once again looked rattled and annoyed. Reading out a script no longer works for the Tory leader – which does not bode well for him in the television debates to come.

But optimism turned to frustration within a matter of hours. Just when the Conservative Party relaunch was collapsing, the indiscipline and introversion of a few individuals let David Cameron off the hook.

The Parliamentary Labour Party was unequivocal in its disdain for plots and coups. But any time a political party looks divided and more worried about its own internal politics rather than the concerns and aspirations of the voters, it pays a price.

When all our energies that day ought to have been on dealing with the snow emergency, getting us out of recession and tackling the security threat in Britain and throughout the world, the last thing voters wanted to see was a party turning inwards.

So the message from Labour Party activists and candidates to the Cabinet and all of us at Westminster is clear: unite and take the election fight to the Tories. Yes, it's been a challenging 12 months. We've seen the biggest global recession for decades. It's been tough for families, pensioners and businesses. So no wonder it's been tough politically for government.

But as we have worked to steer our economy out of recession, people are no longer simply blaming the government but focussing instead on the choices between Labour and Conservative on where we go from here and different visions of the future.

Should we keep supporting our economy and put securing the recovery first, while taking the tough and necessary decisions across government to steadily halve the deficit over the next four years? Or do we get the deficit down more quickly and slash spending on job creation and public investment, which would risk the recovery and push us back into recession?

Should we combine fair tax rises and tough decisions on efficiency and non-essential programmes to protect frontline services such as schools and the police? Or should we cut funding to those services instead?

In these difficult times for the public finances, is it a priority for our country to spend £1.5bn every year on an inheritance tax cut which would benefit the 3,000 richest estates?

On education, do we guarantee one-to-one tuition for children falling behind, education and training up to 18 for all young people, with new school report cards for parents? Or do we pursue a reckless free market experiment with the state system, and cut the frontline schools budgets relied on by millions to give an inheritance tax cut to the wealthiest few?

And underpinning all these choices is a deeper debate about the role of government.

People know that if we had taken David Cameron and George Osborne's advice and stood back and done nothing – less regulation, less intervention, lower public spending, less state support for jobs and public investment – unemployment would be higher and the recession deeper and we would not be looking forward to recovery this year.

People know that the lesson of this recession is that they need an active government on their side and not a laissez-faire government leaving them to sink or swim. The Conservatives and their friends in the media think that even to talk in these terms about dividing lines between Conservative and Labour is to play old-fashioned politics or even wage class war.

But how can prioritising the many, not the few, be class war when it was the cornerstone of Tony Blair's reform of the Labour constitution in 1994: the very foundation of the new Labour vision which led directly to a national minimum wage, tax credits to reward work and tackle poverty and helping a million more people to own their own homes? How can the new Clause 4 be the old class war?

And for those who say we should not talk about choices, I say politics is fundamentally about different choices. However much the Tories want it to be, this election will not simply be a referendum on the Government or change for change's sake. The message from the doorstep is that people know there is a choice to be made. And, as we saw at the start of the week, and must continue to see in the months to come, the days when the Conservatives could airbrush their policies and hope nobody will see the ugly truth underneath are coming to an end.

That is why this is a debate and an election we can win. David Cameron may have wriggled off the hook this week. But he can and will be caught in the end.

Ed Balls is Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance & IT Assistant

£20200 - £24800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Senior PHP Developer - Zend Framework

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This number one supplier of Coo...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Forecast Analyst

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Forecast Analyst is required to join a...

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Auschwitz death camp survivor Jadwiga Bogucka, 89, holds a picture of herself from 1944  

Holocaust Memorial Day: This isn't the time to mark just another historical event, but to remember humanity at its worst

Jennifer Lipman
John Rentoul outside the Houses of Parliament  

If I were Prime Minister...I would be like a free-market version of Natalie Bennett

John Rentoul
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea