Steve Richards: Miliband made a mistake. Now it has been corrected

To mark this down as a victory for the Labour left is wrong. Balls does not easily fit the caricature of 'Red Ed Two'

Share
Related Topics

The departure of Alan Johnson and the elevation of Ed Balls are as significant as the outcome of Labour's leadership contest last year. The battle over economic policy determines the outcome of general elections. Shadow chancellors are almost as important as leaders of the opposition.

Over the past few months Labour has desperately needed a coherent and forensic assault on George Osborne's policies. In the longer term it requires a credible but popular alternative. Alan Johnson was never going to rise to the titanic tasks. From his first day in the post Johnson openly proclaimed his lack of expertise in economic matters, a proclamation that was proven in the subsequent months.

This was the easy opening phase for a shadow chancellor, when the main role is to expose flaws in a new government. The even more daunting task of framing an economic policy that might return Labour into power was almost certainly beyond Johnson. More immediately if Labour loses the current debate over whether it was responsible for the current economic gloom the next election will soon be beyond its reach. Johnson showed no sign of prevailing against the relentless insistence from Cameron and Osborne that Labour got the country into the "mess" that they seek to clear up by unprecedented cuts in spending.

On one level the Tory leadership has an easier target in Ed Balls. He was in the Treasury for most of the period of the last government. If they can pin the blame on Balls personally for the "mess" they have won the equivalent of the political jackpot.

They will struggle to do so. Balls is a formidable strategist and an economist, a rare combination in British politics. He is one of the few politicians capable of making policies while taking full account of a thousand political implications that arise from them.

Already, before yesterday's dramatic events, he had given some thought to how Labour should respond when Osborne presents his tax cutting pre-election Budget in a few years' time. He knows the traps Osborne plans to set and will not fall into them.



Although Ed Miliband has known about the probable departure of Johnson for a few days Balls had no idea until yesterday. He had given some thought to economic policy because he lives and breathes the subject.

Some commentators will argue that Balls's appointment marks a triumph for leftish Old Labour. This is a misreading. Balls has taken a robust approach to opposing spending cuts while the recovery is fragile, but he will not easily fit the caricature of Red Ed Two. Balls was the architect of Brown's early policies too, including Brown's highly successful phase as shadow chancellor. Tax cuts played as big a part as tax rises. Spending rises were limited at times. As a City minister Balls was highly respected by business leaders. But he – and Miliband – were also key figures in the successful and popular implementation of a tax rise to pay for investment in the NHS and recognises the importance of public spending in developing an economy and improving the quality of services.

Another easy line of attack is that Balls's elevation marks the return of the "Blair/Brown"tensions, with Balls wanting to become leader at the earliest opportunity. There is a danger of a repetition. The two Eds are not close and view each other with mutual wariness. Miliband's unease about Balls as a colleague was the main reason why Balls was not appointed as shadow chancellor in the first place last September. Balls has cause to view Miliband's soaring rise with a degree of bewilderment. He was the more senior figure in the Treasury.

But politically the duo share a similar political outlook. The two of them have also learnt from the destructive elements of the Blair/Brown relationship and know that their master, Brown, was damaged deeply by the interminable rivalry. Perhaps they will succumb to similar tensions, but it is not inevitable.

Overall this is a much more effective and better balanced Shadow Cabinet. Yvette Cooper was wasted at Foreign Affairs and will have a higher profile in Home Affairs. Douglas Alexander was going to be offered the Foreign Affairs brief last September. In his first shadow cabinet, Miliband planned to make Cooper shadow business secretary, but she insisted on a more senior post, having topped the shadow cabinet poll, and went to the Foreign Office brief.

Miliband faces an awkward few days. He has lost a shadow chancellor very soon after the appointment that he should never have made in the first place. Some of his internal critics will join the Conservative Party in claiming that Gordon Brown is continuing to lead Labour in the form of his two disciples. His judgement will be called into question. This is quite a big reshuffle so early on in his leadership. The hurdles are worth it to secure a more impressive and coherent team.

Cameron and Osborne have more cause for concern this morning than at any point since Miliband became leader.



React Now

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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth