UK Politics

Ed Balls attacking Brown on the wrong issue

Ed Balls has been “attacking” Gordon Brown for running up a ruinous public debt during the economic good times. Sorry, strike that. He hasn’t. He has instead decided to tackle Brown’s legacy over immigration, by out UKIPing UKIP, out Duffying Duffy, and outdoing Michael Howard’s dog-whistle politics by sounding a large foghorn.

On the eve of the first leadership hustings, and ahead of the closure of nominations this week, the shadow schools secretary accused the former prime minister of “brushing immigration under the carpet”.
Balls, who wrote in the Observer that he had helped block British entry to the euro, believes it is important to review the free movement of people to ensure that voters still support the EU and its continuing enlargement, a key British goal.

He wants to impose transitional restrictions on the movement of workers from future member states – he singles out Turkey, which is negotiating membership – and to review the free movement of people from existing members.

“There is [an] economic and political challenge for Britain and Europe: how to sustain EU integration and enlargement in these difficult times,” Balls wrote. “Free movement of goods and services works to our mutual advantage. But the free movement of labour is another matter entirely.”

Balls protectionist stance appears to have gone down well with union leaders (are we surprised?), but is undeliverable. Free movement is a founding principle of the EU. Balls would not be able to re-negotiate this. This is leadership? Balls retreat into Benn-lite on Europe does mark him out as more of a liability than other candidates. If Ed Balls wins the Labour leadership contest, the Labour party will be unelectable at the next election.

Balls appears unable to come to terms with the Labour Party’s responsibility for the situation that means public spending cuts are necessary. He is not alone:

And yet the weirdest aspect of this lethargic contest is that no one, not even David Miliband, is confronting the failures of Gordon Brown, and, by extension of Ed Balls, and hammering home how disastrous it was for Britain that the centre-left lost its bearings in the giddy atmosphere of the bubble. I am sorry if I repeat myself, but for a supposedly left-of-centre government to preside over one of the great manias of financial history is unprecedented. What will Labour do, if George Osborne proposes radical banking reform, as he may? Stick to the policy of Brown and Balls, and say they still believe in “light-touch regulation” of the City? Or mumble that it doesn’t know what it thinks any more?

Some humility is required. Perhaps before making comments about Tory and Liberal cuts, Labour leadership candidates might hold up their hand and admit that mistakes were made. Short-term pain, long-term benefit. However, having watched the ship go down, the survivors seem strangely unwilling to put distance between themselves and the wreck.