Saturday, 14 January 2012

You turn if you want to...

...The lady's not for turning. So said Margaret Thatcher at the Conservative Party's conference in October 1980, when faced with pressure to reverse some unpopular economic decisions taken by her government. Her determined stance certainly went down well with her own party, with the 'You turn if you want to' speech garnering a lengthy standing ovation.

Some people, on the other hand, might prefer the approach the economist John Maynard Keynes, who is reputed to have said this:
When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, would agree with Keynes on this one, I suspect. At least, it fits with his remarkable interview in the Guardian today. After almost two years of berating the Government's economic approach, Balls now says this:
My starting point is, I am afraid, we are going to have keep all these cuts. There is a big squeeze happening on budgets across the piece. The squeeze on defence spending, for instance, is £15bn by 2015 . We are going to have to start from that being the baseline. At this stage, we can make no commitments to reverse any of that, on spending or on tax.

I wonder when things changed from the Government's cuts being 'too far, too fast' to the cuts all being kept in place by Labour if they win the next election; it's a pretty screeching handbrake turn, seems to me. So has Balls come round to the Cameron / Osborne approach? Not exactly... From the Guardian interview:
I said to the parliamentary party a year ago last January that we would not know until October or November whether we were right, and whether Osborne's economic plans would not work. That would be the point, the first time, [when] we could judge how decisions made in 2010 would impact on growth and jobs in 2011. And it was this autumn that we saw the economy really stagnating. Now turning round the politics of this will take considerably longer. It will take us well into 2012, maybe longer.

He's blaming the Government's spending cuts for the situation that we are now in, with the economy growing very slowly and unemployment rising. And yet what of Balls' past as a key part of the previous Labour government? Where is his contrition for the massive and unsustainable increase in public spending carried out by Labour? (I blogged about his last year – government spending was £343 billion in 1999-2000 and £669 billion in 2009-10, whereas if spending had just increased in line with inflation over those years the 2009-10 figure would have been £438 billion. That's a 53% increase, after removing the effect of inflation.)

Edit... As far as I can tell, there are three possible explanations for Ed Balls' interview today:

1 - The option I outlined above; something has made Balls rethink matters so that, while he used to think the Government was cutting 'too far, too fast', he now thinks the cuts are necessary. But what is that something?

2 - Balls actually thinks the Government approach has been correct all along. If this is the case, an apology of sorts would be nice (but unexpected, to say the least - he's a politician!).

3 - The reason for Balls' apparent change of mind is political, not economic. He's trying to change the public view that Labour are more to blame for the spending cuts than the present Government is.

My vote is on option 3, unless someone can suggest a recent event that has made reversing the cuts no longer a realistic option for a future Labour government...

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