Ed Balls’ speech was a wide-ranging affair. It started with a tribute to the Olympics and Tessa Jowell’s role in securing them, a make-nice gesture given how badly those two have got on over the years. It ended with a paean of praise to the Labour spirit of 1945. In between, it included attacks on the Liberal Democrats as the ‘same old Tories’ — Balls’ response to Sunday newspaper reports that they won’t work with him.
On the economy, the Ed Balls two-step was much in evidence. He promised to spend money now, saying he’d put the as yet unknown proceeds from sale of the 4G spectrum into house-building. But to be austere later, reiterating that he couldn’t commit to reversing particular tax rises or spending cuts and that all the proceeds of the sale of the state’s bank shares would go to paying down the national debt. The later commitments are far more significant as they would actually affect what a post-2015 Labour government would do.
Balls is a vastly improved platform speaker and the speech continued his attempt to refashion his image. So, there were a lot of warm words for the need for long-term, cross party work on infrastructure to combat the perception of him as a short-termist political bull-dog. He matched George Osborne’s recruitment of the chief executive of the London Organising Committee Paul Deighton by announcing that the chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority Sir John Armitt would lead an infrastructure review. He also chose to attack David Cameron for his attitude to women and an overly macho approach to politics.
In a breathtaking piece of chutzpah, Balls claimed that the government’s internal battles were distracting it from sound p0licy making. One would be intrigued to know what those who were at Number 10 when Balls was working for Gordon Brown in Number 11 would make of Balls saying this.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.