Alan Johnson

And Osborne Starts to Sweat


Are you panicking yet, George?

Regular readers of this blog (if there are such things) won’t be surprised by my reaction to the latest political news to hit the press. Alan Johnson has resigned as Shadow Chancellor. Ed Miliband has replaced him with one of his competitors in the leadership race: the Rt. Hon. Ed Balls MP.

Given that he was my preferred candidate for the leadership, I’m obviously ecstatic with anticipation at this. In my opinion, it’s where Balls should have been from the word go- though I know there are probably plenty within the party who would disagree (I look forward, in particular, to discussing it with my fellow Sussex Uni Labour Society member Rob Brown, come Tuesday). Balls is an economic heavyweight, who has the qualifications for the job, and the tenacity to do it in opposition.

My opinion on Osborne  (economically illiterate, Thatcherite, trust-fund baby) is also not exactly secret. So I’m particularly looking forward to the first face off between the two. Given that Balls is the Labour MP whom the Tories are most frightened of, Osborne must be shitting bricks right now. Particularly after what Balls did to Gove in the few months he was shadowing the Ministry of Education. Balls has the economic expertise to cut Osborne’s nonsense to shreds, and the oratorical talents to have him cowering behind the dispatch box.

The corresponding promotion of Yvette Cooper to Shadow Home Secretary is also a triumph for the opposition. Placing one of the most prominent female Labour MPs (probably second, after Harriet Harman) opposite the woman who voted against almost all equality legislation to come through the House in the last government is sure to prove interesting. Added to that the fact that Cooper is similarly talented to her husband, Balls, and that a home affairs storm is brewing over both control orders and 28 day detention, she could be in for considerable success in the role.

The downside of all this, of course, is that Alan Johnson has retired from frontline politics. He will be missed, without a doubt. He embodied Labour’s roots entirely, coming from a poor background, and work in the unions, to be a political heavyweight. His absence from the frontbench will be keenly felt, and we are the poorer for it. But the Labour backbenches seem to be overflowing with political heavyweights lately.

So all in all, a good day. A good day for Ed Balls; a good day for the party; a good day for the country; and a very bad day for Osborne.

The Elephant in the Room


At the start of this academic year, I bought myself a clock radio, so I could wake up to the radio rather than whatever annoying noise my phone conjures up. Now, in Brighton I can’t get Absolute Radio. I personally cannot stand Chris Evans. So with Absolute and Radio 2 ruled out, I plumped for Radio 4. I quite like the Today programme, and John Humphrys’ voice isn’t an unpleasant thing to wake up to. (Quiet!)

This might seem an odd way to begin a blog entry, but it leads into something more substantial now. This morning I was half awake, listening to a bit about how dire Ireland’s economic state is at the moment, and how it looks like the EU is going to have to bail them out.

I wanted to use a picture of an elephant painted with the Irish flag, on fire, but unfortunately my lack of photoshop skills and the internet's lack of imagination has meant that I can only go with this particularly idiotic picture of Osborne.

Now, I might have missed a bit, as I was still waking up, but nowhere did I hear any parallels drawn between the Irish situation and our own. They suffered in the recession. So did we. They gained a large deficit as a result of bailing themselves out of the recession. So did we. They ended up with a Coalition. So did we. They set out on a program of radical cuts. We have just begun a near identical program.

And here’s the problem. Before the election, back when he was Shadow Chancellor, rather than axe-wielder-in-chief, George Osborne wrote an article in the Times newspaper about Ireland. You can read the article for yourself, but it contains the key quote.

I’m not an Osborne fan. I think he’s a moron, and I wouldn’t trust him with my pocket change, let alone the Treasury. But still, I’d have a lot more respect for him if he could let go of his damned cutcutcut obsession and looked at the bloody facts. It’s particularly galling when he himself laid out the sensible advice back in 2006.

“[Ireland] have much to teach us, if only we are willing to learn.”

And right you were, George. They taught us that sudden, drastic cuts when the economy is still unstable are a bad idea, and can result in a plunge back into recession. Not the lesson that he imagined they would teach us, granted, but important nonetheless. And yet despite eschewing the benefits of paying attention to Ireland and learning from their blunders, he seems not to be willing to learn himself.

It’s not surprising, of course. The Coalition government have set out on a program of economically-destructive cuts, and damn it they’re going to carry it out. That’s ideology. That’s politics. Any climbdown now would be tantamount to the lumbering mutant creature shooting itself in the face. But why are the rest of us not shouting louder about this?

Alan Johnson pointed out Osborne’s raging hypocrisy re: banking regulation, back when the CSR was delivered. But no one is waving Ireland around as an example of him ignoring the red lights and warning signs. Is there some reason for this? Is Ireland a no-go area for some reason?

Whatever, some brave MP (from either side of the House) needs to table a question to ask Osborne- or that Tory-apologist Danny Alexander- to explain why they are now ignoring the Irish lessons which they were so adamant we should learn from.

Despicable Him


 

"I'm havin' a bad bad day/If you take it personal that's okay/Watch, this is so fun to see/Huh, despicable me"

No, this doesn’t have anything to do with the film Despicable Me, good as it was. This is about George Osborne and his Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR).

 

I know it’s over a day late, but to be honest I was so shocked and disgusted with Osborne’s announcements yesterday that I didn’t know what to say. I’d been expecting it to be bad but… I somehow failed to appreciate how awful it would be when it actually came around. Now, I could go on and on about the various people who will be horribly affected about this, but frankly you already know.

No, what I’m going to do is a lay person’s assessment of the economic madness this constitutes.

Now, the financial crisis was caused by the banks, behaving irresponsibly and taking outrageous risks. They did this because they were greedy bastards. They were able to do this because of poor regulation, which I accept was Labour’s bad. However, as Alan Johnson pointed out yesterday, Osborne himself was arguing for less regulation leading up to the crisis. So it’s fallacy to believe the Tories would have done anything different.

But it was Labour’s mistake. Their only real mistake in all of it, in my opinion. When the crisis hit, Brown and Darling responded immediately by nationalising the banks and pouring money into the economy. It worked. The recession ended, and we started the slow road to recovery.

Unfortunately, it left us with a deficit. A rather large deficit. But the decision at the time was that a deficit was better than a collapsed economy. Personally, I still agree with this. But anyway, along came the election and the Tories painted a picture of imminent financial disaster, making (false) analogies with Greece, and saying that everything needed to be cut immediately to plug the deficit as quickly as possible.

Now, the majority of people didn’t agree with this, but the Tories ended up in government and pursuing their cut-cut-cut agenda anyway (thanks to a spectacular U-turn by the Lib Dems). Which brings us to the CSR. The cuts are just as massive as we were promised, but somehow they come along with the promise that they will save the economy. To my mind, this doesn’t stand up.

The prediction is that this will result in half a million jobs being lost. Half a million. Given that the recovery has been faltering over the summer, this doesn’t seem smart. These people are going to have to be paid redundancy packages. Then a lot of them will end up on job-seekers allowance, unable to find jobs that don’t exist in the private sector. And those who are lucky enough to find jobs will be further inconvenienced by the hike in rail fares, making commuting all the more difficult.

This, it seems to me, is not going to help an already fragile economy. Especially when you look at the Republic of Ireland, who Osborne used as an example of how it should be done. They had a coalition government. They launched a similar program of massive cuts. They slipped back into a second recession. Funny how the coalition aren’t shouting about Ireland any more.

But aside from this gambling, this risk taking, this economic idiocy, there was something that disgusted me more yesterday. If you watch the footage back, Osborne is loving every minute of this announcement. Never mind that these cuts will cost at least 500,000 jobs. Never mind that they will cause misery for millions more. Never mind that they risk destroying the economy. He was enjoying it.

And so were the rest of the government benches. Why? Because these cuts are nothing to do with necessity. This is what Tories have longed to do, ever since Thatcher cut public services in the 80s. Even if there was no deficit, they would still want to cut back the state, this just gives them the opportunity. And the fact is that these measures will hit the poor hardest. The news is filled with economic analyses that show this. And meanwhile, the bankers, the tax dodgers and all of Osborne’s chums get off scott free.

That’s Tory fairness for you.

Chasing Shadows


So, after much anticipation, and a fair amount of spectacle, Mr (E.) Miliband has announced his Shadow Cabinet. And the commentators and speculators had it largely wrong (that’ll teach them). So here, fresh from my first Law & Politics in Britain and North America seminar, is my after-the-fact and probably under-informed view on the choices. This isn’t, by the way, going to be a full analysis, just a bit of comment on the bits I find interesting.

The obvious starting place is the place where all the speculation and rumour seemed to congeal- the Shadow Chancellorship. Of particular importance at the moment given the amount of attention being given to the economy, many had expected (and I had personally hoped) leadership candidate Ed Balls would get the job, given his political ferocity and economic understanding. Throughout the leadership campaign he had been noteworthy as particularly informed on the economy (just see his phenomenal There Is An Alternative speech), and has been supported by a number of key economists. Failing that, it was thought that his wife Yvette Cooper might be placed opposite Osborne, drawing on her experience as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

 

Alan Johnson MP, Shadow Chancellor and Nicest Guy in Politics

 

Well we were all wrong. In the event, Mr Miliband has lumped for former Home Secretary Alan Johnson. Johnson, winner of my personal and very unofficial Nicest Guy in Politics Award, wasn’t much touted for the job, and is a bit of an odd appointment. Part of the reason might be that he’ll be more likely to tread the new leader’s line on the economy, being a slower reduction of the deficit rather than Balls’ radical investment and economic growth beliefs. It’s a bit early to comment on Johnson’s appointment, but whilst he’s a bit of a shock, he’s quite a diplomatic choice- probably designed to placate David Miliband’s supporters.

So consequently, Mr Balls has ended up as Shadow Home Secretary. I’m quite glad of this, to be

 

Ed Balls MP, Shadow Home Secretary

 

honest. As I said above, Ed is a fiery opponent, and I look forward to seeing him take on Theresa May and her one jacket (which is actually of particular interest, as one of Ms May’s constituents). I’m hoping that Ed will take the same hard line against cuts to the police, and policies on immigration which could potentially be disastrous to the recovering economy.

Yvette Cooper, meanwhile, sits herself down in the newly-vacated seat of David Miliband, as Shadow Foreign Secretary. This might seem an odd choice, but makes perfect sense, I think. William Hague (the Foreign Secretary) is famed as particularly talented orator, and whilst Ms Cooper may not have the same profile as the former Conservative Leader, I can assure you that she is a very talented politician. Iain Duncan Smith will be breathing a sigh of relief that he won’t be facing her across the dispatch box.

 

Andy Burnham MP, Shadow Education Secretary

 

The only other leadership candidate (aside from the two Eds) to make it into the cabinet is Andy Burnham, who has been given Balls’ old brief in Education. This appointment I can genuinely say I am thrilled with. Just as Gove is poking his head out from behind the barricade and wondering if it’s safe to come out now that the nasty Mr Balls has moved on, here comes another heavyweight. In particular, Andy’s line on fairness and equality throughout the leadership campaign fits perfectly here, and with Balls having moved to the Home Office, I can’t think of anyone better to fight the inequality and foolishness of Gove’s education policies.

Sadiq Kahn, the man who ran Ed Miliband’s successful leadership campaign, is rewarded with a brief opposite Ken Clarke in the Ministry of Justice. This is quite a promotion, for the man who was formerly Minister for Transport, and no doubt reflects his loyal service to the new leader. It’s also going to be a fairly difficult task, standing opposite one of the few men who I will laud as a “sensible” Conservative.

To finish, I’m glad to see that Shaun Woodward and Peter Hain have been worked into the cabinet, despite not qualifying through the election. Counter-democratic as it may be argued, I think that the election of the shadow cabinet is daft, and Peter Hain needed to be included so that a Welshman could be placed shadowing the Welsh Secretary. As for Shaun Woodward, I genuinely like the guy. He had the strength of character to follow his principles, and cross the floor from the Tories to Labour, which deserves respect, and I am thoroughly glad to see him as Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary.

That’s just a taste of the new Shadow Cabinet, and if you want to see the whole list then the BBC News Website has helpfully got them all listed for you. As for how effective the various members will be in their new roles remains to be seen. But the fact is that with the results of the spending review being announced in a fortnight, they’re going to have to hit the ground running. This should make for good politics, and exciting watching.