Ed Balls

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 Fight to Save EMA


EMA is the latest target in the government's ongoing war on the poor and students

As I write this, a debate is going on in the House of Commons. It might not at first seem an important debate in the same way that, say, the debate on raising tuition fees was. But in this writer’s opinion, it absolutely is. The debate I’m referring to is, of course, the debate on the future of EMAs.

EMAs, for the uninitiated, are Education Maintenance Allowances. This is a payment of up to £30  per week given to further education students from poor backgrounds, to encourage and assist them in studying further. A fairly simple measure, I think, and one of the best policies that the last Labour government instigated.

The current issue being debated is the scrapping of that scheme. The government seems to be continuing its war on students. So many of the cuts that have so far been announced are going to hit young people the hardest. From the headline measures such as tuition fee rises and the cancellation of the BSF programme, to more behind the scenes cuts like the closure of the hugely successful Connexions centres. All of this whilst the bankers, who caused the economic woes that we’ve suffered recently and are still feeling the effects of, get off scott free.

I’ve seen a lot of misinformation bandied around lately by Tory supporters about EMAs. The most common seems to be that it bribes 16-18 year olds to go to school. My suspicion is that this comes from relatively well-off people.

I attended the Henley College, in Henley-on-Thames, which sounds a lot posher than it actually is. I myself didn’t qualify for EMA, but plenty of my fellow students did, and for those students it was less about bribery than it was about enabling them to attend. For a college with the wide geographic range of students like Henley College, transport was an issue. At further education level, there is no free provision of transport. And it can get damned expensive (God knows that mine was). For many students, EMAs were a lifeline which enabled them to actually get to college in order to study.

Aside from that, there are other costs in associated with studying beyond GCSE, which are difficult to meet if your family cannot foot the bill. Food, stationary, equipment. All of it costs money, which EMAs were designed to meet and help with. Taking that away, restricting it in order to save money at the expense of the poorest sectors of society, cannot be justified as anything other than a regressive move.

I could write about this all day, but instead I’ll finish with a couple of quotes:

Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won’t.‘ -Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, in an interview with the Guardian in March 2o10.

I said we don’t have any plans to get rid of them … it’s one of those things the Labour Party keep putting out that we are but we’re not.‘ -David Cameron, Prime Minister, at a “Cameron Direct” event in January 2010.

The Lib Dems betrayed students and broke their pledge on tuition fees. Now the Tories are doing the same with EMAs. There is no difference, it’s just as regressive, just as harmful to the futures of students, and should be resisted just as hard.

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.

The Red Dawn


Ed Miliband, 20th Leader of the Labour Party

Okay, that sounded more revolutionarily socialist than I’d intended, but let’s run with it…

Yesterday, the result of the long, hard campaign for the new Labour leader was revealed, and Edward Samuel Miliband was elected as the new party leader. The moment itself was something of a shock, as indicated by the surprised gasp that went around the conference when it became apparent that firm favourite David Miliband had been beaten by his younger brother.

Now, those of you who follow this blog will know that Mr Miliband was not my first choice. But that doesn’t matter. One of the many positives about this leadership campaign has been the quality of all the candidates. There were none of them that I would not have been happy with at the head of the party.

But now the contest is done, and we have our new leader. The attention must turn to the rest of the conference, and to fighting the cuts that will decimate our unsteady economy. There’s still a way to go before Labour is in full opposition mode, after the Shadow Cabinet has been elected, and appointed by Ed.

What needs to happen now is a mass mobilisation of the public, against what is to come. Ed needs to work with all sectors of society, to place Labour at the forefront of the wave of public outcry which will be rising up once Coaliton cuts set in. The biggest danger he faces, and all of Labour faces, is internal division.

The last 13 years in the Labour Party were hampered by the Blair-Brown divide. What we cannot have now is that same divide manifesting through Miliband E and Miliband D camps. So far there has been no hint of that, with David’s congratulations to Ed feeling genuine and loving, if understandably a little put out.

The other danger is listening to the right-wing media. Already accusations are being made that he is a creature of the unions. It’s true, that the union vote was what put him over the top. But that doesn’t mean he’s a slave to them, or that there is something amiss about his election. Labour is the party of the people, it’s connection to the unions is long and esteemed. The union role in the leadership election reflects their contribution to the party, and ties the party to its political beneficiaries: the working people of the United Kingdom.

The Tory-skewed media is naturally going to try and bring Ed down over this. The party cannot listen to it. The only way we are going to be able to fight the Tories and the Lib Dems is if we are united. We did great things in the 13 years of Labour government, and now the average person of this country needs us to fight these disastrous cuts with everything we have. In government we could afford to have internal divisions, even if they handicapped us. In opposition, we don’t have that luxury.

So I’m adding my voice to those greater than myself, to all those in the party. We’ve gone through this election to find our new leader. We have found him. Now we need to unite behind him, and move onto the real fight. We need to present a single, strong and united front, against an already-fracturing Coalition government.

This is where we begin our fightback. This is where we make our future.

I’m Backing Balls


Ed Balls is the man with the passion, oratory skill, and technical understanding to best stand up to the unfair Con-Dem coalition, and make Labour values and principles effective in opposition

So here it is. On 1st September 2010, the ballots will start to go out to Party members for the voting stage of the Leadership contest. And in anticipation of this, I’m declaring my support, and my first preference vote for Ed Balls, MP for Morley and Outwood.

When the candidates were announced, I’ll admit that I didn’t expect Ed to be my first choice. I didn’t know all that much about him then, he was a figure in the Labour cabinet, Minister for Education, and that was about all I knew.

Since the election, however, he has proved himself to me as a gifted politician, and a man dedicated to the ideals of social justice upon which Labour is founded. After fighting tooth and nail in the General Election almost five months ago to win a difficult seat, and after choosing to fight for the leadership, he has thrown himself into opposition.

Ed understands the dangers of the coalition policies. He understands the terrible risks that Cameron, Osborne and Clegg are taking with the economy, placing an unfair burden on the very poorest in society. He recognises the need not to simply focus on his leadership campaign, but that the the fight back has to begin immediately.

In the five short months since the Coalition entered government, Ed has fought them on all the important issues. He has embarrassed and exposed the elitist hypocrisy of the Coalition education policies. On BBC Question Time, he outshone Business Secretary Vince Cable. And he has come out swinging against the cuts that risk our fragile economic recovery. He has put the fear of Labour and of the people into the Coalition front bench already- imagine what he could do as party leader.

This leadership election is massively important, and I would not presume to tell anyone how to vote. All members of the party should take equal responsibility, and take the time to research the candidates to make their own judgements on who is best. We are in a fortunate position, in that all of the candidates are fine politicians, who would bring their own advantages to the party. This puts the party members in an unenviable position of trying to decide which of them is best.

As I’ve already said, I think that is Ed Balls. He has the fire in his belly to fight for the people of this country, who now more than ever need Labour to be standing up for them. He has the economic understanding to be able to outmatch the Coalition’s atrocious ideological mishandling of the economy. I’d highly recommend to anyone considering how to cast their vote, that they read his “There is an Alternative” speech from earlier today. Ed knows what he’s talking about, and is ready to stand up for what is right.

If you’re not yet a Labour Party member, but care about this country and the future we face, then you can still join and cast a vote in the Leadership election, up to September 8th. I urge you to consider this. The importance of a strong opposition cannot be overstated, particularly given the contradictory alliance of Tory and Lib Dem that is currently doling out injustices and irresponsibilities. That strength starts with a strong leader.

If you’re interested in joining the party, then take a look at the Labour Homepage. If I’ve caught your interest in regards to Ed Balls, then please take a look at his campaign page, and see first hand what I’m talking about.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


 

Vince Cable's suggestions of a graduate tax to replace tuition fees, are somewhat damaged by other more regressive suggestions.

 

The Coalition government has today proposed introducing a graduate tax to fund higher education in this country, rather than the current system of loans that sees graduates leaving university with crippling amounts of debt. If this sounds at all familiar, it’s because it’s something that has been suggested many times, by many people- most recently by shadow secretary for education, Ed Balls.

But let’s not dwell on that. After all, it’s surely a good thing if the government accepts it when the opposition has a good idea? Anyway, that’s not my point here. My point is the compromise that is inherent in any coalition, and in particular a coalition between such polar opposites as the Tories and the Lib Dems. Every achievement that one side makes is tempered by an achievement of the other. Or rather, every concession the Lib Dems manage is tempered by some crazy rubbish that I sincerely hope comes from the other side.

Take the student finance, for example. Along with the graduate tax idea (which I welcome, as I did when Mr Balls suggested it), the announcement contains suggestions of all manner of things, including shortening degrees to two years. I’m not sure how many degrees this would actually apply to, but I can’t think of many where it would be a good idea. I’m a law student, about to go into my second year. Now, I know I didn’t really shout too much about it, but I had my exams a few months ago. And they were hard.

The stress that I went through this year, and last year, is largely due to the massive quantity of “stuff” I have to learn and remember. It might not seem like it, but there really is a lot to learn in Law. And I’m not nearly arrogant enough to assume that other courses aren’t the same. My point is that the stress levels, and the amount of material covered is at the limits of what is manageable. If you reduce course duration to two years, one of two things will happen: either the rate of stress-related breakdowns will increase, or the standard of graduates will fall. Neither of which seems desirable.

And that’s not to mention the potential for forming a two tiered education system, which seems to be something the Tories quite like the idea of. If both two and three-year courses are offered, at different prices, you’ll end up with those whose families happen to be rich enough to afford it getting the higher standard three-year education, and those whose families aren’t so well off having to settle for two-year “basics” degrees.

Now, there’s already a divide between the education that the rich and the poor receive, under the current system. A graduate tax would do a lot to allieviate that, as money wouldn’t be the primary obstacle for students from a poorer background, but rather they would be judged on academic ability.

A double standard of education based on wealth would destroy any benefit there, however. And it’s not just that it’s against the interests of social justice. It’s quite clearly against the interests of the country as a whole. What the public seems to misunderstand, and certain politicians are keen to encourage them to, is that students are not a drain on the taxpayer. They are an investment, by the country. Yes, it requires money from the taxpayers to educate them, but who gets the benefits? Who gets treated by the doctors trained at our universities? Who is defended by the lawyers? Who is going to rely on the graduates of the future?

I’m not even going to answer that for you. It’s just galling that I’m forced to watch every sensible, liberal, progressive suggestion that is made by this coalition of contradictions, be checked by some conservative, reactionary nonsense. What our economy is going to need as it crawls out of recession is not less jobs, nor smart and capable people excluded from the education which would benefit them and the country, simply because they weren’t lucky enough to be born into money.