The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘Ed Balls’

A Balls Examination

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 26, 2010 @ 13:08

Won't be seeing him with one of these for a while. If ever...

In government, Ed Balls was always one of my least favourite ministers. He was patronising, dictatorial and a little bit shifty.

In Opposition, Ed Balls seems to have found his perfect niche.

That’s the thing about a lot of these Labour figures we’ve known and loved for many years now. A lot of them have known nothing other than government. Until very recently, none of us actually had any idea what the likes of the Milibands and the “Blair’s Babes” generation were going to be like on the other side of the House. Whoever made that transition to the very different skillset of Opposition was always going to be able to get their nose in front…

And, to me, the man who has done that most effectively, and impressed on every opportunity, is Ed Balls.

He is helped too by his sheer opportunism. Such language is invariably pejorative, but in these days of democracy, it is a plus point. Ed Balls has wasted no time in executing an impressive series of u-turns on immigration, on schools and is now also looking very strongly at the idea of a graduate tax instead of up-front tuition fees. I like it. There is no better time than straight after electoral defeat to jettison dodgy policy areas or retune to the opinions of the mass market; the defeat is the perfect cover, and the post-election melee means it’s soon forgotten anyway.

The best aspect of him seems to have been his attitude to the coalition. He is always talking about the “risks” they are taking, and is taking that aspect of his attacks to extreme levels. It is a risky strategy in itself, but it is important to plant the seed of doubt in people’s minds. If the cuts do falter, Balls will reap the harvest.

Like it or not, he is also the one succeeding most in making himself seem the most “normal”. He has shed his wonkery of years past, and always looks suitably embarrassed whenever one of those nasty journos try to blame him for “Neo Endogenous Growth Theory”. He has a neutral accent without too many silly quirks or weird pronunciations (see Gordon Brown). He doesn’t have that “other wordly” look and sound of the Milibands, and his delivery and diction put him streets ahead of Andy Burnham.

Better still, he seems to be developing a good sense of humour. It doesn’t win you elections, as William Hague proved, but it’s important not to take yourself too seriously in the job of Leader of the Opposition. Witty barbs at PMQs keep the troops fired up, as does being able to think up smooth retorts in the heat of a debate. And, yes, it does make you appear normal.

Labour don’t really have a very good choice ahead of them. But they could do a lot worse than Ed Balls.

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Quick Thoughts On Labour’s Newsnight Debate

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 16, 2010 @ 21:48

The Contenders

I was intending to write a slightly more in-depth post about my assessment of the candidates based on last night’s Newsnight, but real paying work put paid to all that. Instead, a short summary…

Andy Burnham

Why was he there? Believe it or not, Andy is actually the biggest “no change” candidate there is. Offered nothing different. Offered the same old Blairite New Labour shit with a new face. Tried to spin everything as if his Northern roots gave him some amazing insight on the decline of the Labour Party than all the other candidates. Sorry, Bambi, but they don’t. Lightweight and pointless.

Diane Abbott

Makes a very good argument, but her body language is very off-putting. Pushed all the right buttons as to being the candidate that most represents a clean break for the party, and will definitely win a lot of the left wing votes. Came across reasonably polished; perhaps all those years on This Week have helped her media performance. Remarkably played the experience card; not what you’d expect from a proper lefty. Just don’t think there is sufficient votes in there to win. A welcome addition to the race though.

Ed Balls

Combative, dogmatic and shameless. Washed his hands resolutely of Gordon Brown, kept arguing with the others. Seems to have very sharp elbows. Is clearly going to bash hard on the immigration line, reckons that will win him back the core Labour vote. Unfortunately, the core Labour vote are not going to vote in this election. Most of them have either died or left the party. Not quite the candidate I was expecting though. Is going to be worth watching.

Ed Miliband

Surprisingly poor. My tip at the start of the year for the Labour leadership seems to be running aground. Held his own amidst the very crowded field, but at times made himself look a bit too bright-eyed and bushy tailed. Had some good points to make, and clearly wants to be a bit different, but there was nothing of substance in there to justify the nice words. May be just a little too innocent and naive to take on the bruising Ed Balls, the argumentative Diane Abbott and the forceful…

David Miliband

Authoritative, commanding and resolute. But too geeky and robotic. He’s in command of himself, his demeanour and the arguments, but he feels too much like the perfect technocrat. A steady pair of hands is not what Labour needs in Opposition. It needs a street brawler. He was never beaten in the discourse, but is too stiff and formal. Unable to relax, unable to take a joke. Worse: is unable to make a joke. Just doesn’t feel human enough. Could well win, but it won’t be any good for Labour.

Conclusion

No one really won last night. And, after all, this is going to bore us all summer long, so it’s just as well. But Andy Burnham clearly showed he was out of his depth, and Ed Miliband will have to loosen up and get more rough and tumble or he will crash and burn in the same way.

Meanwhile, David Miliband, Ed Balls and Diane Abbott did themselves no harm at all. This is a crucial arena, as it is what we’re going to see in all general elections from now on. They need to be able to do well here, and they showed glimpses of that.

A promising start…

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Time For A Reshuffle, Harriet

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 19, 2010 @ 11:41

The Next British Prime Minister

With the number of contenders for the Labour leadership about to reach four (if John McDonnell can get the signatures) it may well be a good moment for Labour to take a leaf out of Michael Howard’s book.

Bizarre as that may sound, he did have one good idea. In the aftermath of his election defeat in May 2005, he took it on the chin and stood down. Though not straight away. He decided to give the Conservative Party all the time it needed to really think about what the future of the party should be.

Eventually, David Cameron was elected Tory leader in December 2005. A whole seven month interregnum, despite Howard still getting very badly beaten (in majority terms) in the election.

Yesterday, Labour announced they were also going to take their time. It sort of makes sense, because Labour haven’t had a period of introspection for a long while. They are taking a risk in the sense that the coalition might suddenly collapse with Labour rudderless, but it’s worth it.

But what Harriet needs to do is showcase the Labour “talent”. As Anne Robinson says, “ditch the deadwood!”. Get rid of Alan Johnson and give it to Ed Miliband. Put Ed Balls in as Shadow Chancellor. Even John McDonnell should be asked if he wants a portfolio if he gets the necessary nominations. He’ll probably refuse, but he deserves a platform too.

The goal has to be to give due prominence to those who hope to lead the party. Get them right in the limelight. Give them a chance to shine and show the country what they’re made of. It will give Labour members and affiliated trade unionists the opportunity to see a few months of real experience under pressure.

Even better, the associated free publicity for the Labour Party will be plain for all to see. The broadcasters and journalists will give extra prominence to every appearance of Ed, Ed, David and John (and anyone else for that matter) because they know they could be looking at the next Labour Party leader. And if they play their cards right, the next Prime Minister…

So don’t miss this opportunity, Harriet. The media loves a good story. A well-timed reshuffle will get some good publicity. And then, once the right faces are in the right places, it could continue to reap dividends…

UPDATE – 16:30 – and since Andy Burnham is also going to throw his hat into the ring, let’s make it five. At least it’s going to be a proper contest. No women though?

UPDATE 2 – 20/5 – 10:05 – I guess Diane Abbott read my comment above. A Labour leader, perhaps? How fantastic would that be.

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Miliband, Miliband Or Other?

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 15, 2010 @ 11:16

Just to show how different they are, they even un-coordinated their ties...

It is pleasing to see that later on today Ed Miliband will join the Labour leadership race. I’m pleased not just because it means we’ll actually have a contest to look forward to, but also because it means my prediction on January 1 that he will be the next Labour leader might well come to pass…

Of the Milibands, I have never been impressed by David. I have never understood what made him the “favourite” in the first place. I wrote about this last year. He is policy light, idea-free, but worst of all is not exactly fluent in front of the cameras. In the new age of TV debates, I don’t think his empty personality will come across all too well in this arena.

There was a chink of light earlier this year, however, and I slightly reconsidered my view of him. Maybe within that tired Blairite façade there is a real political thinker waiting to burst out. Oh, if only we could have a leader of a party that actually believed in a philosophy. The Milibands are, after all, steeped in a Marxist heritage. Not that that will happen, but maybe there might just be a little more democratic socialism, or failing that social democracy, under the skin than we think.

No. I’m dreaming. Of course not.

But of the two Milibands, the younger brother Ed has always been slightly more interesting. He is better on camera, without a doubt. He doesn’t have the same degree of uber geekery that David has. He looks, well, a bit more human.

Ed has always been associated with the Brown faction of the Labour Party, while David has always been seen to be a Blairite. Bear in mind that there is barely a cigarette paper between the Brown and the Blairite faction of the Labour Party. It is just a tribal thing. People like to feel like they belong to something more than just a party. The miniscule differences in emphasis between the factions are exaggerated to an enormous degree in order to pretend that you can only be one or the other. Boys, eh.

This distinction is important, though, as it will greatly influence where support is going to come from. It’s already obvious that David has the backing of a lot of MPs. Ed may pick up some Brownite rump, but if Ed Balls also stands then Ed Miliband (too many Eds – Ed.) has lost this third of the electoral college quite convincingly.

Same too of the unions. Ed Balls, if he stands, will get the full backing of them. Why that would be I don’t know. Labour, despite its pretence of meritocracy, is a real big fan of nepotism. The unions have always preferred Brown to Blair, but since Ed Balls and Brown went hand in hand, he will receive the union’s blessing, rather than Ed Miliband. Fortunately, each union member is balloted individually, so this may not be quite so important. It will, however, if it comes to the issue of how much finance each campaign gets to push its message out.

That only leaves the members. And if the members get a genuine look at the candidates, I think Ed Miliband has a chance of winning this third. John Cruddas, if he stands, will fare equally well, but there is just a chance that John Cruddas will stand aside for another candidate, and give them his blessing in return for a cushy Shadow Cabinet post. Could Ed Miliband persuade him? I think he could.

Either way, we’re in for a lot of novelty value of seeing two brothers locked in a deadly political battle. Both of them are still young enough that if both, or either, lose, they will get another chance, but by then there will be a new generation of young pretenders. This may be their one shot.

While only one of them has a chance of doing a good job as the Labour Party leader – Ed Miliband – the other might just be the candidate that makes the Labour Party even more distant from the electorate than ever. Aloof, brainy, nerdy. That’s not how you get noticed in the new media age, I’m afraid.

Fun times ahead!

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One-Term Obama?

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 13, 2010 @ 09:41

OK, maybe our expectations were a little too high...

It being a fine Saturday, what better excuse is needed for forgetting about our politics and thinking about politics in America again. Hey, it’s been a while!

The big hooha at the moment in the States surrounds Obama’s apparent further drop in support. Approval ratings are tanking, with them now being some way below the 50% mark, with the latest figure being 46%. Panic buttons are being hit across the Democratic party. Republicans holler with delight. Oh, those early days when this approval was sky high at 69% seem so far away now.

We’re being told that the reason is simple. Americans don’t want Obama’s “socialist” take over of everything, from healthcare to the economy.

Time for a reality check. Obama was elected on the biggest wave of hope and optimism for change America has seen in decades. Obama’s program was by no means radical, being firmly rooted in the centre of American politics (centre-left doesn’t really exist as a concept over there). He looked good, he sounded great. The Americans gave him a thumping mandate, both personally and to his party.

14 months later – yes, that’s all it’s been – Obama’s agenda has stalled. Early small victories came to a crashing halt when the Republicans happened to stumble upon the strategy that has delivered so much success. Do nothing. Stop everything. Use every parliamentary trick in the book to ensure that Obama fails.

Obama has some responsibility for letting his useless Congressional leadership take care of the specifics. They have wasted the biggest opportunity in a generation to use full control of the legislature, having been held to ransom by a handful of truly awful Senators. Obama might have got a bit more involved at an earlier point. And Obama’s insistence on trying to get “bipartisan” legislation is a total waste of time, when the Republicans have no desire to take part.

And why would they? They’re doing awfully well out of Democratic failure to deliver. And now, because Democrats have no spine, the Republicans are able to claim that it’s all the Democrats fault for their internal squabbling and inability to govern. Republicans never needed 60 votes, after all.

To me, the narrative behind the approval ratings failure is simple. The American people wanted change. The American people have not seen any. Approval ratings don’t equate to masses Democrats suddenly wanting to vote Republican. No. It means Democrats lose interest. Republicans get fired up as the feel the tide turning. Independents feel let down by one side and start to consider whether maybe the other side could do a better job after all.

Meanwhile, the approval ratings continue to slide, as the nation gets bored to death by talk talk talk about healthcare reform, with still no delivery or end in sight.

But there was something Obama said last year that he ought to come back to…

President Barack Obama is “quite comfortable” with the prospect of being a one-term president in order to address the issues he is concerned about, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday.

If I’m wrong, and greater access to affordable healthcare really is not what the American people want, then Obama probably will be a one-term President.

But I’m willing to bet that if Obama can finally get round to strong arming enough of his errant Congressional party into supporting his reforms, his plans will steadily gather support when the Democrats can start to wheel out the laundry list of things the healthcare package improves for Americans.

The attitude of “I’m going to do what I think is right, because I have no electoral fears” may be the only way out of this mess. So what if you’re a one-term President but massively increased access to healthcare, cut the budget deficit and started the ball rolling on curbing the worst excesses of the insurance companies.

Obama must regain that confidence in his messaging that he displayed during the campaign.

Change takes time. Change takes guts. Change involves a mammoth battle with the vested corporate and selfish interests.

But I’m starting to doubt if Obama has the bottle to do it.

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Ed Balls: A Challenger Appears

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 23, 2010 @ 09:26

He deserves to be Labour's next leader on the strength of this picture alone.

The headline in today’s Telegraph, of all places, says it all:

Ed Balls: my struggle to overcome stammer

Is it just me or is this article an attempt by Ed Balls to make himself appear more human? More normal…

Of course it is. As soon as Ed first realised Gordon was toast he has been mobilising ever since. He never used to appear on TV so regularly, but now it is hard to move around the schedules, especially on Sunday, without seeing his ugly mug staring back at you from Andrew Marr’s, Adam Boulton’s or Jon Sopel’s sofas…

And, as everyone knows, you can’t seriously expect to lead a party these days, let alone the country, if you have no personal connection with the electorate. Well, that is unless your name is Gordon Brown.

To win elections, you have to appear personable. You have to have to be liked. And if you’re liked, all of a sudden that magic word “electability” gets attached to you.

The problem with Ed Balls is that he just isn’t likeable. He is crafty, shifty-looking and downright evasive at times. But then again, most politicians are exactly the same.

To fix that problem, it’s clear we’re going to get a stream of cosy soft-focus “profiles” in the months ahead, detailing his career to date and his ambitions for his Britain of the future. Until Brown has gone, all of this will be coded as if to say it is what he will be working towards as part of Gordon’s Cabinet.

The truth is anything but.

Balls used Brown to ascend to power, to a position of national influence, and is already in process of ditching him and preparing for the next phase.

I’ll bet he’s glad, though, he never did get a chance to be Chancellor. That one was left to the fall guy, Alistair Darling.

All seems a bit clever to me. A bit too clever, perhaps…

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The Longest Campaign For Some Time?

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 4, 2010 @ 09:58

Looks like what I did to spoil my ballot paper one year. Image forthcoming one day...

Fans of non-fixed term parliaments often point to the USA for an example of why our system is much better. After all, their presidential campaigns are now never any shorter than 16 months, sometimes even more. That leads to election fatigue in even the most seasoned veterans.

And even then, as soon as one cycle begins, another one starts up. Two year terms in the House of Representatives will do that.

Of course, such arguments are a distraction. In case you haven’t noticed, today there is a blizzard of publicity from both parties as they try to out manoeuvre each other on various aspects of policy. It is shameless electioneering, and all the news outlets have called it as such.

But it is the election which dare not speak its name according to the Labour government. Ed Balls was doing the rounds this morning telling everyone there will be an election “this year”. Wow, thanks Ed. Really insightful. In fact, he went even further, telling us that “by law” there must be an election held by June. Fascinating stuff.

Let’s go a bit further back, though. Think back to the dark days of September 2009. You may recall a certain few political conferences, at which all the leaders and their acolytes gave significant speeches, many of which were also spun as the start of the election campaign.

Then there was a little thing that is starting to be dubbed the draft Queen’s Speech. Gordon Brown announced in July his  legislative timetable for the coming session. Many of these things were also seen as an attempt for the Labour government to set out its stall.

Yes. It’s a total nonsense to suggest that our elections are only defined by the formal campaign period. That’s the only time in which the broadcasters have to be fair in terms of coverage time; maybe that’s the only point at which parties like the Lib Dems get some real election action. But otherwise, the two main parties have invariably been squaring up against each other for many months.

If not years. There’s no doubting either that the Tories have been readying themselves for this election – and government – for years now. It’s just that they won’t tell anyone what they really want to do with power. They know they just want it. And who doesn’t in politics?

The modern media age demands more headlines. There is a whole 24 hours to fill up, and infinite amounts of words can be poured all over the internet too. Political parties are only too happy to fill the void. And what better way then the fake contest between two very similar parties to make some binary opposition for the media narrative.

Either way, I think this probably will be the longest ever “election” campaign the country has ever experienced. One suspects we’ll all be thoroughly sick of the sight of Cameron, Brown and even dear Cleggy “by June”.

Let battle commence. Or continue. Or something.

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