Monday, 1 October 2012

Balls denies responsibility for debt crisis..

BREAKING NEWS: Ed Balls has just made an appearance on the Today programme. In an abrasive performance, Mr Balls charachterised Lib Dem complaints about his personal style as mischief making and refused to apologise for Labour’s economic legacy. Asked about his responsibility for the national debt, he replied:

“I’m proud that we made the Bank independent, did not join the euro and invested in the NHS... I’m proud of what the Labour government did...I do not think for a second that it was Labour public spending which brought about this crisis.”

He also refused to answer the question of whether he would serve in a government in which he was not Chancellor. As for not conducting any spending review until Labour are in government, he argued that to do so would be irresponsible given the rapidly changing financial landscape. As for Coalition spending plans, he would not decide on committing to following them until the party published its manifesto as he was not “sure that there are any plans”. 


News that a police investigation into Keith Vaz has discovered funds “of a suspicious nature” totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds, is our splash this morning. As we report:

“Detectives found that over a six-year period, almost £500,000 was apparently deposited in the MP’s accounts — in addition to his salary between 1997 and 2001.

“The source of the funds has not been declared publicly and the evidence gathered by police may contradict assurances given by Mr Vaz during an investigation into his finances between 2000 and 2001 carried out by parliament.”

Ed Miliband will be annoyed by the distraction, not least as he made a point of praising Mr Vaz for his quarter century as an MP in the conference hall yesterday afternoon. Labour is enjoying the beginning of what looks like a united conference, so he may want to deal with this one swiftly. Will he suggest Mr Vaz refer himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards? And does he remove him as chairman of the Home Affairs committee? Can he? MPs may wonder whether Mr Vaz can credibly keep his post now that we know he was the subject of a police investigation.  

It is not just the news which will concern the Labour leadership. This morning’s comment columns will make uncomfortable reading for Mr Miliband who takes flack from every direction. Most striking is the criticism from the Left. In the Independent, Owen Jones criticises the party’s focus on middle class voters, while in the Telegraph, Dan Hodges writes that:

“All successful political strategies essentially revolve around the same three things. A strong leader, a strong position on the key issue of the moment, and a strong and unified party. The danger for Labour is that at the moment they don’t have the first, they don’t have the second, and they only superficially enjoy the third.”

The Times (£) leader also points to the underlying weakness of the Labour position, claiming that unless Labour can demonstrate a credible deficit reduction plan, “it is hard to see how [they] will be trusted to return to power.” Our leader column is in agreement. 

“The slogan for this week’s Labour conference in Manchester is “Rebuilding Britain”. Is this supposed to be a joke? After all, this is the party that squandered a golden economic legacy during its 13 years in office, leaving the country deeper in debt than at any time in its history? This is the same Labour Party that sold our gold reserves at rock bottom prices, wrecked one of the world’s best private pension systems, encouraged record levels of immigration and presided over a reckless and self-serving expansion of the public sector.”

Elsewhere, Trevor Kavanagh in the Sun reprises the theme of Red Ed’s union links making him unelectable, and in the FT (£), Paul Goodman writes that Mr Miliband's rejection of the centre ground puts him on a plane with Margaret Thatcher, but that his personality disqualifies him. Polling shows that voters prefer “strong and smug” as opposed to “weak and weird”, apparently. 


The big line from today’s conference is Ed Balls’ proposal to use the anticipated £3bn windfall from the sale of 4G phone bands to fund a new home building programme rather than to pay down debt. The Guardianhas it on p1, as does the Telegraph: Mr Balls hopes to build 100,000 affordable homes with the money.

Meanwhile, in his conference speech later today, Chuka Umunna will announce that Lord Adonis is to lead a review into the activities of the Business Department. Mr Umunna has already made a strong start with the faithful, being hailed in this morning’s Times (£) sketch as Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair’s love child, which in these parts is considered a compliment of sorts.


It isn’t just Mr Miliband coming in for criticism this morning. The entire political class get it in the neck. In the Times (£), Tim Montgomerie is scathing about the “shrunken warriors” at the helm of Britain’s political parties, arguing that with almost a quarter of voters considering voting for a party outside of the ‘big three’ at the next election, the result could be decided by the fortunes of “parties who make the Lilliputians look big”.

Public cynicism with established politicians is also a theme for David Blunkett this morning. Writing in the Mail, he says:

“Faith in the traditional political process has never been lower than it is today. The authority of Parliament has substantially declined, while trust in ministers and MPs has evaporated.”

The problem is a serious one for parties across the board - voter antipathy makes for weak polling data. Expect to see an emphasis on trust from the platforms at both Labour and Conservative conferences in the coming weeks.


Lord Ashcroft has attacked the “daft” poster released by CCHQ over the weekend which shows the two Eds and Gordon Brown as schoolboys under the slogan, “Labour isn’t learning”. Writing on ConservativeHome, he criticised the posters for giving the impression of a party playing a “big game” in “serious times”, adding:

“It is not clear how much the Conservative Party has paid M&C Saatchi to come up with the daft poster, unveiled over the weekend, depicting Ed Miliband and Ed Balls as gormless schoolboys under the slogan 'Labour Isn't Learning'. Nor do I know how much it cost to hire the ad van to drive the thing pointlessly around Manchester. What I do know is that if I had recently donated funds to the Tories I would be asking what on earth CCHQ thought it was doing with my money.”


It was an inauspicious conference debut for Ed’s guru du jour, Harvard professor Michael Sandel. The professor kicked off proceedings yesterday afternoon with a speech which the Mail’s sketch writer Quentin Letts thought:

“More Hampstead dinner party than Mancunian political rally... The Comrades didn’t quite know what to make of it. First day of conference used to be a time for Tory bashing, agenda fixing and general fix-bayonets-lads-we’re-going-over-the-top. Ginger up the great Movement’s morale. Growl at the mill owners... Instead we had Professor Wonk giving us an egghead sermon about money, morality and the loss of the spiritual dimension from politics.”


The Chequers conference between Boris and Dave ended at the pub where the Prime Minister had accidentally left his daughter, the Sun reports. The pair repaired to The Plough Inn where they were on the losing side of an adults vs children football match. Mr Cameron is even believed to have left with a full complement of children, marking a successful day all around.


Damian McBride’s blog post yesterday made for required reading, not only as a piece of political history, detailing Gordon Brown’s discovery that Tony Blair intended to fight the 2005 election, but also as political theory. Prime Ministers, Mr Brown believed, needed to stop themselves becoming over-exposed:

“If Gordon’s seven year theory is right, this is the last thing they should be doing; they should be rationing his public appearances and building up other fresher individuals – especially the exceptional Grant Shapps – as the public face of the Tory party. Otherwise, they risk people switching on the pre-election debates in 2015, looking at Cameron and thinking: ‘Oh not you again, I can’t stand another 5 years of you.’”



And finally... Ed Balls enjoyed the perfect pre-conference preparation, scoring twice in the Labour party’s 3-0 win against a journalists football team. The Sun, however, suspected him of dark arts:

“The Labour bruiser took a double tumble — on to his knees and then his stomach — near the end of the game between MPs and journalists. He got up to score the spot kick and seal a 3-0 win.”

“Video of the incident appeared to show the shadow chancellor hitting the deck after a slight touch from a defender... Andrew Burnham admitted the penalty was ‘questionable’.”


Claire Perry is one Tory MP united in sisterhood with Harriet Harman in the campaign to have Page 3 dropped by The Sun:

@claire4devizes: “And huge kudos to the Sun on Sunday and @DavidWooding for getting the boobs out.”

As Mr Wooding himself pointed out, there are a number of ways that could be read...


In The Telegraph

Boris Johnson - I’m sorry to say it, but my old school chum isn’t PM material 

Dan Hodges - Cruising serenely to defeat

Roger Bootle  - Sensible for Germany to leave euro, but they're not ready for it 

Christine Broughan  - Look after the elderly and they’ll look after us

Best of the rest

Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) - The PM can rise above the battle of the tiddlers

Paul Goodman in The FT (£) - Tories still have a trump card: Ed Miliband

David Blunkett in the Daily Mail - British politicians have rarely been so ridiculed and despised, and that should worry us all 

Lord Ashcroft on ConservativeHome - Conservative HQ's juvenile poster is a waste of money


Today: Labour Party conference. 

09:30 am: Owen Smith

10:00 am: Douglas Alexander

11:40 am: Chukka Umunna

12:00 pm: Ed Balls

02:00 pm: Liam Byrne