25
Jan
11

T’is the season for resigning.

The recent resignation of Alan Johnson from the post of Shadow Chancellor is something we should lament for several reasons- but one in particular strikes me as poignant. The absence of Johnson from frontline politics serves to highlight the complete and total lack of variation in social background amongst the current higher echelons of our political class. This painfully obvious domination of both government and opposition positions by the born-into power ‘career politicians’ is made all the more apparent by another recent resignation- that of Andy Coulson. The man was rightfully featured in a less than favourable light latterly on the blog you’re now reading, but the fact of the matter is, despite of conduct while in his position, he was still an individual from a working class council house background who’d ‘made good’. As political commentator Andrew Neil is due to point out in a feature analysing the ‘decline of social mobility’ in Britain tomorrow night, the seemingly increasing homogeneity of the group that runs our country is concerning, and these resignations exacerbate the issue. In short, it’s bad for everyone.

In lieu, then, of Johnson’s resignation, we are left with Ed Balls as our Shadow Chancellor, who is now trusted to take the fight to Osborne. A different man entirely to Johnson, Balls’ background unfortunately does not give him the same appeal- another Oxbridge grad without much experience of life outside of politics and the media, he certainly lacks the intriguing novelty of a postman-turned union boss-turned political heavyweight. Balls however does possess characteristics that may make him more suited to the role with context of the current set of circumstances- cometh the hour, cometh the man, as they say.

On a personal level, I’ve never been a fan of Ed Balls- between his bullish style (or as the BBC likes to refer to it as, ‘combative’) that I think UK politics could use less of, his harassing of the Blair administration with reform hindering as part of his apparent role as Brownite henchman, to current opposition and refusal to conform with Ed Miliband’s attempts at united policy, Balls has always seemed to me as a thorn in the side of our party, as opposed to an asset. Even I though can see the many positives that arise from this newest appointment. Balls, more devoid of the likability element than his predecessor, is however a master of his brief- he lives and breathes economics- once an writer of the Financial Times for four years, he knows what he’s talking about. This is of course in contrast to Johnson, who’s joke about needing a book on economics for beginners may have been more accurate and reflective than he intended. Perhaps this is what Labour needs- a man immune from mocking in relation to knowledge, able to pick apart coalition policy piece by deplorable piece-more so maybe than someone less adept in this regard, but with a more amiable air about him. Ultimately, isn’t the post of leader in existence to give the party a charismatic and likable face? Perhaps the Chancellor can afford to be less personable and more focused on the figures.

One thing is certain however- numbers related gaffs that occurred under Johnson will not happen under Balls. Ed has already demonstrated his ability to apply his superior knowledge under pressure during the labour party leadership contest- his skills at doing so would have also been honed there. Conversely though, there may be friction between him and Miliband considering they ran against each other- while conceivable, it probably won’t be a problem- with Alan Johnson however, someone who abstained from the contest, it wasn’t an issue.

Numerous negativities can be found with Balls inhabiting the position, nevertheless. Osborne’s preparation and training for his role as Chancellor would have been tailored in relation to the Tory prediction of an immediate appointment of Balls to the shadow- the wildcard aspect of Johnson’s appointment is no longer present; Balls’ is far less of an enigma to them. The obvious consequence is of course that that Balls may be found more predictable, as Osborne will know his approach inside out. Aside from this, typical Tory gibes will include labelling him as ‘second choice’- and let’s be honest- they wouldn’t be far wrong, would they?

Balls’ specialisation my make him effective in the position, but also incredible susceptible to that coalition justification for everything we’re all so tired of hearing: the ‘it’s the fault of the last government’ and ‘it’s what we inherited’ argument. Balls was at the heart of the Brown administration, and as an advisor to Gordon was responsible in no small capacity for light bank regulation that led to economic disaster- Johnson was immune from these connotations- which is probably the main reason Miliband appointed him initially.

Well, what happens from here is too hard to foresee- Osborne has had an easy ride up to now, that can’t be denied, and we’ll see how Gideon handles increased pressure placed upon him by an individual who, fundamentally, is more capable at the job. The public won’t remember Osborne’s current phase that somewhat resembles Gordon Brown’s era of savaging Nigel Lawson in terms of success in a Chancellor/ Shadow Chancellor capacity- the people remember John Major’s disaster defeat on Black Wednesday from that period, not Brown. Osborne’s record so far will count for naught if Balls helps labour get its act together- and with the revelation today that the economy shrunk by 0.5% in the last three months of 2010, his new role is more important than ever.

And no Gideon, it wasn’t the sole fault of the snow.

MH

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