21 January 2011

Firing on all cylinders (finally)

Great news about Ed Balls - who should really have been Shadow Chancellor in the first place (although I'd argue there was also a strong case for either Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham).

As a naturally cynical individual my first thought when Alan Johnson said he was quitting the front bench for personal reasons was, "he's been told to jump or be pushed". But in this case it really does seem to be for personal reasons - marriage break-up. Whatever the problems he's had as Shadow Chancellor (and much of that may in fact be because he's had a lot of other stuff on his plate to deal with), I wish Alan all the best - he's a good guy and has made a huge contribution to British politics over the last decade.

What remains, though, could be the best shadow front bench Labour has ever had. Although much of the media will be hostile to Balls, his knowledge of economic policy makes George Osborne look like the cheap sneering punk that he is and, to paraphrase Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Ensign, Labour's chances of winning the next election may have just doubled. Already - just a few hours in the job - Ed B was sounding more convincing on fighting the cuts than Alan managed to be in three months.

The fact that Balls has many critics on the Blairite wing of the party and commentariat - Rentoul, Kettle, Blair, all the usual suspects really - just makes him even more credible and likeable.

One is beginning to feel that the ghost of Blairism - the dreadful tendency to say "I'll vote for any right wing crap just as long as it's got a red rosette on it" is being exorcised. However, to win the next election, the ghost of Brown - or at least the quasi Blairite neo-liberalism of the Brown years - need to be exorcised as well. What needs to remain is the good side of Brown - a passionate commitment to social justice and the good society. Brown - unlike Blair - was always a walking contradiction and so there are several different ways to interpret his legacy. Now that the key positions in the Shadow Cabinet are all held by Brownites, I just hope they can choose the correct way to go forward.

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