Mehdi's Morning Memo: Iron Ed Balls?

File photo dated 06/04/13 of Shadow chancellor Ed Balls as Labour has not decided to fight the next general election on a commitment to outspend the Tories.
File photo dated 06/04/13 of Shadow chancellor Ed Balls as Labour has not decided to fight the next general election on a commitment to outspend the Tories.

The five things you need to know on Monday 23 September 2013...


The shadow chancellor wants to be an iron chancellor - or, at least, perceived as one by the deficit-obsessed, centre-right press. It hasn't worked so far and so Ed Balls will have another go in his big conference speech today in Brighton.

From the Guardian:

"Labour will on Monday try to bolster its economic credibility by asking the government's spending watchdog to audit all its tax and spending commitments before the next election.

"The shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, will tell Labour's conference he has written to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to ask it to examine the credibility and implications of the party's manifesto plans. His keynote speech will contain fresh proposals to target help for child care, but also a warning that the economic backdrop means a 'Labour government will find delivering its goals harder than at any point in living memory'.

"The Balls plan to throw Labour's five-year tax and spending plans to the mercy of the judgment of the fiercely independent OBR is high risk, but betrays the struggle Labour is facing to persuade the electorate that it will not be fiscally irresponsible in government."

But is it even possible? The Tories have been quick to pounce on the proposal, with Treasury minister Sajid Javid declaring:

"Ed Balls knows this is not allowed under the Budget Responsibility Act and the OBR's charter, so this is just a stunt to try and distract attention from the fact that Labour have been found out for making unfunded commitments that would just mean more borrowing and more debt."

On a side note, given how many times the OBR has had to downgrade its growth forecasts in the past three years, why do politicians still treat it with such deference and awe? Why would an OBR audit of the Labour manifesto be any more credible than its (incredible) growth forecasts?

Meanwhile, Labour continues to unveil more policies - the good and the not-so-good.

The good, via the BBC:

"Working parents of three and four year olds in England would get 25 hours of free childcare a week if Labour win the next general election.

"Shadow chancellor Ed Balls plans to raise the banking levy by £800m a year to fund the move."

The not-so-good, via the Times:

"Under plans being considered by Jon Cruddas, Labour's policy chief, child benefit would be paid only to parents who could prove that their children's vaccination records were up to date."

Isn't this the 'nanny state' in action? And how do you 'punish' parents who aren't on benefits and don't vaccinate their kids?


Apart from Gordon Brown, the man who had most to fear from former spin doctor Damian McBride's tell-all memoirs was, of course, Ed Balls. Speaking on the Today programme this morning, the shadow chancellor said:

"No I didn't complain about Damian McBride [to Brown]..we didn't know what was going on."

Pressed on why Ed Miliband complained about Brown's spinner in 2007 but Balls didn't, the latter replied:

"I didn't know that Damian McBride was doing personal briefings against ministers."

There will have been a collective rolling of eyes amongst Labour MPs and lobby correspondents listening to Balls on the Today programme this morning. It's hard to believe he didn't know, given every sone else seemed to have known.

My colleague Ned Simons reports:

"Former Labour minister Ivan Lewis has attacked former Gordon Brown spinner Damian McBride's 'ugly' approach to politics, as McBride's confessions about the divisions at the heart of the last government threatens to consume the party's conference in Brighton.

"In his new book, serialised in the Daily Mail, McBride admitted to leaking a story to the press in 2008 that Lewis had been 'pestering' a female civil servant. A charge he denied.

"Speaking at a fringe event at the Labour Party conference on Sunday evening hosted by the Blairite Progress group, Lewis, now shadow international development secretary, hit back at Brown's former enforcer.

"'The style of politics that Damian McBride came to represent belongs in the dustbin of history and it must never rear its ugly head in our party again,' he said to applause."

Ned adds:

"Speaking at the same event, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander also took aim at McBride, telling activists he had 'paid a price' for opposing him.

"'What Damian McBride represented wasn't just the way politics is or just some briefing, it was destructive, divisive and deeply damaging to our party,' he said."


Most of the papers splash on the horrific massacre in Kenya, with the BBC reporting that clashes between terrorists and security forces are still going on in and around the Nairobi shopping mall.

The Independent has a powerful report based on eyewitness testimony:

"All afternoon, the attackers had shown scant mercy for Westgate's shoppers and restaurant-goers. Hunting in packs, they moved from store to store on Saturday, sometimes killing indiscriminately, at other times sparing those who could prove they were Muslims.

"Now, the gunmen sought to justify themselves. 'We are not monsters,' they told Pauline, a French advertising producer. 'The Muslim faith is not a bad one.' They demanded her forgiveness and when she acquiesced, they gave Mars bars to her two children and let them go.

"But if this was a brief glimpse of conscience on the part of the terrorists, it was not to last. Within minutes, the shooting had begun again."

Channel 4 News has an exclusive interview with an Al Shabaab spokesman, who says: "The reason we attacked is to defend our people our country, because Kenya attacked us, they are still controlling parts of our land."

As is so often the case, and despite appearances, it is politics, not theology, that motivates most terrorists.

The BBC website asks: "Who are Somalia's al-Shabab?"


Watch this video of otters juggling rocks.


The German election result is in - from the Guardian's splash:

"Angela Merkel was basking in a historic third-term election victory in Germany on Sunday night, having led her conservatives to their best result in more than 20 years.

"Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and its sister party won 41.5% of the vote, with analysts calling the win a personal victory for the 59-year-old, who is now on track to overtake Margaret Thatcher as Europe's longest-serving female leader.

"Merkel's performance was compared to that of conservative chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who was the last chancellor to secure a Bundestag majority without need of a coalition partner since 1957. After a campaign that concentrated almost solely on Merkel's personality and solid leadership in times of economic turmoil but was thin on detailed policy, she came within a whisker of obtaining an absolute majority, falling just five seats short."

David Cameron will be delighted - not only has an incumbent, pro-austerity, conservative-led administration been re-elected but Merkel is the kind of ally he needs in Europe if he is to pull off his 'renegotiate-and-stay-in' balancing act in the coming years.


From the Huffington Post:

"The Labour Party conference has got underway - but the party's MPs were thrashed in their annual football match against journalists.

"The MPs were led as usual by shadow chancellor Ed Balls.

"But their side, also featuring frontbenchers Jim Murphy, Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan, were soundly beaten 4-0 by lobby journalists at the Sussex County FA ground in Lancing."

Oh dear.

You can see pix of a huffing and puffing Balls, dribbling and tackling, here.


From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 37

Conservatives 33

Ukip 11

Lib Dems 11

That would give Labour a majority of 42.


Steve Richards, writing in the Independent, says: "Miliband has great strengths – but can he convince the voters in time?"

Chris Huhne, writing in the Guardian, says: "Ed Miliband must bury his party's tribalism and forge links with union members and Lib Dems."

Dominic Lawson, writing in the Daily Mail, says: "It's not one Mad Dog. The tribal Left is driven by hate."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

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