Balls' OBR plan lacks bounce

Ed Balls has written to the Office of Budget Responsibility asking it to vet the Labour manifesto. Nice in theory, difficult in practice.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 23 Sep 2013
Get set for a week and a half of political hi-jinks: with the smugness of the Lib Dem conference (not to mention the chaos and misogyny of the UKIP conference) out of the way, the stage is cleared for the Labour and Conservative parties to begin their annual exchange of schoolboy insults.

An early point to shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who (with a touch of smugness borrowed from the Lib Dems), has written to the Office for Budget Responsibility to ask for an ‘independent audit’ of all the policies in Labour’s next manifesto. The idea being, presumably, to demonstrate to voters that even though the Coalition’s plans are (finally) reaching fruition, Labour’s ideas can stand up just as well.

To be fair, OBR boss Robert Chote thinks it’s a great idea. Last year he said ‘independent, rigorous analysis of all the political parties’ policies’ would be a positive thing.

Problem is, it now sounds like it would need cross-party consensus to pull off Balls' idea. Some even think it would need an act of Parliament (although Balls disagrees).

What other delights can we expect from Balls’ speech, which takes place at midday? The shadow chancellor will warn that, were Labour to win the next election, it wouldn’t be able to reverse most of the cuts made by the coalition (to wit: a video of shadow business minister Chuka Umunna not promising to renationalise the Royal Mail).

He’s also expected to use his speech to draw the battle lines for the 2015 election: he’ll mention the ‘cost of living crisis’ and promise changes to childcare legislation, raising free childcare for children aged three and four from 15 hours to 25. That’ll cost £800m, he reckons, and will be funded by ‘raising the bank levy’. Which we’re sure will go down like – well, like a higher bank levy – among those in the financial sector.

He’s also expected to make the point that although the economic data looks positive, the UK is still yet to enter sustainable recovery.

‘Prices rising faster than wages, three years of flatlining, the slowest recovery for over 100 years, a million young people out of work, welfare spending soaring, more borrowing to pay for [the coalition’s] economic failure. That is their economic record,’ he’ll say.

Admittedly, we wouldn’t expect anything less from those in opposition – but he does have a point. There’s an argument that disproportionately strong recovery in London and the south-east is skewing the figures, making everything seem like it’s going well when, in vast swathes of the UK, it isn’t.

So, unfortunately for the coalition, this point goes to Balls. We await George Osborne’s comeback…

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