Is it really an Ed to Ed battle for policy?

Is it really an Ed to Ed battle for policy?

Where does the Shadow Cabinet reshuffle leave Labour?

Separating the meat from the chaff is one of the most critical skills in any form of betting and there’s certainly plenty of chaff in politics. Some events blaze briefly before dying to nothing, others are only ever distractions, a few matter.

In the last two days, there’ve been three potentially big stories but only one is likely to have long-lasting implications. Blair’s reappearance at the Chilcot enquiry is already old news. He’s been there before, hasn’t really said anything new (Iran doesn’t count) and opinions of him won’t have changed. By contrast, the Coulson story does still have legs but the link with Cameron and the government is now withering and even at its height, the ‘scandal’ was difficult to sum up in a headline or soundbite.

The one that matters is the reshuffle of Labour’s front bench, and in particular, the promotion of Balls to Shadow Chancellor. It matters because it changes the relations between the senior members of the opposition, and their effectiveness towards the government. It matters because a confident SCoE cannot easily be reshuffled.

Much has been made of alleged differences in policy towards the deficit between him and his leader but how much substance is there to that? If one exists at all, it’s a difference of lip service. Balls was open about opposing cuts during the leadership debates; Miliband has opposed them measure by measure. The effect is the same.

The same was true back in May during the post-election negotiations. David Laws’ book, 22 Days in May, describes how both Miliband and Balls regularly wouldn’t even go as far as their own party’s formal negotiating position, never mind make any concession to the Lib Dems, on both the deficit and other matters.

But then should we be surprised? These are two colleagues who worked together for years and who Gordon Brown chose to work for him. Admittedly, Brown’s very personal style of politics left scope for policy innovation in areas in which he took less interest but the economy wasn’t one of those and it’s difficult to think of a time when either Ed rode independently on much else. That remains so.

If anything, the reshuffle marks a more complete Brownite triumph within Labour, rather like how Thatcherism reached its peak within the Tories after the lady had departed.

David Herdson

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