After months wasted contemplating their navels instead of calling the Coalition Government to account, Labour shadow ministers have begun to muscle their way on to the political news agenda.
Given the time it took to appoint a new leader to replace Gordon Brown (why is he still collecting an MPs salary?) and Ed Miliband’s subsequent vow of silence until a few days ago, it was easy to forget there was an official Opposition party.
But on the evidence this week, Labour is going to have to raise its game a long way before David Cameron will be losing any sleep.
Miliband’s big idea that Labour should return to its roots as “the party of grafters” was just about as lame as his decision to base Wednesday’s PMQs challenge to the Prime Minister on a Macmillan Cancer Support press release.
We going to have to wait for the publication of Alistair Darling’s planned memoirs to judge just how divisive Ed Balls – the current shadow Chancellor – was as he led the “forces of hell” against the former Chancellor’s attempts to control spending.
The speech Balls gave today at the London School of Economics showed the man is relentless in his ambition to lead the Labour Party. The first major address in his new job was so off-message that clearly Miliband has more to fear from Balls than does the Coalition.
Miliband has owned up to Labour’s past mistakes and the need to get to grips with the deficit. Balls, however, shrugs off charges of Labour’s profligacy when in office – and he wants £13 billion-worth of VAT cuts and other spending to pep up the sluggish British economy..
Piqued by the International Monetary Fund’s recent praise for Chancellor George Osborne's Plan A, Balls dissed the organisation in his speech. Strange because the IMF said tax cuts might be necessary if growth in the UK doesn’t improve – and its top job is the one Gordon Brown had hoped to fill.
Balls said his call to take VAT back from 20 per cent to 17.5 per cent was a temporary, emergency measure intended to stimulate consumer spending. There is no evidence that a cut would have the desired effect in the short term. In any case at its present pace inflation would swiftly eliminate price reductions.
The suggestion underlines the instinct Balls shared with Brown – that you can spend your way out of economic problems.
The speech David Miliband would have delivered if he had beaten brother Ed to the leadership of the Labour Party is much closer to popular sentiment in the country. Taming the deficit is a national priority – and, as is pointed out to the irritation of both, Osborne’s and Darling’s cuts schedule is not dissimilar.