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Mere tinkering is not enough

Ed Balls takes on George Osborne over housing policy — but fails to go far enough

Ed Balls is on solid ground when he takes George Osborne to task for his failure to see that encouraging demand for housing without increasing supply leads to higher prices.

However, the shadow chancellor's self-confinement to the IMF recommendation that 400,000 new homes be built over the next two years is frustratingly timid.

There are over five million people on council house waiting lists after three decades of flogging off local authority accommodation without replacement.

How does Balls hope to enthuse homeless people to vote Labour?

They are unlikely to lay siege to polling stations after being driven ecstatic by pledges of "iron discipline" on tax and spending, reduced government expenditure and acceptance of cuts to essential services driven through by the conservative coalition.

It will take more than increased free childcare for working parents and an end to the bedroom tax - welcome though both are - to dislodge many working-class people from their habit of electoral abstention.

Few things turn off the poor more readily than well-heeled politicians living in £2 million houses pontificating on the need for austerity.


Be in no doubt about it - despite Ed Miliband's voiced distaste for austerity, holding down workers' pay, maintaining a benefits cap, cutting services and keeping the Tories' higher VAT rate that fuels what the Labour leader calls the cost of living crisis add up to a bankers' austerity budget.

Unite leader Len McCluskey's conference call for a "moral crusade" may have benefited from a less charged religious allusion, but he pinpointed the nub of the problem besetting Labour.

For the party to have a future, "it must speak for ordinary workers and it must represent the voice of organised Labour."

To do that the two Eds cannot behave as though the current carve-up of the national cake is acceptable and that a little tinkering on the sidelines represents the best that can be achieved.

If they accept that the conservative coalition and its new Labour predecessor have prioritised the interests of big business and the rich, with tax-handout bonanzas, licences to print money through privatised public assets and lucrative public-private partnership contracts, then they must offer policies designed to reverse this looting of the public purse and workers' pockets.


Balls cautioned that a Labour government elected in 2015 "will have to govern with less money around," making further cuts inevitable.

Less money around? In workers' pockets certainly, but that doesn't prevent them from being constantly picked by the wide boys from the big supermarket oligopoly, the rail privateers and the gas, electricity and water racketeers.

Britain is awash with wealth, but it is regarded as sacrosanct by the political establishment.

Why should holding down workers' purchasing power by dint of a pay freeze be viewed as preferable to a wealth tax?

Why should Balls contemplate further job cuts in the public sector when taking a firm grip on tax havens and getting after rich tax-dodgers could bridge any spending gap very effectively?

Labour is only praised as credible or responsible on economic matters by the capitalist media when it puts the boot into working people.

It should try a new tack, as McCluskey suggested, of offering a new model for Britain, "where hope is restored."

That means a new deal for workers that concentrates on creating jobs, defending services, helping manufacturing, extending public ownership and raising living standards.


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