Monday, June 14, 2010

Balls attacks Darling with a familiar argument

In this morning's Telegraph, Ed Balls has written a stinging attack on Alistair Darling, saying that the refusal to rule out a VAT rise by Labour cost them dearly at the election.

I was one of those who privately urged Gordon Brown to make our stance on VAT explicit in our manifesto. I believed that if we made a principled case for ruling out a VAT rise, as well as against premature cuts in public spending, it would change the course of the election.

Others disagreed – and ultimately we made no hard commitment on VAT. That was partly the traditional caution of governments, wanting to keep options open... I did not see the logic in either argument then, and I do not see it now.

Perhaps Ed should have pointed to right-wing bloggers making his argument for him at the time, or perhaps he just didn't see it, and wasn't really arguing against it but is doing so now because of a leadership campaign. Either way, it's good to see that the wisdom that was... errr me in April is now being deployed.

Has anyone noticed the really odd tactical failure Labour has made with its VAT argument? I mean, I can understand why they're arguing that the Tory figures don't add up unless they secretly plan to hike VAT (the Tory tax rise of choice historically), therefore leading to the conclusion that the Tories are going to hike VAT.

Putting aside the logical fallacies that always appear when politicians argue, I "get it". From a purely political point of view it's a simple, effective and potentially devastating line to take.

However, here comes the but, if you're going to go down the line of trying to drip the idea into the minds of the electorate that the Tories are going to increase VAT, why would you not be prepared, absolutely instinctively, without hesitation, to rule out rising VAT yourself when asked by the media?....

Did they really sit around a table and think that they could credibly hold a line that refused to rule out VAT increases whilst simultaneously arguing that the Tories planned to rise it even though the Tory position is actually identical to theirs?

As tactical failures go it's pretty epic isn't it? If Labour had just said "we will not raise VAT" then their attack on the Tories would hold and get repeated by the media quite willingly. By refusing to rule it out, they've basically ensured that the media will cut through the bullshit and not give their line the time of day (with the exception of the Mirror natch!).
Never let it be said that I don't have flashes of political soothsayer cleverness, oh no! Or flashes of sheer masturbatory enjoyment at seeing a potential Labour Party leader fall in line with what I already said.

Next time Ed you should listen to us crazy right-wingers.

UPDATE: Iain Dale has posted saying that Ball sis delusional if he thinks this would have changed the course of the election. In a way I do agree with him, it's unlikely that it would have been a total game changer, but it would have definitely made the course the media took very different and have had a more positive impact on the Labour vote I think.

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