The Shadow Chancellor is seeking to rebuild the party’s economic credibility by vowing to submit to “iron discipline” on public spending. Yet those with long memories will recall Gordon Brown making a similar promise, at the beginning of Labour’s 13-year reign, to stick to Conservative spending plans. In little more than a year, however, he had unleashed the biggest spending splurge in Britain’s history. The consequences of this, moreover, remain with us, not in the form of vastly improved services, but in the shape of a huge public-sector deficit which has shackled Mr Brown’s successors for years to come.
As a result, Mr Balls’s past mistakes will follow him throughout his political career. A new system of fiscal rules, for example, sounds like a good idea, but preferably not one overseen by the man who, alongside Mr Brown, designed the last set of rules which failed so spectacularly.
The Shadow Chancellor’s insistence that present problems can be laid at the door of the coalition Government’s spending cuts and the greed and incompetence of bankers is an understandable attempt to cash in on the financial fears afflicting so many voters. The public, however, is not so easily fooled.
The problem for Mr Balls is that, by his own admission, he was the key architect of Mr Brown’s economic policy and therefore bears much of the responsibility for its toxic legacy. And the problem for Ed Miliband is that, for as long as he has a Shadow Chancellor tarred with this brush, the Labour leader will struggle to imbue his party with an image of economic competence.