The Shadow Chancellor identified three target audiences for his speech: the Government, the voters, and the Labour Party. While much of the subsequent coverage has focused on the new policy – cutting the winter fuel allowance for wealthier pensioners – the timing of the speech, as well as the subtext of some of the rhetoric, was just as interesting.
Balls’ purported message to the Government was something like this:
“Your plan has failed. You should adopt our plan instead. The Leader of the Opposition will provide further details later this week.
“We will show ‘iron discipline’ in government.”
When criticising the Government’s record, he was really talking to his own party. He was saying:
“I, Big Ed, am an effective attack dog for the Opposition. Listen to Little Ed later on this week, and decide for yourselves who is better at holding this Government to account.
“I am iron, you will be disciplined.”
Balls’ purported message to the voters was something like this:
“We have a great new policy which underlines our commitment to making difficult decisions and showing discipline in government. We won’t make any more promises yet though, because we don’t know what the state of the public finances will be in 2015.”
But he was really talking to the Government:
“We’re pre-empting your political game by announcing a new policy. When you announce the Spending Review for 2015/16 in a few weeks, you’ll challenge us to oppose or support your plans. We’re sticking to our guns: it’s too early to say.”
The Shadow Chancellor’s purported message to his party was something like this:
“Listen to me: we will have to show restraint in Government. We will focus on efficiency savings and delivering Labour priorities.”
But he was really talking to voters:
“With Big Ed at the reins, you can trust Labour with the country’s finances.”
The state of the economy has consistently been a thorn in Labour’s side. Despite their significant lead in the polls, many voters still blame our current economic hardship on the previous administration. It will be interesting to see if this latest pronouncement makes a difference.