Balls says most of us are worse off than in 2010, the Tories’ response is simple yet probably effective

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August 4, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith

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In a speech the other day Ed Balls decided to channel that famous leftie Ronald Reagan when he asked the question “do you feel better off than you did four years’ ago”. Reagan asked the same question of the US electorate in 1980 about the Jimmy Carter administration, and the answer came back as, “no, we don’t actually”, and Reagan led the a Republicans back into the White House.

Balls pointed out that average wages will fall by 2.3% after inflation over the course of this Parliament. This is about £1600 per worker. The last time they fell by that much was the Parliament that began in 1874, when Benjamin Disraeli was in charge. It will be the first time wages will have fallen over a Parliament since the 1920s. Given the Tories are currently celebrating the fact that the economy is now back where it was at the start of the financial crisis in terms of GDP, it is a hard hitting message that may well be successful at the ballot box.

But the Tories have already pointed out that there is quite an important reason why average wages would have fallen since 2010. At the point at which they took over the deficit was £168bn, the largest in peacetime history. They entered the recession with a budget deficit, instead of a surplus, which meant that they had to borrow heavily to help the country during the recession. This meant that average earnings in this country were effectively being held aloft by a bed of debt helium, which the Tories argue they had to tackle first in the interests of responsible long term governance.

Furthermore, even if the Coalition accept Balls’ accusation that people are worse off at the end of this Parliament, they can ask a pretty simple question in response: “How much worse off would you have been had Labour been in charge instead?”. They can point to Balls’s refusal to admit that Labour spent too much, his denial that there was any problem with the deficit or the debt, and his call for more spending in the Summer of 2010. They could argue that the debt that the UK would have been in, the higher interest rates that we might have had if bond rates had been higher as a result of the UK finding it harder to service it’s debt. They could argue that in the resultant austerity that might have been imposed by the IMF had the UK required a bailout would have been worse than what they imposed. Quite frankly, they could point to a number of hypotheticals that would have happened if Balls ahead run the economy from 2010, and would happen if we “hand the keys back to those who drove us into the ditch”.

Labour’s ability to win the election in 2015 will not rely on being able to come up with facts like Ed Balls has, but how they respond to the response to those facts. I presume they have a plan.

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