I'm all for abit of clarity when it comes to the differences between the main political parties and often feel that the cosy language of recent years has blurred key policy disagreements. Look back over the history of British politics throughout the 19th and most of the 20th centuries and you will find a genre of political invective that makes your eyes water. So, perhaps we ought to thank Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
for donning the mantle of attack dog in Labour's otherwise rather tame and muted front bench team. He does, however, seem to be developing an unfortunate talent for going over the top in the rhetorical stakes.
Take today, for example.
Being the first day of the new tax year, many of the changes announced by George Osborne in his recent Budget have come into force. Barely had we rubbed the sleep from our eyes this morning than Mr Balls was on the airwaves denouncing today as 'Black Wednesday'. Now, there are clearly going to be some losers when a Chancellor sets out to withdraw so much government money from the economy but the complexity of the changes means that there are alot of winners too, making it a confusing - and not altogether 'Black' - picture for most people. Stephanie Flanders in her BBC blog
puts this in context as succinctly as anyone has.
My question is simple: has Mr Balls backed himself into a rhetorical corner?
If you take the view, as I do, that we are by no means out of the economic danger zone that the last Labour government drove the UK into and that many things could actually get alot worse before they start to get better then he is indeed in a tight corner. For if today is "Black Wednesday" but Thursday, Friday and Saturday turn out to be worse what is he going to term them? This is not just a clever debating point but a real fear that he may have played many of his cards too early in the electoral game. If we do face tougher times then, by comparison, today may not seem too bad and we know that for many people it is actually quite a good day so they already won't be listening to his complaints. It could become the political equivalent of crying wolf.
Of course, what he might be betraying is a belief that this is actually as bad as it gets and that the coalition government's economic policies might work. We know that Labour has admitted that it, too, would have squeezed the economy hard had it been returned to office last May so there is likely to be a nagging doubt in Mr Balls' mind that maybe Mr Osborne's slightly tougher version of the same policies will actually prove to be the right model. If this is even partially true then it would explain the all out attack launched on the current round of tax and benefit changes as the opportunity might not be there next year or the year after as the medicine begins to work its way through the system.
In these difficult economic times we need an opposition that challenges and cajoles the government but it needs to do so in a responsible manner that maintains some genuine sense of perspective.