Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Ed Balls Strategy

Last week’s opposition day debate was supposed to be on the Police. As Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Office, Yvette Cooper had put her motion to the Speaker, lined up her speakers and was putting the finishing touches to her speech when suddenly her husband Ed Balls popped up and changed everything.

You see “the Balls”, as I’m sure he dreams people called him, appears to be leading on Labour strategy, and as far as he’s concerned it’s “the economy stupid” that matters and nothing else. The Tory-led government are taking risks and cutting too far too fast and that’s affecting the man on the street and it’s the only message the public care about.

That he’s committing Labour to fight the government on the economy almost alone is clear from today’s Treasury OPQ order paper, which shows a clear whipping effort from Balls to get his questions in there.

For those that don’t know the order of who asks a question at OPQs is the result of a ballot. You can enter the ballot by tabling either a topical question (which just gives you the right to ask any current topical question) or tabling a pre-written oral question. These are then put into “the shuffle” which I’m pretty sure is just a computer programme which randomly selects who will get to ask a question.

If you’ve ever looked at an order paper and wondered why so many people are on the same wave length and have asked the same question or almost the same question, then here’s the secret. The Whips send round a set of questions and ask their MPs to pick one that they like and submit it. There’s no formal whipping of it, i.e. no one says you must submit a question, or that you can’t put in your own question (many do), or at least there isn’t normally one.

However for today’s Treasury questions three times as many Labour MPs put in questions as for yesterday’s Education questions, so you have to ask who has been putting the pressure on, and my answer is of course “The Balls”. As a result of this effort the order paper is stuffed with Labour MPs and of course if they all submitted one of “The Balls’ ” questions then you end up with the same question many times (although the MP obviously gets to ask a supplementary as well, although this is supposed to be supplementary to their initial question).

So out of 25 questions the Chancellor will actually only be asked 16, and the country and Parliament is missing out on the chance to get an answer to 9 different questions .

Today’s order paper (questions grouped):
1) What assessment he has made of the effects on the economy of the trade in mortgage-backed securities and collateralised debt obligations. – to be asked by Bill Esterson (Sefton Central)

2) If he will bring forward proposals for a scheme to provide looked-after children with a savings account or trust fund funded by contributions from the Exchequer; and if he will make a statement. – to be asked by Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East)

3) If he will estimate the revenue to the Exchequer attributable to receipts from the increase in the standard rate of value added tax on road fuel. – asked by Albert Owen (Ynys Môn), Vernon Coaker (Gedling), and Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central)

4) What assessment he has made of the effect on levels of employment of the increase in the standard rate of value added tax. – to be asked by Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes), and Mike Gapes (Ilford South)

5) What assessment he has made of the effect on consumer confidence of the increase in the standard rate of value added tax since his recent meeting with representatives of the retail industry. – to be asked by Eric Joyce (Falkirk)

6) What fiscal measures he has taken to support economic growth in the manufacturing sector. – to be asked by Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock), Andrew Stephenson (Pendle), and Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye)

7) If he will review the pace of proposed reductions in public expenditure to take into account gross domestic product figures for the fourth quarter of 2010. – to be asked by Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth), Graeme Morrice (Livingston), Barry Gardiner (Brent North), and Ian Mearns (Gateshead)

8) By what date he expects revenue to the Exchequer to match levels of public expenditure. – to be asked by Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

9) If he will (a) prepare and (b) publish an assessment of the relative effect of his forthcoming budget on women, families and ethnic minorities. – to be asked by Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland)

10) What recent representations he has received on measures to reduce the budget deficit. – to be asked by Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North)

11) What recent assessment he has made of the effect on economic growth of the spending reductions set out in the June 2010 Budget. – to be asked by Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham), and Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West):

12) What recent assessment he has made of trends in duty and value added tax on petrol. – to be asked by John Mann (Bassetlaw)

13) What steps he is taking to reduce the rate of inflation. – to be asked by Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton)

14) What assessment he has made of the contribution of HM Revenue and Customs to reducing the budget deficit. – to be asked by Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend)

15) If he will bring forward proposals for a further tax on bank bonuses. – to be asked by Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East)

16) What fiscal measures he has taken to support economic growth in Kent. – to be asked by Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald)

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