Winning the battle, but losing the war? Labour’s appeal to the Office for Budget Responsibility

Ed Balls, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor and former right-hand man to Gordon Brown, has requested that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) assesses Labour’s plans for government. The intention is to show that the spending commitments that Labour makes in the run-up to the General Election are matched by spending cuts elsewhere, having committed to maintain the coalition government’s deficit reduction plan for its prospective first year in office.

This seems like brilliant politics from Balls. The Conservatives’ main message at the next election will surely be that they have made the tough-but-necessary decisions to put Britain’s public finances back in order – while Labour is the party of excessive public spending which got us into this mess in the first place. By having the OBR sign off the fiscal neutrality of their spending plans, Labour will always have a watertight defence against this attack.

In the process, however, Labour will have affirmed the status of the OBR as the arbiter of sound budgetary management. This could do more harm than good to the prospects of building broad support for progressive policies over the long-term.

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Image: Jerold Bennett