The Moon on a Stick and Free Ponies for All

John Rentoul

moon on stick 204x300 The Moon on a Stick and Free Ponies for AllAs an addition to my comment on Martin Kettle’s article, and as a partial reply to a comment on my comment, I also commend to you Phil Collins in The Times today (pay wall) and Hopi Sen on what I still call A Blog From the Back Room.

Collins argues that Ed Miliband has made a mistake:

Denying all responsibility for the deficit is a serious political error because it is a serious economic error. The Labour Party does, indeed, have something to apologise for. And, in the absence of an epiphany and a change of mind, it is reasonable to assume that a Labour Party led by Mr Miliband will make the same mistakes again …

Mr Miliband’s position is this: if only it hadn’t gone wrong, it would all have been all right. Until that car crash happened we were driving along nicely. The accusation against him, to which he seems blind, is not that spending “caused” the deficit, but that he was driving too fast, with no insurance, when there was a crash.

The sin that therefore needs to be confessed is hubris.

In passing, he has a brilliant swipe at the author of Black Swan:

When I was young, I went to see a clairvoyant on the pier in Blackpool who said simply, and to everyone: “Something bad will happen.” You can find the same idea in the books of Nassim Nicholas Taleb. (Come to think of it, they do look alike.)

Miliband’s refusal to accept a portion of responsibility for the state of public finances when something bad did happen

is a political miscalculation of some magnitude because Labour needs to ask for permission to be heard again on the economy. The unfortunate history of the Labour Party is that the money runs out because there is never a shortage of nice schemes to spend it on. New Labour was devised to kill this perception. It ended up by intensifying it.

Sen, meanwhile, comes at Ed Miliband’s credibility problem from another angle. He observes that many of the governing parties’ problems arise from promises made without due diligence in opposition (tuition fees, control orders, VAT increases, nuclear power).

People say opposition is hard. If you don’t really care what happens once you’re in government, maybe it’s not. You just promise the Moon on stick and free ponies for all, wave your hands, and hope people don’t ask too many hard questions.

On the other hand, opposition with the intention of governing well is hard.

The Moon on a stick (such as the graduate tax that magicks away difficult decisions) seems harmless now. By 2015 it will seem a disastrous promise.

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  • Brian Hughes

    Oh dear “the above” has mysteriously appeared below. I best go back to listening to the football results now I think…

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