Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Irwin Stelzer on who should be Chancellor

Irwin Stelzer makes some interesting comments on who should be Chancellor in today's Guardian:

Which of course brings us to Ed Balls, the co-architect of many of Brown's economic policies. He is a more than capable economist; a former journalist whose already good understanding of the press is likely to increase as he comes to realise unyielding advocacy is as unproductive as, say, Peter Mandelson's bullying; a talented representative of the government to the City; and a man who knows his way around not only the Treasury, but the international agencies whose cooperation Brown will need in his fight to end world poverty.

But Balls carries three burdens. The first is that his wife - the housing minister Yvette Cooper - is so talented that she should be given a place in the cabinet. Why this is a strike against her husband I do not know. Only the egalitarians in the Labour party can believe that social justice demands greater sharing of the political spoils, and only those who don't know the Balls family can doubt that they have found what I believe it is fashionable to call a "work-life balance" that allows them to perform both their political and family obligations in high style.

The second problem with a Balls appointment is his age: he might be too old for the job. At 40, he is five years closer to a pensionable age than is his shadow, George Osborne. But the new prime minister cannot let obsolete ageism deny him the talents and advice of the most qualified man for the job.

The third is raised by Preston: Balls is so close to Brown that he will harm the prime minister if he messes up. True. But in my view that is more than offset by that most important of attributes: competence. So Balls it should be.

His argument is good. Competence is the most important thing in a chancellor, and few MP's in the Commons understand economics the way Ed Balls does. The other skills - communication, a smiling face - are secondary. You can't make an economy run well by smiling at it. But you can make it go well by sound decision-making. Balls would also show up Osborne's lack of understanding of economics.

Unfortunately such is the hostility to Stelzer (who works for Murdoch) that his endorsement may count against Balls.

But a bold choice for the new cabinet may be to have Balls as Chancellor, Milliband as Foreign Secretary and keep Reid as Home Secretary (or promote John Denham).

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