Tuesday, 16 June 2009

A wisp of smoke and mirrors

Listening to a skirmish between Ed Balls and Michael Gove on R4 yesterday was to gain an insight into the government's terminal disarray.

Ed Balls had evidently emerged from the bunker for this rare confrontation because he had an initiative to display. But it seemed increasingly likely that he had an initiative to display purely because he had agreed to appear with Michael Gove.

The 'initiative' was to declare he had secured £650 million extra funding from the Treasury to spend on schools and training. Apparently, listeners were supposed to be impressed with the Treasury's beneficence in finding the School's secretary yet more taxpayers' money to spend.

Balls challenged Gove to commit the Tories to similar spending. Gove challenged Balls over recent mismanagement of the further education budget. Then he discredited Balls' initiative with news that the sums were already being underplayed by Chief Treasury secretary, Liam Byrne.

Labour initiatives, such as they are, are media-driven – drawn out of the air for the positive PR impact they might deliver or to wrong foot the Opposition. It's not a new tactic, but it seems it is all Labour has left. And, of course, it's just what to expect from Peter Mandelson.

Master of crisis spin and people-manipulation Mandelson may be, but he is not a profound long-term strategist, nor yet master of all he surveys. Getting the Treasury to support announcements is one thing. Getting them to support them with money is another.

The government's new team seems increasingly lost and divided against itself. Expect more Mandelson inspired initiatives that disappear when held up to a mirror.

No comments: