Who's Bill? It is the question of the week, after Ed Balls’ senior moment on Newsnight. Balls struggled to recall the name of one supporter from the world of business, a moment that became symbolic of Labour’s new antagonistic stance toward the corporate sector. In Prime Minister’s Questions, an unrepentant Ed Miliband went on to attack David Cameron for counting some hedge funds among his party’s supporters. Twenty years after the Blairite wooing of the City, prawn cocktails are evidently long off the menu at Labour HQ.
But the real question in politics is always, whose bill?
In the face of Britain’s ballooning debt pile, Miliband claims he can pin the tab on banking, finance and any other enterprise that might have fallen out of public favour, from energy firms to private landlords. And while that’s disquieting for those on the receiving end, the idea of getting the rich and out-of-favour to cough up will no doubt touch a chord with many in the country. So let’s hope they pause, and ask themselves: who will really end up paying?
It is easy to make resentful gestures, but very hard to control their consequences. So we have seen with Miliband’s attempted raids on business. An ill-timed call for an energy price freeze, that discourages firms from passing on savings when oil unexpectedly plummets. Plans to control rents, set to throttle supply and drive up prices. And this week’s supposed attack on hedge funds – which will in practice harm, among others, the pension funds doing their best to protect ordinary workers’ life savings.
Whose bill? If voters buy the resentment Ed is selling, it looks like we will all end up paying.