Husband-and-wife ministerial team Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper inspire particular loathing for several reasons, not all of them instantly obvious. Why do we hate New Labour’s “Golden Couple” so much?
It is partly that the credit they get for being “able” is inconsistent with their respective track records – Balls gave us Tax Credits and an endless stream of expensive “initiatives” aimed more at promoting him in tomorrow’s newspapers than in achieving anything useful. Cooper was responsible for Home Information Packs. These apparently unconnected innovations have in common that they were complex, expensive, botched in their implementation, and representative of New Labour’s claim to take control of our lives for our own good. Cooper’s apparently uninformed defence of the Northern Rock fiasco during the debate on the nationalisation would have condemned anyone who was not the Prime Minister’s favourite.
Ed Balls at least is personally unpleasant. He has been reported as being aggressively rude to everyone, from Gordon Brown to a minion in a railway buffet who was not able to serve him lunch – he even tried the “don’t you know who I am” gambit, as if that would magically whistle up the unstocked item (The Times 22 October 2007 and 15 November 2007 if you want a source for these stories). Cooper is just sour, to judge by her cats-bottom mouth.
The real objection to them is that they do themselves so very nicely at our expense whilst making us fund their passionate commitment to bettering the lot of the poor. Each of them earns £137,579. Balls claimed expenses totaling £157,076 last year whilst his wife claimed £150,658. In addition, their timely election that their new London house was their main home netted them £15,979 and £15,995 respectively in second home allowances. Perhaps they both claim the £400 monthly food allowances and have done well from the generous “John Lewis list” in furnishing the splendid new house which we have helped them buy. Perhaps not, but there is something about them which hints that the “golden couple” bit does not apply just to their alleged talents.
“So what” you might say – that, at any rate, is what Balls apparently said in the Commons when David Cameron said that the British were paying record levels of tax. Hansard, mysteriously, recorded something different, allegedly after a visit from the forceful Mr Balls. After his years in the Treasury as Gordon Brown’s bag-carrier, few of us will give Balls the benefit of the doubt when his veracity is questioned.
I am sure that Balls and Cooper are entitled to everything which they have claimed and are not much worse than most of their fellow MPs. The distaste we feel about this double ration of generous pay and allowances – nearly £600,000 per year between them – stems from the zeal they show in screwing the rest of us to pay for it. I remember reading an interview with Cooper when she was first appointed to Housing, with references to their two homes and the nanny and the rest, and realising that she did not have the first idea what it is like to see an ordinary middle-class income swallowed up in tax – income tax, national insurance, numerous stealth taxes – and in the rising costs of housing, heating and lighting a house.
When Home Information Packs were first proposed I wrote an article headed HIPs – the very model of Labour legislation . Wondering how such stupidity originates, I said:
I suspect it began with one of those justifiably anonymous back-benchers with a name to make and no talent to make it with. Perhaps a constituent came whining to him that he had spent money investigating the purchase of a house which proved unsuitable, and that someone else should pay for it.
It turns out that the person whining about her poor bargain was Cooper herself – she and Balls had picked the wrong house to buy and the purchase had fallen through. How wonderful to be able to steer an Act through Parliament in revenge for your own personal disasters.
Whatever it is, there is something about them which inspires the hope that they will fall flat on their faces. More than just the hope, perhaps. Ed Balls has the smell of hubris about him – such arrogance and self-pride, the constant “I”, “me”, “my”, the overt contempt for friend and foe alike, all suggest that he is riding for a fall. This may be a kind of metaphysical feeling that the Gods have it in for people like that, or it may come by a more prosaic knife between the shoulders from disaffected colleagues.