Rachel Reeves dares to be boring. In her interview yesterday morning at the Today program, the Shadow Chancellor was careful not to say anything new, and to say it in incomparably bland estuarine English.
She respects the independence of the Bank of England, so she won’t tell it what to do about interest rates. She also respects the independence of the Office for Budget Responsibility.
And in the Treasury, if he takes office as chancellor, his fiscal rules will be “non-negotiable”, which is why he provides “that rock of economic and fiscal stability”.
All of this goes down wonderfully, and is designed to go down wonderfully, with the powers that be. As a senior Treasury source told ConHome this week:
“He has transformed the Labor Party’s approach to economic policy. She’s astute and as a professional economist, she’s arguably the highest-ranked chancellor since Hugh Gaitskell.
“She is well aware of the trade-offs an incoming Labor government would have to make. But the party’s expectations of her will be high and managing them will be a huge challenge.”
How seriously should we take this boring facade? With Labor terrified of a repeat of the 1992 general election, which they lost unexpectedly in part because they were accused of planning to inflict a “tax bomb” on the British people, we must take this seriously as a positioning piece. political. .
But what will happen when a Labor government is elected? Robert Colvile pointed out in January in sunday times that Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting has “a new ten-year plan for the NHS” that includes “one of the biggest expansions of the NHS workforce in history”.
How is that going to be paid for? And what about the first NHS crisis that breaks out once Labor is in power, when there is a cry that more money must be provided or people will die?
And what about “police stations” in every community and the 13,000 new policemen that Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, wants to provide?
Will Sir Keir Starmer continue to side with Reeves and accept that his fiscal rules should take precedence? Even he can’t know for sure, at this stage, what he’ll do when the heat is on.
In fact, managing the expectations of the Labor Party will be a great challenge. Many in the party will want to pay for higher spending with higher loans and higher taxes.
Like Gordon Brown before her, Reeves herself has decided that there is nothing to be gained by straying from the path of prudence, either in later years in Opposition or early years in power. Otherwise, the financial markets will destroy her as surely as they destroyed Liz Truss.
But in these profiles, you’re trying to find out what someone is really like, and Reeves, I would suggest even at the risk of being accused of writing false copy, is an interesting person.
Listen to her play chess against Dominic Lawson in 2013. She’s funny, charming, cold-bloodedly taking his impertinent questions, losing gracefully as she protests being distracted.
She remarks that she has “a very aggressive style”, to which she responds “reckless”, because on this occasion her attacks have not been successful.
Reeves won the British under-14 girls’ chess championship and told Katy Balls about it. The viewer what lessons he had learned from the game:
“Thinking ahead. Trying to think what your opponent might do and how you would respond to that. I was a very aggressive chess player: attack, attack, attack. All the time!”
In recent statements to financial timeReeves said of Labour’s current position:
“It’s like we’re a rook on move 30. But we’re playing an opponent who usually beats us.”
To beat the Conservatives, he hinted, a war of attrition is the right strategy, as Labor already has a decisive advantage.
All of which poses a problem for journalists who have to write about it. Sometimes he relaxes enough to make a funny comment, as in this observation to financial time:
“Reeves joked that he had no plans to impose ‘a special tax on FT readers’ or target the wealthy beyond previously announced plans. The party would end the tax breaks enjoyed by private equity executives and private schools, and abolish the tax breaks guaranteed to people who claim non-resident status.”
But most of the time it remains relentlessly dull and robotic, like when she traveled to Washington a few weeks ago to give a speech on “securonomics,” a term she coined herself:
“From the ashes of the old hyperglobalization arises economic security.”
Sounds like one of those dubious pseudo-religions that used to advertise on the London Underground. But Jason Cowley, editor-in-chief of the new statesmanwho accompanied her on this trip and wrote a long article about it, notes that Reeves realizes, more than any other senior Labor politician, that the world has moved from globalization to “economic nationalism.”
How does Labor become a national party once again? Since I used to believe in nationalization, this should be a pretty natural evolution.
Gordon Brown realized what Labor needed to do when he spoke of “British jobs for British workers”, and now Reeves, by her own admission, is looking for “a national story”.
Just as Joe Biden is, in his account, “rebuilding America’s economic security, strength and resilience,” Labor will do this for Britain by rebuilding “a working state” with stronger domestic industries.
Patrick Maguire, for The timesand David Gauke, at ConservativeHome, are among those who questioned in recent weeks whether Labor would stick to its Green Prosperity Plan, announced by Reeves in 2021, to spend £28bn a year, or £140bn on the course of the next Parliament, on green projects.
On June 9, Reeves backtracked on this spending commitment: he now says it will only be achieved in the second half of that Parliament. To the frustration of her colleagues, in this case Ed Miliband, spending control will come first, or so she says.
Reeves was born in February 1979 in Lewisham, South London. His parents, who were primary school teachers, eventually separated.
His paternal grandparents, with whom he spent many holidays, had moved from Swansea to Kettering, where they worked in the shoe industry and were enthusiastic members of The Salvation Army.
She was educated at Cator Park School for Girls, in Bromley, read PPE at New College, Oxford, did an MA in economics at the LSE and joined the Bank of England as an economist.
While serving in Washington, he met Nick Joicey, a high-flying civil servant who at one time wrote speeches for Gordon Brown and is now in the Cabinet Office as Director General of the Economic and National Secretariat.
They are married, have two children and a large number of friends. Reeves, almost unbelievably, writes 3,200 Christmas cards. “She always sends me Christmas cards and she wants us to get together,” one recipient told ConHome.
She joined Labor when she was 16, ran as a Labor candidate in Bromley and Chislehurst at the 2005 general election, entered Parliament as a Member of Leeds West in 2010 and was immediately identified as a potential future leader.
She sometimes overreached: In 2013, as shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, she said benefits claimants would lose their benefits if they refused to take jobs.
But as the Labor left denounced her as a “closet conservative”, the general public began to get the message that Labor was there to represent the workers, not to benefit the plaintiffs.
At every turn, Reeves proclaims his desire to serve ordinary workers. His younger sister, Ellie, is a Labor MP for Lewisham West and Penge, and is married to John Cryer, a Labor MP for Leyton and Wanstead.
From 2015 to 2020, while Jeremy Corbyn was the lead, Rachel Reeves was out of the front line, but now she’s back, in May 2021 replacing the ineffective Anneliese Dodds as Shadow Chancellor.
During his shadow chancellorship there have been four Conservative chancellors: Sunak, Zahawi, Kwarteng and Hunt.
Reeves has met an improbably large number of CEOs and bankers and knows how to talk to them.
She says she wants to work as closely with Starmer as George Osborne did with David Cameron.
Already, it is said, Starmer forgets who works for him and who works for Reeves. How can they expect that by the time of the next general election, Sunak, Hunt and the Bank of England will have administered the bitter medicine needed to control inflation, and will be punished for doing so.
At that point, the world can learn if “securonomics” means anything.