An economic balls up?
ED BALLS returned the political spotlight this weekend after an unusually long period in the shadows following his move to become shadow chancellor.
Labour has sorely missed his vocal presence in the last few months. Prior to taking over as shadow chancellor, Balls had been one of the few effective opponents to coalition policy.
While many on the Labour front benches resorted to shouting 'that's a bad idea' but failed to deliver an alternative, Balls was excellent at deconstructing a government argument and suggesting a counter plan.
The chancellor's job is one he is said to have always wanted so, for now, shadow chancellor is as good as it gets. In a party which is still devoid of policy thanks to leader Ed Miliband's insistence on a blank sheet of paper for a manifesto, Balls attacking economic policy can surely only be a good thing.
Sadly, in delivering what is probably Labour's first real policy promise in 18 months, Balls seems to have fallen into a very New Labour trap - spin over substance.
Balls used the News of the World to announce a new tax on bank bonuses which would fund schemes for youth jobs and thousands of new homes. About £60million would be used to fund apprenticeships.
Seen from a headline-grabbing perspective, it's quite clever. Banker bonuses remain a source or irritation for many, while youth unemployment and a lack of housing are two very important issues.
The problem, however, is that it is perhaps the most clichéd way of getting a headline. All three main parties have attacked banker bonuses over the last three years, and all have promised to grab more of their bonuses.
And while some money has been forthcoming from levies and taxes on the banks and bankers, the fact Balls still feels confident enough to suggest going after them again suggests none of the previous promises have come to pass.
Labour needs to use the absence of hard-and-fast policy on its part to come up with some radical ideas which will appeal to many voters, not just quick things to appease the spin doctors.
And the lack of a real alternative when it comes to policy could really hinder Labour in the next few weeks. At the weekend, the first real signs that the coalition's economic strategy was worrying academics emerged. There is no doubt that economic indicators aren't as promising as the government had hoped.
Labour, however, struggles to get beyond 'we'd cut less fast' when asked what it would do, and still doesn't have an answer to the accusation that it caused the financial mess in the first place.
Bank bonus taxes makes for good headlines, but time would be much better spent devising an economic strategy to get back into power with.