Ed Miliband has developed the depressing habit of telling people about his "grit", his "steel", and how tough he is.
This is, of course, a sure sign of weakness.
Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, has meanwhile been touring the TV stations to give a barely credible explanation of why his new policies are just as credible as his old policies. This is known – though not by Mr Balls – as a credibility problem.
Both men, charged with opposing a failing Coalition, have hit on the revolutionary idea that the best way to halt David Cameron, Nick Clegg and George Osborne is by agreeing with them.
In a time of scarcity, we have a glut of parties devoted to austerity. Mr Miliband and Mr Balls deny all this, of course. The word being put about by Labour is "subtle".
Anyone who wonders what is going on hasn't grasped just how clever the pair are. Voters will bear it in mind, no doubt.
The upshot, in any case, is that Labour would enforce the Coalition's public sector pay freeze, but – the masterstroke – with added "fairness". This is not redeemable, as the signs on one-armed bandits sometimes say, for cash. But fairness and a more leisurely approach to austerity are Labour's latest big ideas.
According to Mr Miliband, this requires all his steely grittiness. According to Mr Balls, it is proof positive that he is no "deficit denier". What do these claims mean, exactly? To whom does either man feel a pressing need to prove himself?
In Mr Miliband's case, the answer is familiar. He is trying to impress bystanders by picking a fight with friends who don't wish to fight him. This – triangulation, so called – has been the habit of recent Labour leaders. Alienate your allies the better to prove that you are above party.
In this case, the allies are the public sector unions. For the good of the country, as Mr Miliband might have it, they must taste his steel and swallow their disappointments. There is no other way – and he does not pause to doubt the claim – to save jobs. But nor does he pause to remember that those unions represent real people.
Mr Balls has an equally bad case of misfiring memory. Until last week, his credibility was based on the idea that austerity without growth is slow suicide. It leads, as the Greeks are busy proving, only to more austerity. Yet just as support for the claim has begun to arrive from unexpected sources, Mr Balls proposes to remove the last vestiges of demand from the economy by depressing the spending power of millions.
Perhaps he didn't get the memo from the IMF. After responding to the banking crisis with its usual demand for cut upon cut across the Western world, that organisation has begun to fret publicly about growth.
The ratings agency Standard & Poor's added a similar belated insight as one explanation for its downgrade of France's credit rating. Without growth, austerity is economic cannibalism.
Mr Miliband knows this; Mr Balls knows this. Both know, because they speak of it often, that Mr Osborne is having to borrow more, not less, and to the tune of £158 billion, because his version of austerity is self-defeating.
But opinion polls declare that Labour is not "credible on the economy", so Labour submits.
The usual calculation is made: the unions won't like it, but what alternative do the unions possess? Voters impoverished for the sake of the banks won't relish cuts in real wages either, but perhaps they can enjoy admiring how subtle Mr Miliband and Mr Balls have become. If they work in the public sector they can expect nothing else from Labour. Tough, as the party leader might say.
Attacking all of this in the Guardian yesterday, Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, used a scatter gun rather than a sniper's rifle. He called it, among other things, a return to Blairism and to the politics of Ramsay MacDonald's despised 1931 "national government". It can't, in point of fact, be both. Nor is it strictly correct that Mr Miliband and Mr Balls have agreed a "common agenda of austerity" with the Coalition.
There are differences between government and opposition. The point, the elementary point, is to ask whether they could ever make a difference.
Nevertheless, Mr McCluskey is on surer ground when he argues that Mr Miliband "is being dragged back into the swamp of bond market orthodoxy" just at the moment when the authors of that orthodoxy, such as the ratings agencies, are beginning to recant.
"Where does this leave the half a million people who joined the TUC's march for an alternative last year, and the half of the country at least who are against the cuts?" asks the Unite leader. "Disenfranchised," is his answer, but even that might turn out to be optimistic. Unwittingly, no doubt, Mr Miliband and Mr Balls have posed a lethal question: so why vote Labour?
It remains the Janus-faced party, forever trying to reconcile contradictory notions. So Mr Miliband trumpets his fairness, but doesn't attempt to explain why it is fair for one sector of the workforce to suffer real wage cuts for the sake of the banks when there is no evidence, not a shred, that a single job will thereby be saved.
Yesterday, the Labour leader responded to Mr McCluskey with these words: "It requires a tough decision to put the priority on jobs ahead of public sector pay.
"It also requires us to say we do believe the Government is going too far, too fast with their cuts but we are not going to make specific promises to reverse those cuts unless we are absolutely sure that we know where the money is coming from."
Mr Miliband and Mr Balls are said to be clever men. How clever is it to damn a policy as a catastrophic error then refuse to commit yourself to fixing the mistake? Voters will miss the infinite subtlety of that position.
The Coalition, confirmed in its idiocy, won't even bother to notice the fine detail. David Cameron and his friends will simply declare a victory. You can hardly blame them.
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