Their surprise says a great deal about their pitiful quality and shallow social roots. On the other hand, it suggests good things where our new leadership's political nous is concerned. As we know, Jeremy's opponents have a history of underestimating him, but even they should realise by now that Jez and John are neither stupid or naive. The way to really grab attention is to confound expectations, and this is what today's speech did. We noted the other day that Labour still has a mountain to climb when it comes to perceptions of economic competence. It's all about the economy or, rather, the sense of self-security - a point the Tories have long cottoned-on to. And, pleasingly, the speech set out a strategy that could wrest "credibility" from George Osborne's incompetent stewardship.
The likes of Thomas Piketty and Ann Pettifor are hardly household names, but for people looking askance at the Labour Party during conference would have heard the phrases 'leading economic thinkers' and 'specialist knowledge', and how the party plans to draw on them to develop policy. They may also have picked up on John's 'test, test, and test again' mantra before any idea makes it through to policy. And he makes the not unreasonable demand, following Ed Balls, that Labour be given access to the OBR, Bank of England, and Treasury wonks to test the feasibility of policy ideas. Osborne and Dave, of course, are not going to allow that to happen because the sorts of policies the panel favour are hardly likely to break capitalism. It could, in fact, give it a boost.
Similarly with the second part of John's big reveal. Labour is pledged to live "within our means". Yes, in the context of the relationship between the state and the economy this is a nonsense. Unfortunately, because many of these arguments were given a free pass by the 2010 Labour leadership contest and the early days of Ed Miliband, the Tories audaciously but successfully linked the global economic crash to non-existent public spending profligacy on the part of the last Labour government. There appears to be some confusion whether John will endorse Osborne's commitment to turn in a government surplus, albeit by other means, but either way some of the fog of policy war has been lifted. John is seeking to annex economic efficiency for the left, and is doing so by accepting Osborne's premise to use it as a stick to beat him with. Forget what you've so far read about Osborne, he might be "intensely political" but a genius he is not. The budget surplus was a trap for Labour's ancien regime, and designed to bring out the contradictions of its formal anti-austerity but actually austerity-lite programme. Instead of casting aspersions on the Tories' miserable mishandling of the deficit and debt, as well as fingers-crossed-and-hope-for-the-best approach to Britain;'s economy, John is threatening to turn the tables and hold the Conservatives feet to a fire of their own making. A lot of things can happen in five years, but eliminating the deficit and turning in a surplus on the basis of idiotic cuts to government spending in unlikely to be one of them.
Labour have got to play the long game, but rather than offering smoke and mirrors John has clearly set out a direction of travel and a plan to hold the Tories' economic record to account. It's the approach Ed Balls toyed with when he ran for leader, and promptly abandoned upon assuming the shadow chancellor's office. That won't happen this time. And, you know what, it might just work.