By Paul Goodman
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The headline on the Independent's front page this morning was "Ed Balls – I'm planning a proper wealth tax", which was a perfectly proper way of presenting the story. The Shadow Chancellor, the paper reported, wants talks with Vince Cable "on a new Lib-Lab consensus including his idea of a permanent
mansion tax on homes worth more than £2m".
Two other headlines, though, would have made just as much sense, because Mr Balls was using the interview to send two messages at once.
The first awas "Balls to Cable: ditch the Tories and let's get together". Obviously, the Shadow Chancellor was manoevering, during this pre-conference season, to remind the Liberal Democrat left that Labour is the party's natural coalition partner. He will also have read yesterday's ComRes poll suggesting that Cable would hold more Liberal Democrats seats than Nick Clegg.
Balls's interview is thus a love letter both to the Liberal Democrat left and to the man who recently refused to rule out running in a future party leadership contest, and could win it.
This brings us to the second alternative headline: "Balls to left-wing voters: don't go back to the LibDems – stick with us". The Shadow Chancellor won't want left-of-centre voters who have deserted Mr Clegg's party drifting back to it if there's a leadership change. He won't go so far in wooing them as to promise a wealth tax, but hopes that mansion tax talks are a winning wheeze.
I don't think Mr Balls needs to worry too much about public sector workers in Redcar or Guardian readers in Norwich South drifting back to the LibDems, but he's taking no chances.
We will see many more of these billets-doux from the Liberal Democrats to Labour as the next election draws nearer, if the result looks likely to be a hung Parliament. As PoliticsHome (£) has reminded us today, Mr Balls scarcely needs to open public negotiations with Mr Cable: the latter already has contact with Mr Miliband by phone and text.
The Business Secretary may find Labour's leader more congenial than his new Tory Minister "Pulp Fiction" hitman duo, Michael "Jules Winnfield" Fallon and Matthew "Vincent Vega" Hancock.