Earlier this week there was an intriguing post on the Labour Uncut blog about “the Labour reshuffle that never was”. There had been an intention to remove Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor.
The report said:
“With Labour trailing the Tories by twenty points on the economy and discontent on the left and right of the party with Labour’s economic offer, the rationale for action was obvious.
Balls’ potential destination was unclear. One option canvassed was foreign secretary with Douglas Alexander becoming a full time general election co-ordinator. However, the preferred choice was a switch to home affairs, with his wife, Yvette Cooper, becoming shadow chancellor.
Come what may, Ed Balls would have been furious, but to cause trouble in the run-up to the general election would have been difficult. All the more so,if his wife was the shadow chancellor, a role it would have been difficult for Cooper to turn down, especially given her own ambitions to lead if Labour is defeated next year.“
The reason it didn’t happen was that Labour’s poor showing in Heywood and Middleton by-election left Mr Miliband too weak to get away with it.
The Times this morning had a piece(£) following this up – which broadly confirmed the story from their own sources:
“The degree to which those close to Mr Balls were rattled by such rumours suggests there is little trust between him and Mr Miliband.
“It also suggests that Mr Balls and his friends do not completely believe the public promise repeatedly made by Mr Miliband to keep the shadow chancellor in his job at least until the election.
“Ed Miliband is not in the strongest position in the world, so he’d have to think very carefully before doing this. The parliamentary Labour party like Ed Balls, and if you make an enemy of him that’s dangerous,” a senior Labour source said.
“A second senior Labour source said that Mr Miliband was behaving in a “flighty, emotional” way after his poor conference performance, and that this had led to rumours of a reshuffle. Mr Miliband’s advisers are known to dislike Mr Balls, with leaked emails last year revealing that Torsten Bell, the Labour leader’s policy chief, had called the shadow chancellor’s reluctance to stay on message a “nightmare”.”
Niccolo Machiavelli said:
“If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.”
It would seemed that Mr Miliband wanted to remove Mr Balls from being Shadow Chancellor. The difficulty was that Mr Miliband was too weak to do this. Thus we have Mr Balls still in position. Should the vengeance be feared? The good news for Mr Miliband is that Mr Balls is also hugely unpopular. By 35 per cent to 22 per cent, according to YouGov, voters believe George Osborne would make a better Chancellor.
Messrs Balls and Miliband know each other well. They were Gordon Brown backroom boys for years. Perhaps familiarity has bred contempt.
This anecdote from Kevin Maguire in the New Statesman backs in 2011 suggests the tension has been there for while:
“A BlackBerry ban isn’t exactly a Clause Four moment but Ed Miliband needs to start somewhere to stamp his authority on Labour. During a shadow cabinet meeting not every frontbencher listened raptly as Ted addressed his lieutenants. The young leader was miffed to see his former Treasury line manager, Ed “Bruiser” Balls, more engrossed in sending texts and emails.
“I know BlackBerrys are interesting,” said a hurt Ted, interrupting both himself and the shadow chancellor, “but so are people.” Bruiser
doesn’t do blushing but looked up and smiled apologetically. Chairman Ted resumed and, giggled my snout, so did Bruiser, who moments later was tapping his phone again. Sounds to me like an authority issue.”
They just don’t on very well, do they?
Yet they are stuck together because neither of them has the popularity to remove the other. Mr Miliband gave a poor Party Conference speech, but then so did Mr Balls.
Thus we have an alliance of shared weakness. That is not the best launchpad for Labour to go into the General Election.