by Paul Goodman

Perhaps the most pressing political question about Ed Balls is: will he treat a clearly distrustful Ed Miliband in the way that he treated Gordon Brown…or Tony Blair?  Will he toil to put Labour's leader in Downing Street, as he did for Gordon Brown – and settle for being Chancellor of the Exchequer?  Or will he work to turn him out, as in the case of Tony Blair – only this time aiming for Number 10 himself.

In today's Times (£), the Shadow Chancellor may be starting to give an answer.  At any rate, he moves to close down the policy gaps between his position, his leader's and his predecessors.

  • On Alistair Darling's deficit reduction plan: “I was worried about it, I thought it was a too risky to pull off, but what actually happened is that we did better than expected."  (Thus keeping himself in line with Miliband's view.)
  • On the 50p rate: “What Ed Miliband and Alan Johnson said, and I have inherited, is that we would definitely have a top rate of tax for all this Parliament . . . I don’t think it’s sensible for people to go around saying as a matter of principle that a higher tax rate is better . . . But you have to find a way to have taxes which are fair.”  (Thus falling into step with his predecessor, too.)
  • On double-dip recession: “I don’t think that’s the most likely outcome but it is certainly a possibility . . . The most likely thing is that the economy will grow but it will be pretty anaemic.” (Thus covering his back, and rowing back from his Bloomberg speech.)

With Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson interrogating, much of the interview was bound to be taken up by discussion of Balls's stammer, and it duly is –

"Although there is no evidence of a universal cure for stammering, it can be managed. “If somebody writes a speech for me I have to rewrite it or ad lib. If I use an autocue, I have to edit it in real time. The words will be in the wrong order. There will be certain consonants that I just can’t say together. It would be impossible for me to start a sentence with an H. I often start sentences with ‘look’ or ‘well’ because the key thing is to get moving.”

My favourite line?  "If you know what it’s like to have a little bit of bullying then you never bully anyone."