By Paul Goodman
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The first is the henchman to Gordon Brown who helped mastermind Labour's 1997 pledge to stick to future Conservative spending plans for two years.
The second is the henchman to Gordon Brown who helped mastermind Labour's 2010 legacy of record deficits and debt after 13 years.
Which is the real one?
Right-of-centre papers like the Daily Express this morning claim the first, arguing that his plans would put Britain £90 billion deeper into debt. Left-of-centre ones such as the Independent today offer him space to claim that he won't reverse the Coalition's spending squeeze.
Which version you believe will depend on your outlook, and we at ConservativeHome have our view like anyone else. But what matters isn't what the Express or the Independent or we think, but what voters think.
And the evidence suggests that they don't trust him: that although they are increasingly hostile to the Government's deficit reduction programme, they believe the economy is safer with Cameron and Osborne than with Ed Miliband and Balls.
One unmissable reason is that they associate Balls with Brown and Brown with our present woes. It therefore follows that until Balls acknowledges that Labour made mistakes in Government, voters that it needs won't listen to him. As the saying has it, he must "concede and move on".
Which is precisely what he won't do. Look how carefully he swerves round the A-word in his Independent interview today:
"I have said quite a lot, and I will say some more… but I have absolutely not spent the last six months telling everybody how brilliantly Labour did. People want to know that if you make mistakes, you admit them and we should do that. But you don't answer the question about the future by spending your whole time talking about the past. Of course the Tories want that. It is a trap…The country doesn't want us to go on about the past. They want an answer, some hope, some optimism about the future and to know we can be trusted."
The problem for Balls is that "the Tories" don't "want that". Of course CCHQ would seize on an admission of error and ask: if Labour can't be trusted with the past, how can it be trusted with the future?
But what CCHQ does is less important than what voters think. They don't trust Balls now. They might if he showed some humility, some sense of self-awareness, some sign that he's willing to learn. Which is why it's senior figures in his party – not "the Tories" – who want him to say sorry.
So why won't he? My best guess is that the key factor, as so often, isn't so much policy as personality. Balls just doesn't do apologies – that A-word. To apologise would be to admit fraility, mistakes, the human error which we're all prone to.
Curiously – or not so curiously – the strong man of the Labour Party is simply too weak to do it. As one of my oldest friends is fond of saying, character is destiny.