A week ago today, Andrea Jenkyns pitched Ed Balls out of his seat in Morley and Outwood – and, like other Conservatives, I greeted her win as icing on the electoral cake. Balls was one of Gordon Brown’s main advisers long after he had left the Treasury, and thus shares responsibility with him for helping to stoke the crash – and the Great Recession. The prospect of having him return to the building was not exactly reassuring.
None the less, in one respect we Tories owe Balls a real debt – and, no, I don’t mean for having been the Labour arch-villain who helped to make victory possible. During the 1990s, Tony Blair wanted to take Britain into the Euro. Against him was ranged a weird alliance which included William Hague, Sir James Goldsmith…and Balls. And of those three, only the last had power.
The former Financial Times leader writer was never an enthusiast for the Single Currency. It may be that Brown’s resistance to it was more bound up with Treasury suspicion of the Euro, his own resistance to anything championed by Old Demon Eyes…and his leadership ambitions. But be that as it may, it was Balls who assisted in devising the Five Tests, the Treasury assessment of the tests, and all the rest of the shamanistic show that was devised to keep Britain well and truly out.
Had the UK been shackled to the Euro, the recession would have harder to escape from. Balls thus not only played a part in wrecking the economy…but also in providing it with a means of escape. I’m sure George Osborne is duly grateful. We should raise a glass, a week on, to Jenkyns’s famous victory. But acknowledge, as we do so, that Balls did his country a great service – literally, in the back of a taxi.