CONSERVATIVE commentators are licking their lips at the thought of Ed Balls as shadow chancellor. Here are Labour’s supposed economic failures on the economy, the deficit and financial regulation all beautifully personified.
Better still Balls now has to work at the beck and call of his former sidekick, and they expect his over-weaning ambition to make that impossible – that he will constantly undermine his boss Ed Miliband.
Nothing is ever certain in politics, but if I were a Tory strategist I would not bet the house on that scenario.
I have worked with Ed B over many years. He is sharp, clever, and judges situations well.
Sure he can be tough – he had to be when he helped get Labour’s economic policy into shape in opposition, when the Treasury had to hold the line on spending and on the single currency in the early years of the government – but he can be very supportive of colleagues. He doesn’t always suffer fools very well. At times, he has been excessively partisan, a key player in the dysfunctional Blair-Brown history, but as his behaviour during and since the Labour party leadership election shows, he is beginning to find a new maturity. And above all he knows now that the key thing for Labour – and his personal prospects – is to work well with his party leader and to start to craft a new direction for Labour.
True, Ed M was the junior partner when they worked in the Treasury. Where Ed B was highly respected and sometimes feared by Treasury civil servants, Ed M was less imposing but better liked.
There were tensions not least on political issues where Ed M was more relaxed about the guys in Number 10, something that Ed B tended to see as soft and even naive. So it was Ed M who provided the Treasury link with Blair’s last policy review and Ed B who treated it with something close to contempt. And there were clashes in the run up to the 2010 election as Ed M attempted to draft a manifesto that looked forward and Ed B, as education secretary, favoured a more cautious approach.
But despite differences they work well together, as a team, and until the leadership election, rarely rivals. Ed M is a likeable guy who passes the breakfast TV sofa test easily, but as his decisions so far on personnel and in describing past Labour mistakes have shown, he is unsentimental in giving leadership. Ed B will know that Ed M has attributes that are needed to win Labour the next election. He is less caught up in past battles, less associated with Labour’s past policies. He is a more open politician – at a time when people want reaching out and working together. What he needs is a shadow chancellor who clearly rivals the Tories for competence, knowledge and ideas – and he has that in Ed B.
This is not a rerun of Gordon and Tony. There are no Granita style deals not delivered on to provide grist to any lurking sense of grievance. And the differences in approach to economics going forward are not large – with both wanting the emphasis to be on growth rather than exclusively on deficit reduction. The truth is that the two Eds need each other. And the Tories may rue the day they got together.
Dan Corry works for FTI Consulting and is a former Treasury and Downing Street adviser