There have been all sorts of rumours flying around in the last few days that Ed Balls was about to pull out of the Labour leadership contest and throw his weight behind one of the two front runners (one of the Miliband brothers). He has denied this and insisted that he is fighting on.
Monday, 26 July 2010
He has the support of fewer unions and CLPs than his two main rivals and it certainly looks like he cannot now win. There have even been suggestions that when it comes to the vote in September that he could end up being eliminated first. This would be an utter humiliation for Balls. So you can understand why the stories about him planning to drop out and swing behind one of the front runners had a ring of plausibility. It would be real damage limitation for Balls and would likely secure him a senior shadow cabinet role if the one he chose was to win. Perhaps even his long coveted chancellorship portfolio (albeit in opposition).
But what would be in it for whichever Miliband he swung behind? OK, so it would give them a few more first preferences although of course not all those who would have voted for Balls will slavishly vote for whoever he decides to grease up to. And because this election is AV, and given that Balls is likely to be eliminated then many of these votes will ultimately transfer that way anyway.
I do concede than in an extremely tightly fought race between the top two, Balls' support could, in extremis make the difference. However look at the price the winner would be paying. They would have Balls in a very senior position and essentially unsackable. Gordon Brown's protege, the man above all others he was politically closest to would probably end up with the treasury role with the leader beholden to them and also perhaps with a simmering resentment from Balls that he did not win himself. Does any of this sound familiar?
Some of the more sensible comments from the candidates during the campaign so far have been to acknowledge that the psychodramas of the past and the nonsense that went with the TB-GBs (that is now being confirmed by very senior members of the former administration such as Peter Mandelson) was very damaging for the party and that they need to move on from that way of operating. The last thing the winning candidate needs to do is set the party up for another decade of dysfunctional internecine fighting at the very top. Far better for whoever does win to do so on their own with their own mandate for leading the party away from its discredited past.
So it would be very wise for both Milibands to resist any overtures from Balls. It would take real courage to reject what could seem on the surface like a way of boosting their chances but they should resist nonetheless.
In fact were they to do this, I would expect Balls to deny that he had ever entertained the notion and to claim that he was going to fight on.
Perhaps the Milibands are made of sterner stuff than it may initially appear....