Generally when someone says they ‘couldn’t give a toss’ about something, you can safely bet more than 50p and a cake that it’s the most important thing ever to them. So when Ed Balls told Sky’s Murnaghan programme today that he ‘couldn’t give a toss’ about speculation that Ed Miliband might move him, it meant a number of things. The first is, of course, that he could give a toss, but frankly it would be weird if the Shadow Chancellor didn’t care whether or not he continued in his job. Anyone answering that question honestly would have to admit that they jolly well do give a toss about whether they’re going to lose their job or not.

Here is the full clip of the exchange, with thanks to Sky News:

And here is the transcript of the relevant exchange:

ED BALLS: But the thing is, I’m not complaining, I’m not complaining at all. What I want to talk about is what is happening in our country and what the policies are to make our economy strong for the future and the cost of living crisis.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: But people are talking about you remaining in the job. You must have seen that on the websites saying odds on Ed Balls being Chancellor, who’s going to replace him?

ED BALLS: Of course. The Daily Mail who have been …

DM: It’s not the Daily Mail, it’s the bookmakers.

ED BALLS: The Daily Mail would love me and Ed Miliband out because they want to keep in an out of touch Tory government that is cutting taxes at the top.

DM: But people are betting on you not being in the job.

ED BALLS: Well of course but that’s the nature of politics.

DM: They want to make money!

ED BALLS: They are betting on David Cameron, they’re betting on George Osborne, Ed Miliband, it’s just the way it is. The reason why you ask me these questions is because you want me to be bothered, frankly Dermot I couldn’t give a toss.

DM: I just want you to be honest with …

ED BALLS: I am being totally honest with you. What I am worried about is if my constituency thinks there is real trouble.

DM: You go around, you are very in touch with the Labour constituencies and we know you are very in touch with what goes on in the House of Commons. The fact is we’d be a bit shocked if you hadn’t heard someone saying, perhaps not to your face, but some of your lieutenants reporting to you that there is muttering about the Shadow Chancellor, there are those who are saying we should replace him with Alistair Darling perhaps, perhaps bring back Alan Johnson. You must have heard that.

ED BALLS: Look, people have been saying that for three years, since the first day I did this job. The nature of politics is you either spend your time in the bubble, obsessed, reading all the diary columns, worried about the Daily Mail or you think actually in the real world, let’s go and talk to people about what’s happening in their lives. I’ve been doing this for twenty years and I’ve never been less bothered about gossiping and the tittle-tattle, it doesn’t matter at all. In the end, if the country don’t want a Labour government, if the country think George Osborne is on their side, then I’ve got a problem, until then it isn’t a problem.

But perhaps, as well as all the noble things Balls has referred to here about his constituency and so on, the reason he couldn’t give a toss about the speculation is that he knows firstly that Ed Miliband would struggle to move him and secondly that Balls isn’t 100% of Labour’s problem by any means.

It is, for instance, very difficult to blame the Shadow Chancellor entirely when one of the worst political interviews of 2013 involved Ed Miliband repeatedly tripping over a question about whether Labour would borrow more, followed by weeks of rather tortured arguing about ‘good borrowing”:

And it is also rather difficult to blame the Shadow Chancellor entirely for Labour’s credibility problem when he has spent the past few months trying to block certain high-spending moves by colleagues, and trying to make the sort of big gestures that a number of senior Labour figures think he needs to make over big spending commitments such as high-speed rail. It isn’t just Balls who is at fault here: the top of the Labour party has a credibility problem far bigger than just one man. Indeed, although Labour did succeed in setting the terms of debate on the cost of living for the autumn, there was still frustration in his camp that it wasn’t being picked up sufficiently by the media. Balls complained today about ‘tittle-tattle’, but Miliband also had similar grumbles about the press needing ‘proper standards of decency’ in order to ‘have those massive debates about the cost of living’. Privately at the time some of those close to him wondered whether this was a case of a politician forgetting that they cannot decide themselves what the main issue for public debate is: they have to make their case.

As for whether it would be wise for Miliband to move him, we can turn to the wise words offered by Diane Abbott on the Sunday Politics today. Mulling whether sacking Balls would be a good move or not, the Labour MP (recently sacked herself), said thoughtfully:

‘If you sack him – that’s why it’s very difficult – he’d retreat to the backbenches. Now, he might retreat to the backbenches and take up knitting and practise his piano skills, or he might have a blood feud with Ed Miliband. I don’t know which it would be.’

Tags: Autumn Statement 2013, Ed Balls, Labour, UK politics