After the gales of recent weeks, the past few days must have been relatively blissful
for the Lib Dems. No fake constituents with hidden dictaphones. No massive student protests. No especial focus on their opinion poll ratings. But, instead, a mephitic heap of problems, or at least
embarrassments, for Labour and the Tories. Warsi, Johnson, Coulson, even EMAs – Clegg & Co. have been spared the worst of it.
Which isn’t to say that the Lib Dems will be unaffected by recent events. For instance, as Paul Goodman suggests, Andy Coulson’s departure unsettles the delicate
balance of the coalition – and that will always have ramifications, however minute, for the yellow half of it.
Yet it’s the rise of Balls that may prove more significant for the Lib Dems. Not only is he likely to drag his party’s fiscal programme even further away from the coalition’s, but he is not a man
that senior Lib Dems are inclined to trust. Here, by way of a reminder, are some of the snippets about Balls from David Laws’ account of the coalition negotiations:
i) "I guessed that Balls would be willing to deal with the Lib Dems only if absolutely necessary, and while holding his nose."
ii) "Balls was already rumoured to be committed to taking Labour into Opposition. He stared into the distance as Mandelson talked, occasionally wincing at
iii) "Danny asked: ‘Can we rely on Labour MPs supporting an AV referendum?’ ‘That is what is guaranteed in our manifesto,’ said Mandelson. Then Balls intervened: ‘The
Chief Whip thinks it could be difficult to get the AV referendum through. Many of our colleagues are opposed to it. It cannot be guaranteed.’ It was a deadly intervention and, I felt, a calculated
wrecking device. If a hotchpotch deal with Labour and various other parties could not deliver on our policy prospectus, on economic stability or even on the most modest form of electoral reform
legislation, what on the earth was the point of it?"
iv) "I believe Balls, [Ed] Miliband and Harman achieved what they set out to deliver: the planting of significant doubts in our mind about the likelihood of a Lib-Lab
In the week that Ed Miliband first mooted the possibility of him working with Nick Clegg, his appointment of Balls may have made that union
even more unlikely. On the level of both policy and – it seems – personality, the shadow chancellor is not simpatico with the current Lib Dem leadership.