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‘Would you like to replace Ed Balls?’ The question Alistair Darling won’t answer

24 March 2013

5:02 PM

24 March 2013

5:02 PM

Ed Balls is a good street fighter, but not a very loveable one. The polls suggest he is perhaps the least popular figure in frontline politics. His manner too abrasive and his political bloodlust too obvious. As James Forsyth says in this week’s View from 22 Spectator podcast (below), Balls is — at best — Miliband’s 3rd choice for the position of Shadow Chancellor. His first was Alan Johnson and Yvette Cooper (aka Mrs Balls) was asked before it fell to Balls.

A triumphant Alistair Darling, fresh from a 2014 Scottish referendum victory, may well be more palatable to the public. It’s unlikely that Balls would move over for Darling – although he may not have the choice. We know that Darling loathes Balls (which admittedly, in the Shadow Cabinet, is not saying much). But does he actually want the job? He was asked on BBC1 Sunday Politics today. Here’s the transcript:

Andrew Neil: Given the manifest failure of government economic policy so far why does the public still think that Messrs Cameron and Osborne are better at the economy than Messrs Miliband and Balls?

Alistair Darling: Well look, we, if we’re going to win the next election, we have to convince people that we have a credible and compelling alternative to the government. And you know, I know that my colleagues, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls will be setting out our position over the next period because that’s one of the things we have to do if we’re going to win support. Now, it’s inevitable – we lost the election last time, we lost it badly, we have a lot of ground to make up. But I’m quite convinced that provided we can explain to people why it was we got into this difficulty in the first place, and then have a compelling argument as to what we should do, then we can win the day.

AN: Well, Peter Mandelson says that Mr Balls’s criticisms of the government are, quote, ‘predictable,’ and, quote, ‘tiring to the public.’ He says that the argument over how fast the government is cutting is in the past. Is he right?

AD: No, what he was saying was that the argument that was there in 2010, clearly things have moved on, and they’ve moved on unfortunately in a very bad way. Because we are now borrowing more than George Osborne anticipated, 245 billion pounds more than he thought in 2010. Our debt, far from coming down is actually going up…

AN: Well, here’s the big question, Mr Darling, all the polls show that despite the mess the government finds itself in, Labour has an economic credibility issue. Assuming you save the union in the autumn of 2014, are you then prepared to come and save the Labour Party if Mr Miliband asks you to return as Shadow Chancellor.

AD: I have every confidence in Ed Miliband. I know that he is very focused on what needs to be done. For my part, every time I’m asked this question –

AN: It’s Mr Balls I’m really asking about the confidence, Mr Darling.  Would you come down and be Shadow Chancellor in the run-up to the next election?

AD: The only thing I’m concentrating on now is the battle to save – keep Scotland as part of the United Kingdom. That is the thing that I’m concentrating on, and that will occupy me night and day until September.

AN: I understand that, but if you win that will you come and help the battle to give the Labour Party economic credibility? It’s a simple question

AD: I am very confident that my colleagues, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, are very aware of what they have to do and they will do it. Because we owe it to the people that support us and the people we’ve yet to win over to put forward an argument that is going to convince people. Heavens, you know, you rightly said this government is in one terrible mess at the moment as far as the economy is concerned. They’re way off track, none of their plans are stacking up, they’re losing credibility. We need to have a compelling alternative. There is one, and I will be helping my colleagues do that. But at the moment, for the next 18 months, you know where I am.

So yes, Mr Darling, we know where you are now.  But where do you see yourself in 2015? It’s an intriguingly open question.

PS: For those who missed the podcast – it has Peter Lilley vs George Eustace on press freedom, you can listen below or subscribe free via iTunes here

The View from 22 — 21 March 2013. Length: 34:50

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