More details of the split Eds have emerged. As Guido reports, Balls has never been to the pub with Miliband, nor knows ‘if he likes the pub or not’. And, in her Times column today (£), Rachel Sylvester reveals that High Speed 2 is another diving line between Labour’s big beasts:
‘There is clear disagreement over HS2 — although Mr Balls’ conference speech, in which he raised concerns about the cost, was approved by Mr Miliband, there was irritation in the leader’s office about the briefing afterwards that emphasised the Shadow Chancellor’s skepticism about the high-speed line.’
After Balls’s conference speech, Brighton was aflutter with rumours that Labour was going to withdraw support for HS2. At a fringe event the same day, James observed that Balls was ‘gleefully contemplating’ what the £50 billion earmarked for the line could otherwise be used for.
The last cabinet reshuffle suggested that Labour was swinging towards Balls on HS2. The new shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh began her tenure with some sceptical comments about the project, and supported Balls’s position by saying that the price has to be right. But, as Sylvester reports, Creagh has ‘made clear to Mr Balls that she is a strong supporter of HS2 and that Labour will continue to back it as long as she is in her post. ‘
There’s one obvious reason why Balls is an HS2 sceptic: it’s pretty unpopular — both with the country and Labour voters. The last batch of polling suggested that 60 per cent of Labour supporters are opposed to the project, compared to 55 per cent of everyone else:
For now, though, the government is increasingly confident that it has beaten back Labour’s offensive. The Preparation Bill went through the Commons with surprisingly little fuss, which gave the Department of Transport hope that the Hybrid Bill will go through just as smoothly. But, if any more cracks in the project appear, you can bet on Ed Balls to raise the stakes?