Labour Party Conference Diary: Ed Balls aims below the belt for barbed compliment of PM

Our Man in Brighton

Politicians have hurled some choice insults at each other, but so far as I know there has not been a recorded instance in centuries of parliamentary abuse in which a political leader has taunted an opponent about his penis.

There was quite a sharp intake of breath, therefore, when Ed Balls made a mocking comment during his conference speech about photographs taken on a Cornish beach in August of David Cameron changing into his shorts, under what Mr Balls described as a “surprisingly small towel”.

Hacks being hacks, they assumed that the shadow Chancellor was implying that the Prime Minister did not have much to cover up. “Ed Balls suggesting the PM is somewhat small in the manhood department is a bit of a new low, even for modern politics,” ITV News’s political editor, Tom Bradby, tweeted indignantly.

Mr Balls began the joke by asking the audience, rhetorically, whether they did not feel a bit sorry for the Prime Minister.

He went on: “Back in August ... unflattering pictures spread across the national press: I’ve been there, I know what it’s like. Let me let you into a little secret. When Yvette [Cooper – his wife] saw the pictures she said, rather pointedly I thought, that for a 46-year-old man David Cameron looked rather slim.

“Slim? Who on earth can she have been comparing him to? I just thought for a Prime Minister it was a surprisingly small towel. Let us all agree, after the last three years, the sooner David Cameron throws in the towel the better.”

I have asked Ed Balls’s office to explain this peculiar reference, but have not had an answer yet, though I understand that the shadow Chancellor meant that a fat man would need a big towel to circumvent his girth. He was implying, in other words, that the Prime Minister is slim for a 46-year-old. If so, how kind.

Ed tries to up his Red cred

Ed Miliband has caused a bit of stir in Brighton by using the “S” word. He was standing at a street corner in Brighton, doing his soap-box stuff, when someone asked when he would “bring back socialism”. He replied: “That’s what we are doing, sir.”

It is not the first time he has used it. During the leadership contest in 2010, all five candidates was asked if they were socialists. Ed Balls said: “I am proud to be a socialist.” Ed Miliband said: “Being a socialist for me is about being willing to criticise capitalism.”

To Ed Miliband, socialism means doing good things for people at the low end of the income scale, such as scrapping the “bedroom tax”. That is not what the word “socialism” used to mean in the 20th century. One of Britain’s most eminent post-war socialists once wrote: “Socialism is not about the relief of poverty, marginal collectivism and social reform, all of which have been proved possible within a capitalist framework, but about the abolition of capitalism ...” That was Ed’s father, Ralph Miliband, the man who persuaded the hippy generation that Labour was no place for a real socialist.

A sporting hero

A herogram for the shadow Defence Secretary, Jim Murphy, who successfully delivered his speech to the Labour conference despite two suspected broken ribs incurred whilst playing football against lobby journalists the previous day.