Mr and Mrs Balls both in the running for shadow Chancellor job

As Labour MPs deliberate over which of their colleagues they want to see in Ed Miliband's shadow team, one name has cropped up more than most – Yvette Cooper's.

Both members and MPs have tipped the former Pensions Secretary to top the ballot for places in the shadow Cabinet, despite the fact that she remains an unknown to much of the public.

Such is her high standing with members – mainly the result of a strong performance in opposing the Coalition's deficit reduction plans – that many thought she would have had a fighting chance of winning the leadership election.

In the end, she chose not to run in the contest, which would have pitted her against her husband, Ed Balls, the former Schools Secretary. The pair discussed whether or not to go for the top job over the breakfast table one morning. She decided the effect on her family life would be too great. The couple have two daughters and a son.

But now circumstances have conspired to pitch the couple against each other for a second time, as both are seen as the obvious candidates for shadow Chancellor. Their CVs are eerily similar: both studied at Oxford and Harvard, both had stints as newspaper leader writers – Ms Cooper at The Independent, Mr Balls at the Financial Times – and both have experience in the Treasury.

While not a household name at the moment, Ms Cooper's potential was spotted by the New Labour leadership early on. After failing to win the candidacy for two seats, she was successful at her third attempt, impressing her local party with her confident pitch.

She has also shown considerable resilience in her personal life, battling back from a bout of ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), a debilitating illness from which some never recover. She has also experienced the odd political setback. She worked on the notorious 1992 shadow Budget drawn up by the Labour Party, which promised tax rises and scared off the electorate. It will no doubt be in her mind should she be handed the Treasury brief.

Her husband is desperate for the job after being originally lined up for it by Gordon Brown. But the responsibility of a major portfolio looks a certainty.

Would she step aside to allow her husband to take the job he craves? In public, at least, there was no admission of such a deal. When asked about the prospect of his wife taking the job, Mr Balls was evasive.

"Yvette is a fabulous, gifted and talented politician and she is a great person, which is why I married her," he said. "The leader has got to have the space to work these things out."