Geoffrey Robinson: I feel he has the strength of character for the job

The five tests devised by Ed Balls steered Brown to victory on the decision of whether to join the euro

Share
Related Topics

Despite standing up for sterling to placate Rupert Murdoch, when he came to power in 1997 Tony Blair was already pushing hard to persuade his Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and the Treasury to support joining the euro.

After 18 years in opposition, we had to make a decision just six months after taking office. Ranged behind the PM and pushing with unyielding intent for entry were Peter Mandelson, his euro-enthusiastic colleagues and two Cabinet ministers, Alan Milburn and Stephen Byers.

On the other side of the argument, we were fortunate that the Treasury, after the ERM débâcle in 1992, was deeply averse to entry. In domestic politics the root of the opposition was Ed Balls. The impregnable formation of the "five tests" had, like so much other important Treasury work, been formulated by Ed while we were in opposition.

The tests were written by Ed personally during a visit to Washington by the Chancellor, Ed and myself in late 1996. In effect, they were more than just economic tests. In reality, what Balls achieved was to place ultimate responsibility for the decision in the hands of the Treasury. From 1997, it was begrudgingly accepted that the euro decision was to be taken on economic grounds – not driven by the politics.

The decision demonstrates to good effect a remarkable combination of balanced economic judgment, good grasp of political strategy and a capability of being able to think a policy through. In 2001, Balls needed these qualities and more to see off the next attempt to get Britain into the euro by No 10 and its allies.

The decision was of historic significance for this country. Blair was right about its importance, but was wrong about the judgment he made. In 2002, a vast armada was assembled for No 10's assault on the Treasury. Balls was not overawed. His vastly-outnumbered but nimble team of just two officials marshalled new arguments. It is no disrespect to the then-Chancellor to say that, without Balls, the outcome of the second battle might have been different. Balls steered Brown to an outright intellectual and political victory.

That is the great debt we owe to the brilliant young man who now trails his rivals in the race for Labour leadership, a post he could discharge with great effectiveness at this critical moment for the country's economic future.

I am conscious that Ed's manner is not always ingratiating. He is no respecter of rank. But his faults are slight compared to his gifts.

It will come as no surprise to colleagues that I have nominated Ed Balls and will vote for him as my first preference. Although a single vote has not yet been cast, it may turn out that my second preference vote could count for more. That will be cast for David Miliband. Principally because I feel he has the strength of character for the job. There are plenty of people around with first-class brains, but you also need clarity of purpose and good judgment.

I believe that David Miliband's mind will become more open to wider historical influences and that his judgements will become more mature. He must resist pressure from Mandelson to define himself as against his own party to show he is "tough".

I hope very strongly that he will appoint Ed Balls as his shadow Chancellor. This pairing will leave space for Ed Miliband's supple intelligence and people skills to be fully utilised, so he can gain experience in more testing portfolios than he has so far been exposed to.

Such a team could lead us to victory at the next general election, when the economy is set to be the predominant issue. To be a really effective Opposition, Labour needs all three of them. The above combination seems the best way forward to keep them in harness, working as a team, giving hope and leadership to the British people as we enter the dark period of unnecessarily savage and I fear prolonged deflation.

Geoffrey Robinson is the Labour MP for Coventry North West and was a Treasury minister 1997-1998

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Manager, London Bridge

£30,000 + 20K Commssion: Charter Selection: This rapidly expanding organisatio...

English Teacher

£22000 - £36000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary English Teacher...

Content Manager - Central London

£35000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Central...

General Cover Teacher - Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Qualified Teachers needed for Supply in t...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Richard Dawkins  

Richard Dawkins is wrong to suggest that there can be varying degrees of severity involved in rape

Sian Norris
 

Fist bumps will never replace the handshake - we're just not cool enough

Jessica Brown Jessica Brown
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on