The Sketch: The alternatives to Ed are so weird they make even him look good

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The Independent Online

What a state the Labour leadership is in. To give you some idea, the name of Mary Creagh gets mentioned as a leader-in-waiting. Who is she? It doesn't matter: she's wild. She makes Sarah Palin look like Geoffrey Howe.

"There is an alternative!" Ed Balls insists. Really? Let's see.

A friend of mine saw both Milibands at a party the other night. He reported: "Ed is NOWHERE near as weird as David." It's true, the "Right Miliband" theory is suddenly gaining ground, the more David's brooding presence is felt around the Palace of Westminster. Truth to tell, the Sketch backed David only because there was a good chance he'd crack up in public.

So how about No 3: Ed Balls. Burly. Brilliant. Bruising. Boring. Unbelievable. He was at the London School of Economics giving his economic speech as shadow Chancellor. We were all there to gaze on the front-runner to take over from the current leader.

He's still the front-runner. He's ahead of Mary Creagh. But why, oh why, do these people think they have what it takes to be prime minister? He's got a perfectly good story to tell, if you like that sort of thing. He has what people call substance. But lacking candour, or eloquence, he can't carry an audience where he wants to take them. If you want to be carried away you'll have to do the lifting yourself. His pitch is psychotically partisan, and he still suffers from delusions of omniscience.

Some quotes. "We've got to start putting economics before politics." That comes from the man who started borrowing in a boom to pump up the economy in time for Brown's inheritance.

"There was no excessive public spending under Labour." There may be people who agree with that, but they are all Labour voters. "Prudent chancellors always have to choose caution over complacency." Advice Polonius would have thought needed more work.

Balls's solution: a 2.5 per cent drop in VAT (1p off the price of a Mars bar) will "jump-start the economy". Is that all it takes?

Who else might put themselves forward? Would Yvette Cooper run? That would depend on her husband and in this matter she's a surrendered wife.

I'd put £50 on Hilary Benn. He's not an automatic embarrassment. His performance as shadow Leader is widely admired. And there's the hereditary principle working in his favour. Did he go to Eton? You can't have everything.

I hope it doesn't happen; I'm enjoying the madness too much.