Two Eds are far worse than one

Miliband would not want Balls on his team for coalition talks with the Lib Dems


MPs of both main parties seem equally convinced that they will lose the election next year. Maybe it is just the ones I talk to, but Labour MPs thought that the Budget, and especially their leader's decision to respond to it by pretending it hadn't happened, took them closer to defeat. They feel the economy is picking up and the voters will not want to put that recovery at risk.

Conservatives, on the other hand, thought the Budget was all right, but that they have too much ground to make up. They thought the bingo tax-cut advert mattered, not because people would feel insulted by being addressed as the "they" who enjoy beer and bingo, but because it added another layer separating Tory toffs from the concerns of the people.

They cannot both be right. Unless something odd happens, either David Cameron or Ed Miliband will emerge as prime minister. But there is quite a messy bit in the middle. Both parties may fall short of "winning" in another hung parliament. In fact, all parties could lose. The Liberal Democrats are bound to lose seats; the question is how many. And Ukip might win one seat if Nigel Farage chooses the right constituency, but seems destined to disappointment. But if neither Labour nor the Tories advance far enough, we could have a hung parliament again.

So what might happen in an inconclusive election? The Lib Dems are desperate to end their coalition with the Tories. So even if the Tories remain the largest party, but Labour make gains, many Lib Dems would want to switch. Andrew Adonis, the Labour peer, thinks that a rainbow coalition with the Lib Dems and assorted Northern Irish and other MPs would have been viable last time. Every Tory seat lost would make it more viable next time.

Adonis makes clear in his book, 5 Days in May, that Labour were badly prepared for coalition negotiations in 2010. This time, they will have no excuse. Not only that, but the view among the senior civil servants who would have to facilitate the process is that it all happened too fast last time.

Among the many obstacles to Labour and the Lib Dems reaching agreement last time, two stand out. Adonis is too polite to say so in his book, but their names were Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, who were members of Labour's negotiating team. This raises the important question: who would Miliband send in to negotiate on his behalf next time? The tensions between Miliband and Balls over the response to the Budget reinforce my view that Miliband would not want Balls on his team.

Balls hinted at the disagreement at his post-Budget briefing when he said that Miliband had prepared "pages" of response to George Osborne on the basis of Twitter speculation by journalists, but had had to junk them when it turned out to be wrong. The real story, I think, is that Balls thought that Miliband ought to have welcomed the liberation of pension funds in principle. Miliband decided against it, and didn't even mention the pension change in his response. His supporters say he was rightly cautious of pronouncing on such a complex subject, and that it did Labour no harm to take a few days to come round to the view that it supported the change, with conditions.

But I suspect Balls thought Miliband both lacked confidence and had the wrong instinct. Left to his own devices, Miliband might have gravitated to the paternalist view expressed by John McTernan, Tony Blair's former political secretary, who said on Newsnight that "you cannot trust people to spend their own money sensibly".

The tension between the two Eds is already the fault line running through the Labour government-in-waiting. They said, when Miliband was forced to appoint Balls as Shadow Chancellor three years ago, that they had seen the Blair-Brown movie before and were determined not to replay it. But their relationship has the potential to be even worse than Blair and Brown's. At least in their early days in opposition, Blair and Brown liked each other and, even after they fell out over the leadership, generally agreed on policy.

Balls is constantly having to restrain what he regards as the naive utopianism of his former junior colleague in Gordon Brown's team. He favours a third runway at Heathrow and is sceptical about high speed rail. When Miliband, nominally in charge of Labour's 2010 manifesto, wanted to promise free school lunches for young primary-school pupils (now taken up by Nick Clegg), Balls ruled it out as poor value for money at a time of public spending restraint. Miliband wanted to put the top rate of income tax back up to 50p in the pound permanently, whereas Balls says it would be a temporary measure until the deficit is cleared.

If Miliband does emerge from the fog of the election as prime minister, the split with Balls does not augur well for a Labour government.

React Now

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

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

All Primary NQT's

£100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...

Supply Teachers Needed in Thetford

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Why black cats make amazing pets, and take good selfies too

Felicity Morse
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star