11 Jan 2010

Balls on the attempted leadership coup

(UPDATED: now with video of Ed Balls interview.) To the QE2 centre in Westminster where Gordon Brown sat on a platform flanked by Ed Balls and Peter Mandelson, a lecturn either side of them.

I thought the PM might be about to chair a debate between the two consorts, but alas not. It was an international education conference (which Ed Balls says was all former Education Secretary Charles Clarke’s brilliant idea). 

I asked Ed Balls after his speech if there was any change in government strategy, presentation or substance, post-Wednesday and he said there wasn’t.

Labour backbench MPs on the centre left are worried there has been a hijack of the party by the Blairites and Treasury types – a “betrayal” one of them called it.

Two former Blairite Cabinet ministers I spoke to say Cabinet members have achieved nothing through their “get tough” chats with the Prime Minister.

They were too busy “looking after their own interests,” one said, with the result that there are reports that Gordon Brown now has an “inner Cabinet of ten”, though No. 10 is knocking down suggestions of any sort of inner sanctum. 

No.10 is reminding folk that Peter Mandelson, Douglas Alexander and Harriet Harman “co-chair” the morning meetings  on election strategy.  All three of them, by the way, will get a slot talking at the PLP meeting tonight.

In the earlier chat with Ed Balls I invited him to repeat Alistair Darling’s phrase that the “next spending review will be the toughest we have had for 20 years” – he insisted there were no differences at the top but refused several invitations to repeat the line. 

It is poison to the election battle-lines plan which he believes in and which he thinks, in the narrowing of the polls pre-Christmas, to have been producing some electoral dividends.  

The PLP meets at 6pm. I understand that the leadership is NOT encouraging MPs like Geraldine Smith (who berated David Miliband on Radio 4 this lunchtime) to air their thoughts tonight. The leadership wants a “forward-looking” event, I am told.

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