21 Jan 2011

Miliband and Balls: inevitable Ed-ache for Labour?

As Alan Johnson leaves his post as Shadow Chancellor and Ed Balls replaces him, political commentator Lance Price ponders the compatibility of the Brownite and Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Two Eds better than one? - Getty

David Cameron and Ed Miliband don’t agree on much, but they agree on this: neither man wanted Ed Balls to be Shadow Chancellor.

The prime minister knows that Balls’ intellect and knowledge of the subject will make him a formidable opponent of the government’s economic policy. He will go on the attack on rising inflation and unemployment, falling living standards and sluggish economic growth. Indeed he already has. Ministers will do their best to blunt that attack by claiming Balls is weak on the deficit and out of line with his own leader.

Curiously, Miliband didn’t want him as shadow chancellor for similar reasons. Balls was his senior when they both worked for Gordon Brown. His experience will mean he’s much harder to keep in line than the outgoing Alan Johnson. And, having seen him at work from close quarters, Miliband knows Balls is not a good team player and is ferociously ambitious on his own behalf.

The two men can smooth over their differences on how fast to cut the deficit, at least in the short term. But Balls will want to decide Labour‘s overall economic strategy and won’t take kindly to Miliband thinking he knows better. So for the Labour leader, two Eds are definitely not better than one.

When leader and economic spokesman are at odds it spells trouble for any party. Labour knows this all too well. The Blair-Brown feuds were terrible and while the Brown-Darling rows were less public they were still bitter and painful.

The only hope is if Balls shows some uncharacteristic humility. He has to remember that his job is to shadow the chancellor not over-shadow his leader. Having actively encouraged Brown’s disloyalty to Blair and seen the damage it did, he needs to learn the lessons and show total loyalty himself.

If he does then it will be David Cameron and George Osborne who come to regret Alan Johnson’s resignation the most.