20 Jan 2011

Two Eds better than one?

As Alan Johnson leaves – and Ed Balls arrives as the new Shadow Chancellor, what does it all mean for the Labour Party? Peter McHugh has some thoughts on the matter.

The measure of the man - Ed Balls (Getty)

Just four months since Ed Miiband showed his political toughness and shrewd grip on the new Labour Party by snubbing Ed Balls‘s desperate desire to be Shadow Chancellor. Just two hours ago he changed his mind and gave him the job.

Ed didn’t get the job the first time around because he was a) Gordon’s best pal, b) he wanted to be Ed Number 1 in the Labour Party, c) he had left many battered bodies in his wake and d) he wanted to be Ed Number 1.

Instead, the job went to the remaining human face of the party – Alan Johnson – who had the advantage of actually knowing members of the Party, including some outside North London. Alan also had the rare distinction of having held down several real jobs before moving into politics and hadn’t been to Oxford or Cambridge. In fact he said his appointment proved there was room at the top for lads who left school at 15…sadly no longer.

Channel 4 News special report: Labour leader Ed Miliband

Alan – forever Mr Nice Guy – had some difficulty holding down his brief, being slightly off-script when it came to things like the present rate of National Insurance. He was even more off-message when it came to his leader’s liking for the 50p tax rate, not to mention a graduate tax for students.

Indeed, it became known that not all was as it should be in the suite of rooms occupied by Her Majesty’s Leader of the Opposition in the old Norman Shaw building tacked onto MP towers,Portcullis House.

It was in these rooms that Primer Minister Dave and Chancellor George had forged the partnership which nearly led to victory at the General Election and Ed M had planned to do the same with his own man.

But Alan’s experiences as General Secretary of the Postal Workers Union felt ill-equipped for the collegiate goings-on at Ed’s place and chose to hang out instead with his old mates over the road. He was also unhappy at being seen as the man who got the job just to stop others getting it.

Alan was a good man, but the new Labour Party was a bit short on the hewers of wood front so they would just have to settle for another Oxbridge graduate.

Meanwhile, down the road at the Home Office, the man who wanted to give George a good slapping was trying manfully not to be seen joining his former leader Gordon in the Great Sulk.

Ed B, seen by many as the translator during the Brown premiership, had been as surprised as Ed’s brother David when the younger Miliband got the top job. He swallowed his pride and fixed the usual rictus grin to his face when he got the Home Office and realised his target would not be George – fresh from the creaking coffin – but kitten heels herself, Theresa May.

He also had to swallow reports that his missus Yvette had also been tapped up for the Shadow Chancellorship by Ed M.

And so that’s how it was until yesterday, when that old political adage of Harold Macmillan became true once again. Asked about the certainties of political life he said “Events,dear boy, events” always got in the way. And they did yesterday.

Politics is a hard business – and no sooner had Alan told Ed he had to go that the Labour leader realised he was between a rock and a hard man. Turning Ed B down once had been seen to be astute. Turning him down twice would be seen to be vindictive…and Yvette still wouldn’t take the job.

So Ed M borrowed the rictus grin kit and made it clear that not giving Ed B the job the first time around had only really been a joke. They were now best mates and clearly it would only be a couple of weeks before they swopped home telephone numbers. Alan was a good man, but the new Labour Party was a bit short on the hewers of wood front so they would just have to settle for another Oxbridge graduate.

They say Two Eds are better than one. Watch this space.

Peter McHugh is the former director of programmes at GMTV and was this year awarded the Royal Television Society Lifetime Achievement Award. Contact him at: peter@quiddityproductions.com