Wolf in Shadow Chancellor’s Clothing

In an interview with the Independent yesterday Ed Balls has made the LibDems a not-so ‘big, open and comprehensive’ offer, asking them to cross the floor and to join Labour in a coalition.

I think it would be much better now and for the future of the country if they did. It would be in the national interest. I don’t think they should wait until 2015.  I don’t think it’s possible for Nick Clegg to lead that move.

I can’t help it – Ed Balls’s offer conjures up images of the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf trying to pose as kindly grandmother to lure the little girl close enough so that he can snatch and eat her.

This also brings to mind a brilliant cartoon by Chris Riddell:

Little Clegg Riding Hood by Chris Riddell

Little Clegg Riding Hood, by Chris Riddell (Observer 7th July 2010)

Perhaps Ed Balls has to consider that after learning (the hard way!) to deal with one hungry wolf pack, Little Red Riding Hood will think twice about walking into the territory of a rival pack which seems not just hungry, but dangerously ravenous.

But it’s interesting how eager Ed Balls suddenly sounds; it doesn’t quite square up with his role in torpedoing the coalition talks in 2010 and his efforts to pour tribalist scorn over the LibDems at every possible opportunity – until about two weeks ago when these new conciliatory(?) noises began to emerge. The man has not given any impression of somebody who understands how coalitions work, and I can’t see any improvement now.

In particular, there is a very basic question: how does he think a Lab-Lib deal could produce a viable government now, when the numbers didn’t work back in May 2010?  One wonders: if Ed Balls really can’t add up simple figures in the low hundreds, how on earth did he ever think he could run a national economy?

And then there is the call for Nick Clegg to go. This has been a Labour fantasy ever since 2010. Nick Clegg stands for that putative betrayal of joining the Conservatives when, from a Labour point of view,  the LibDems were ever only  ‘Labour Light’; a party which could only be tolerated as waiting in the wings  for two purposes: a) a convenient place for Labour voters to move their vote for a while in an emergency, i.e. living in a Tory area or not approving of the Labour leadership; and b) as convenient potential coalition partner in the case of a hung parliament. Labour has never managed to forgive Nick Clegg and the LibDems for not quite sharing that interpetation of the third party’s role in British politics.

And then, Nick Clegg had the temerity to force Gordon Brown to go. It wasn’t to be expected that he’d get any thanks for doing what Labour should have done themselves years earlier. But in his desire to pay back Nick Clegg, Ed Balls displays the lack of yet another quality one would rather like to see in a chancellor, namely an understanding of how negotiations work.

I’d have thought that somebody who desperately wants another party to take a risky, generous step which is more to the benefit of his own side would understand that negotiations would have to start with a pretty generous offer, not a demand to take big risks for no obvious rewards. In 2010, Labour wanted a favour from the LibDems, and since the LibDems had an alternative and frankly better offer, Nick Clegg could make demands. Labour’s current ‘negotiation position’ simply does not compare: Ed Balls wants something very badly, and has nothing attractive to give in return, not even a credible plan to fix the economy or to avoid awful cuts.

One just has to listen to the  heart-warming tones of a  man known for stabbing half his own party’s backs while they were in government.

 But I have known many of the senior Lib Dems well enough over 20 years…they know this isn’t working, the economic consequences of carrying on with this are very dangerous for Britain.

Before or after the next election, if the parliamentary arithmetic throws up the need for a coalition of Labour and the Lib Dems, I would go into that with enthusiasm…I could serve in a Cabinet with Chris Huhne or Vince Cable tomorrow.

Yes, but what about most of the other LibDems, Ed? With each MP you can’t work with, the arithmetic is getting more impossible. And one thing one really has to learn before negotiating is to accept that the other side does not necessarily share one’s worldview.

They have got to decide whether they want to serve in a Lab-Lib Cabinet which is trying to protect the NHS, keep us a robust defender of the national interest in the EU and get unemployment down, or whether they are willing to go along with what they now find themselves bound into.

Ed Balls would perhaps be surprised to hear that LibDems believe that they are currently as well placed to protect the NHS and to do all in their power to keep the UK involved with the EU as a party with 57 MPs could ever hope to be. That, surely, was one of the prime motivations for going into that coalition with the Tories in the first place: to prevent a Tory government and to do as much possible to soften the blow of the economic crisis.

And as Ed Balls continues, you almost hear those violins in the background… “I’ll make them an offer they can’t refuse”.

As they sit there over Christmas and reflect what they are in politics for, there is a better way than this.

Well, it sounds like a highly refusable offer, and it smacks of desperation, too. The end of the article gives away the prime motivation…

If the final job of my political career is Chancellor of the Exchequer, I would have had a pretty good career. My one regret would be if I don’t become Chancellor.

He must know that the clock is ticking and that the odds are getting longer. Paradoxically, he has to try to keep Ed Miliband in place, since the alternatives – David Miliband and Yvette Cooper - surely would or could, for very different reasons, not offer him the same post. So what options does Ed Balls have left? As the realisation dawns that Ed Miliband is unlikely ever to lead a government, the Shadow Chancellor might as well turn to the fairy tales and hope that the LibDems simply don’t notice the menacing growl in that oh-so-loving Christmas message.

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One Response to Wolf in Shadow Chancellor’s Clothing

  1. Melaszka says:

    I don’t think the LibDems should form a coalition with Labour now and I don’t think they should have done after the general election, either. Much as I dislike FPTP, while we still have it, I think the party that wins should be the one that governs, even if they are a minority. IMO a Lib/Lab pact would create sympathy for the Tories amongst the electorate and boost their popularity, when currently they’re doing a great job on their own of haemorrhaging support.

    BUT…I find parts of your analysis a little unfair. In my experience, it’s not just Labour that views the LibDems as LabourLite – an awful lot of LibDem voters seem to have viewed them that way prior to the last election and it seems to me that the party leadership played up to that perception quite a lot. All that Orange Book shit may have been in the manifesto, but the leaflets that came through the door and the snazzy little media soundbites, which is all the average voter takes any notice of, seemed to be presenting the party as the leftist alternative now that Blair has turned Labour neo-Thatcherite. It seems to me that Balls is as much shamelessly playing to a popular perception of the LibDems as having sold out than expressing a sense of Labour entitlement to their support.

    I also imagine that Balls’s call for Clegg to go is more motivated by populism than personal vendettas. I know it’s only to be expected that Clegg reneged on a lot of his election promises – what party leader doesn’t? And, in any case, as the junior party in a coalition, they couldn’t expect to push all their policies through. But it has made him unpopular with a lot of former LibDem voters and I imagine that it’s in an attempt to attract disillusioned LibDem voters that Balls is making this call.

    I also didn’t think Gordon Brown was that bad. *ducks to avoid brickbats*

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