Ed Balls responds to the latest “smear” claim

New twist in the Andy Burnham “is he in/is he out” story.

My colleague George Eaton has blogged about Andy McSmith's interview with Andy Burnham in today's Independent, in which the shadow health secretary and Labour leadership contender accused supporters of a rival candidate of "conducting 'malicious briefing' in the hope of getting him to throw in the towel".

From the Independent:

Mr Burnham said that he "nearly fell out of his chair" when he read a report that he was looking for an early exit to avoid the embarrassment of coming fifth in a field of five.

McSmith adds:

Mr Burnham's camp have remained tight-lipped about who they blame for the smear but some have been quick to point the finger at supporters of Ed Balls.

But in an interesting twist to this story, the shadow education secretary himself has been in touch with me to deny the claims in McSmith's piece (and George's blogpost). He said:

There is no truth in these allegations, in these smears about me or my supporters. It is complete nonsense. Andy and I get on very well and no one from my team was involved in these briefings.

And it seems Balls and Burnham have been in discussions about the claims in the Independent:

Andy Burnham and I spoke this morning and we both agreed that any suggestion of him pulling is out rubbish. We both agreed that no one surrounding me has made this allegation. And both of us think there is mischief being made -- but it's not coming from my team or his team. It's coming from a third party.

Balls added:

I've had three years of people ringing up people like Rachel Sylvester and making accusations against me, off the record. But the only thing I've been focused on in recent days is Michael Gove.

I asked him who he thought had briefed the papers, but Balls would only say: "I have my suspicions. And so does Andy."

I guess if it wasn't Balls, and wasn't Burnham himself, then that leaves us with the supporters of either Diane Abbott or one of the Miliband brothers.

Who is this "third party"? The plot, as they say, just got thicker . . .

Subscription offer: Get 12 issues for just £12 PLUS a free copy of "The Idea of Justice" by Amartya Sen.


Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Show Hide image

After the “Tatler Tory” bullying scandal, we must ask: what is the point of party youth wings?

A zealous desire for ideological purity, the influence of TV shows like House of Cards and a gossip mill ever-hungry for content means that the youth wings of political parties can be extremely toxic places.

If you wander around Westminster these days, it feels like you’re stepping into a particularly well-informed crèche. Everyone looks about 13; no one has ever had a job outside the party they are working for. Most of them are working for an absolute pittance, affordable only because Mummy and Daddy are happy to indulge junior’s political ambitions.

It’s this weird world of parliament being dominated by under 25s that means the Tory youth wing bullying scandal is more than just a tragic tale. If you haven’t followed it, it’s one of the most depressing stories I’ve ever read; a tale of thirty-something, emotionally-stunted nonentities throwing their weight around at kids – and a promising, bright young man has died as a result of it.

One of the most depressing things was that the stakes were so incredibly low. People inside RoadTrip 2015 (the campaigning organisation at the centre of the scandal) cultivated the idea that they were powerbrokers, that jumping on a RoadTrip bus was a vital precondition to getting a job at central office and eventually a safe seat, yet the truth was nothing of the sort.

While it’s an extreme example, I’m sure it happens in every political party all around the world – I’ve certainly seen similar spectacles in both the campus wings of the Democrats and Republicans in the US, and if Twitter is anything to go by, young Labour supporters are currently locked in a brutal battle over who is loyal to the party, and who is a crypto-Blairite who can “fuck off and join the Tories”. 

If you spend much time around these young politicians, you’ll often hear truly outrageous views, expressed with all the absolute certainty of someone who knows nothing and wants to show off how ideologically pure they are. This vein of idiocy is exactly where nightmarish incidents like the notorious “Hang Mandela” T-shirts of the 1980s come from.

When these views have the backing of an official party organisation, it becomes easy for them to become an embarrassment. Even though the shameful Mandela episode was 30 years ago and perpetrated by a tiny splinter group, it’s still waved as a bloody shirt at Tory candidates even now.

There’s also a level of weirdness and unreality around people who get obsessed with politics at about 16, where they start to view everything through an ideological lens. I remember going to a young LGBT Republican film screening of Billy Elliot, which began with an introduction about how the film was a tribute to Reagan and Thatcher’s economics, because without the mines closing, young gay men would never found themselves through dance. Well, I suppose it’s one interpretation, but it’s not what I took away from the film.

The inexperience of youth also leads to people in politics making decisions based on things they’ve watched on TV, rather than any life experience. Ask any young politician their favourite TV show, and I guarantee they’ll come back with House of Cards or The Thick of It. Like young traders who are obsessed with Wolf of Wall Street, they don’t see that all the characters in these shows are horrific grotesques, and the tactics of these shows get deployed in real life – especially when you stir in a healthy dose of immature high school social climbing.

In this democratised world of everyone having the ear of the political gossip sites that can make or break reputations, some get their taste for mudslinging early. I was shocked when a young Tory staffer told me “it’s always so upsetting when you find out it’s one of your friends who has briefed against you”. 

Anecdotes aside, the fact that the youth wings of our political parties are overrun with oddballs genuinely worries me. The RoadTrip scandal shows us where this brutal, bitchy cannibalistic atmosphere ends up.

Willard Foxton is a card-carrying Tory, and in his spare time a freelance television producer, who makes current affairs films for the BBC and Channel 4. Find him on Twitter as @WillardFoxton.