Ed Balls: "Boris is less of a statesman and more of a buffoon"

A sneak preview of my interview with the shadow chancellor for this week's magazine.

I've interviewed Ed Balls for this week's New Statesman -- out on the newsstands on Thursday.

Here are a few comments from the shadow chancellor that might not make it into the final piece:

1) On the TUC rally and Boris Johnson

The shadow chancellor seemed pretty annoyed with Boris Johnson's Telegraph column yesterday -- on the subject of Saturday's TUC march and the violent protests -- in which the Mayor of London claimed that "Balls and Miliband will feel quietly satisfied by the disorder":

I thought it was an outrageous thing to say. It was a deeply irresponsible thing to say. I was quite shocked. Boris's problem is he spends so much time attacking David Cameron that he probably thought he had to attack someone else for a change. He is less of a statesman and more of a buffoon and I think he should withdraw those comments.

Balls, who criticised Sky News for its alleged bias in an interview with me ahead of the 2010 general election, says that he understands the demands of the 24-hour news channels. He is, nonetheless, critical of the media coverage of Saturday's rally and the decision by the BBC and Sky News to cut away from Ed Miliband's speech in order to show the protests in Oxford Street:

The idea that a peaceful, broad-based demo of over a quarter of million people should be overshadowed by 200 or so immature idiots is wrong and very frustrating.

Asked if Labour been damaged by Miliband's decision to address the TUC rally in Hyde Park, Balls says:

You should give the public more credit -- the TUC, the marchers and the police were very clear in their public statements about the differences between the two groups.

As for the violent "anarchists" on Oxford Street, Balls says, "They probably hate me and Ed Miliband more than they hate David Cameron and George Osborne."

2) On Libya and the cost of military action:

Balls supports the military action against the Gaddafi regime but is critical of the Chancellor's decision to try to predict the costs in advance:

George Osborne was unwise when he said at Treasury questions that this operation would only cost tens of millions of pounds. It shows that he is obviously defensive about the cost. He can't possibly know that it will only cost tens of millions of pounds; it could turn out to cost much more and go on much longer than he thinks. The right thing to say is that we cannot know the cost. It's a little like him saying that the economy is "out of the danger zone".

And in a swipe at the Tories' analogy of the Budget deficit with a credit-card account, the shadow chancellor adds:

If, two years ago, the credit card had been maxed out, we wouldn't now be able to go to war in Libya. If the nation was trying to run this war on the basis of its credit card, then it would be in trouble. It just shows what vacuous tosh all that Conservative language is.

You'll have to wait till Thursday, however, and the publication of the print edition of the magazine to read Balls's views on Ed Miliband, Alan Johnson, Yvette Cooper and the structural deficit . . .

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.

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Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.