“The other Ed”?

Party figures hope all will come to be well between the Miliband brothers and Ed Balls.

My feature on the Labour leadership race so far, in the magazine out today, focuses on the brothers David and Ed Miliband. It mentions how, to the annoyance of some of Ed's long-time supporters, he used to call himself not just "the other Miliband" but "the other Ed", a reference to Ed Balls, with whom the younger Miliband worked closely first in Gordon Brown's office and then at the Treasury.

As reported in the piece:

One of the most memorable moments of the NS hustings came after Ed Balls produced a lengthy answer, preventing other candidates from joining in that particular discussion. Ed Miliband remarked: "It's like being back in the Treasury." Everyone laughed, apart from Balls, who did not even crack a smile. There was a sharp intake of breath from David Miliband. It was a lethal putdown from a politician whom some in the party had considered "too gentle" for a leadership campaign.

At the time, Ed Balls eventually responded: "Tell us what the answer is then, Ed, as you always do." The frosty exchange was a demonstration of how low their relations had reached, because they were once close friends.

David Miliband and Ed Balls never had much time for each other, serving as they did on opposing front lines of the Blair-Brown wars.

In the case of Balls and Ed Miliband, however, the breakdown of relations was gradual. Balls was for years seen as the dominant figure of the two, and saw himself as the natural successor to Brown. It was that self-belief that, after Brown became prime minister in June 2007, led the then schools secretary to press his master to replace Alistair Darling with Balls as chancellor, to the anger of some in cabinet.

There is no doubt Balls has had his eye on the leadership for some years. That is not ignoble, of course not. A highly rated former Financial Times journalist, Balls is credited with being the man behind independence for the Bank of England, one of New Labour's most eye-catching initiatives at the beginning of the premiership of Tony Blair, with whom Brown had a testing relationship.

As chief economic adviser to the Treasury between 1999 and 2004, and later as economic secretary to the Treasury from 2006 until he was made schools secretary under Brown in 2007, Balls commanded heavy influence over British economic policy. But in other areas, critics accuse him of being a conservative tribalist, not just over a Labour Party that must now reach out to floating voters and those who voted Liberal Democrat without the intention of crowning David Cameron as prime minister, but also regarding himself.

"Instead of waking up each day and thinking, 'How can I help Labour win again?', Balls wakes up and thinks, 'How can I destroy my opponents?' " says one party figure. This may be unfair, but it was an undoubtedly combative tendency that led Balls, in the word of one minister present, to "savage" Ed Miliband when the latter was expressing opposition to building a third runway at Heathrow in cabinet in 2008.

According to one who knows both men, that was the moment their fragile old friendship ended.

But as in the case of the Miliband brothers, Labour's high command will be hoping that Balls's relations with the brothers will endure beyind this contest, too, for the sake of the party all three men undoubtedly love.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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I dined behind the Houses of Parliament in my sexually connected foursome

My wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple. We did not always check the significance of the date. 

I am self-employed and find that working from home, setting your own schedule, the days generally blur into each other, with weekends holding no significance, and public holidays, when those who are employed in factories, offices or shops get time off, meaning nothing. I am often surprised to go out and find the streets empty of traffic because it is some national day of observance, such as Christmas, that I wasn’t aware of. I find myself puzzled as to why the shops are suddenly full of Easter eggs or pancake batter.

Growing up in a Communist household, we had a distinct dislike for this kind of manufactured marketing opportunity anyway. I remember the time my mother tried to make me feel guilty because I’d done nothing for her on Mother’s Day and I pointed out that it was she who had told me that Mother’s Day was a cynical creation of the greetings card monopolies and the floral industrial complex.

Valentine’s Day is one of those I never see coming. It’s the one day of the year when even the worst restaurants are completely booked out by couples attempting to enjoy a romantic evening. Even those old-fashioned cafés you’ll find still lurking behind railway stations and serving spaghetti with bread and butter will tell you there’s a waiting list if you leave it late to reserve a table.

In the late 1980s my wife and I would sometimes dine out with another couple, he a writer and she a TV producer. One particular place we liked was a restaurant attached to a 1930s block of flats, near the Houses of Parliament, where the endless corridors were lined with blank doors, behind which you sensed awful things happened. The steel dining room dotted with potted palm trees overlooked a swimming pool, and this seemed terribly sophisticated to us even if it meant all your overpriced food had a vague taste of chlorine.

The four of us booked to eat there on 14 February, not realising the significance of the date. We found at every other table there was a single couple, either staring adoringly into each other’s eyes or squabbling.

As we sat down I noticed we were getting strange looks from our fellow diners. Some were sort of knowing, prompting smiles and winks; others seemed more outraged. The staff, too, were either simpering or frosty. After a while we realised what was going on: it was Valentine’s Day! All the other customers had assumed that we were a sexually connected foursome who had decided to celebrate our innovative relationship by having dinner together on this special date.

For the four of us, the smirking attention set up a strange dynamic: after that night it always felt like we were saying something seedy to each other. “Do you want to get together on Sunday?” I’d say to one of them on the phone, and then find myself blushing. “I’ll see if we can fit it in,” they’d reply, and we would both giggle nervously.

Things became increasingly awkward between us, until in the end we stopped seeing them completely. 

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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