Balls makes his final job application

Digested read: "make me shadow chancellor, Ed".

With David Miliband set to announce his departure from frontline politics, Ed Balls is finally within touching distance of the prize he's craved for weeks: the shadow chancellorship.

A bold, if rather hoarse, Balls (too much karaoke) has just delivered his speech to the Labour conference, the closing passages of which are best described as an extended job application.

He lavished praise on Ed Miliband, something he wasn't keen to do at the New Statesman hustings in June, where the pair repeatedly clashed. After a particularly verbose answer from Balls, Miliband quipped: "It's like being back in the Treasury." To which Balls humourlessly replied: "Tell us the answer then, Ed, like you normally do."

But today he delivered an encomium of praise to Labour's new leader:

Working with him for 16 years in opposition, in the Treasury and in Parliament, I always knew that - for Ed - fairness, opportunity and social justice weren't just slogans, they were his reason for coming to work in the morning - they were his defining purpose. Ed, I've been proud for 16 years to call you a colleague and a friend. And now I'm proud to call you our leader.

To translate: make me shadow chancellor, Ed. The only other figure with the intellect and political nous required to do the job is Balls's wife, Yvette Cooper. But, as my colleague Mehdi Hasan reported, Cooper has already agreed, as she did over the Labour leadership, to give her husband a free run.

And, to Balls's credit, he body-slammed the IMF with the full weight of a Harvard-trained economist:

Two years ago, the Irish government convinced itself they had to slash public services and cut child benefits to get their deficit down as fast as possible and reassure the money markets. The IMF praised the Irish government for its "sense of urgency". And what has happened since? Recession turned to slump, unemployment at a 16-year high, 19 consecutive months of deflation, consumer spending and tax revenues plummeting, and the deficit worse now than when they started.

We can now look forward to a four-year political wrestling match between Balls and George Osborne. As Peter Oborne recently wrote, the contest between the two will define this Parliament. Balls believes that economic recovery is impossible with cuts, Osborne believes that it is impossible without them. Only one of them can be proved right. Which it is may yet determine the result of the next election.

UPDATE: Balls has just confirmed that David Miliband will not serve in the new shadow cabinet. Here's what he told ITV:

I don't think David Miliband is leaving because of reasons of politics or ideology or policy. I don't think this is a political divide, I think this it's a personal decision. He's decided, and it seems he's decided in the last few days if he has, that for personal reasons he doesn't want to serve with his brother. I understand that because it must have been incredibly difficult to have lost to your brother in that way ... If as a brother you've decided that it's too difficult I think people would understand that. I don't think it's fair to find some big political split or divide here. I don't think that it really exists.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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