Balls and Miliband respond

Shadow chancellor rejects claims that he "plotted" to oust Blair.

Keynes's rottweiler has come out fighting. In response to today's Telegraph splash, Ed Balls has rejected claims that the documents unearthed by the paper prove that he was "plotting" to oust Tony Blair.

He said:

The idea that these documents show there was a plot or an attempt to remove Tony Blair is just not true. It's not justified either by the documents themselves or by what was actually happening at the time. The fact is, after 2004, and then on, there was a discussion between Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and others, including myself, about how we managed that stable and orderly transition ... There is nothing here to justify the claim of a plot and, therefore, for me, that's obviously a bit frustrating today.

But there's a wider point here, I think Labour Party members and people in the country will look at this and say: why was it the case that there were these formal talks, why were there these discussions? The reality was Gordon Brown and Tony Blair had achieved great things together but by this period it was hard, the relationship was under stress, there was a lot of pressure, there were difficulties, there were arguments. I think people will look back and say that it could have been done better. I agree with that and there's a lesson here for us a party because we've got to make sure that at a time when jobs are under pressure, when the coalition is making mistakes, we as a Labour Party are united. That's what I'm determined to show.

Ed Miliband has also responded. The Labour leader tweeted: "Did round of i'views in my constituency. On Telegraph story, I told them- Blair/Brown era is over. Labour & country looking to future."

So far, the absence of a killer revelation means that the story has failed to excite the public. One wonders if, as in the case of expenses scandal, the Telegraph is saving the best till last.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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