How the Balls-Miliband emails really leaked

Miliband's adviser Torsten Bell accidentally copied in Conservative MP James Morris, rather than the Labour pollster of the same name.

As I noted in my earlier blog, the most worrying thing for Labour about the email by Miliband adviser Torsten Bell describing Ed Balls as a "nightmare" is that it was leaked at all (to the Mail on Sunday). If one or both sides have decided to go public with their disagreements, it doesn't bode well for party unity.

But I'm now told by a Labour source that the leak was an "unfortunate cock-up, rather than conspiracy". In his email on Balls's response to the Bank of England's upgraded growth forecasts, Bell intended to copy in Labour pollster James Morris but accidentally copied in Conservative MP James Morris instead (an episode worthy of The Thick Of It), who saw it fit to pass on the exchange to the Mail on Sunday's political editor Simon Walters. Fortunately for Miliband, this wasn't a red-on-red attack.

That's not to downplay the tensions between the Labour leader and Balls, but a deliberate email leak, reminiscent of the worst days of the Blair-Brown feud, would have marked a new level of hostility.

Ed Miliband and Ed Balls at the Labour conference in Brighton in September. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.