George Osborne and Ed Balls attend the State Opening of Parliament on May 8, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Tories promote MP who ordered Osborne to apologise to Balls

New Economic Secretary Andrea Leadsom said during the 2012 Libor row: "Obviously he made a mistake and I think he should apologise to him."

Andrea Leadsom's appointment as Economic Secretary to the Treasury marks her return from political Siberia. The MP for South Northamptonshire, one of the most highly-rated of the 2010 intake, has been shunned ever since she called on George Osborne to apologise to Ed Balls for falsely accusing him of involvement in the Libor-fixing scandal. She was overlooked for promotion in last year's ministerial reshuffle and failed to make the banking inquiry panel, despite her experience at Barclays, where she was financial institutions director from 1993 to 1997.

In July 2012, at the height of the furious struggle between Osborne and Balls over Libor, she said:

Obviously he made a mistake and I think he should apologise to him.

I think it was a very valid discussion at the time about who knew what and it has now been completely squashed by Paul Tucker.

In inviting Leadsom to join his Treasury team, Osborne has shown his magnanimous side. But don't expect Balls to get that apology.

Update: It's also worth recalling the story that Leadsom told Osborne to "fuck off" when he urged her to vote against an in/out EU referendum in 2011 (yes, a lot has changed since then). When asked about the report, she replied: "We had a very polite conversation. We agreed to differ. I wouldn't speak to any colleague in the way I was reported as speaking to him."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.