As the SNP published its manifesto in Edinburgh, Ed Balls was being interrogated about how Labour would handle the party if it held the balance of power in a hung parliament. Asked about the comments made yesterday by shadow leader of the Commons, Angela Eagle, who said that Labour would “speak to any party with representation” to try and pass a Queen’s Speech, Balls sought to clarify rather than disown her remarks. “If you’re the shadow leader of the House then in your job you talk every day to everybody,” he said, speaking at the launch of Labour’s NHS week in London. “You’re talking, if you’re Angela Eagle, to Tories, you’ll have spent quite a lot of time in the last few months talking to the very small band of Ukip MPs as well.” He latter added: “Of course in parliament it’s the job of the Leader of the House to talk to all parties, that’s what happens. William Hague and Angela Eagle have conversations to make sure that they organise the business of the House week-to-week.”
But Balls drew a firm distinction between these intermittent conversations and the negotiations that the Tories are claiming Labour would have to embark on with the SNP. “Is Labour going to start to form a coalition or to negotiate our Budget or our tax rates or the defence of our country with a party which seeks to break up the United Kingdom? The answer is unequivocally no,” he said. He added: “The only reason you’re asking this question, and the only reason it’s on the agenda, is because David Cameron is desperately flailing around trying to divert attention from his failing election campaign and making allegation after allegation – the reality is you know and I know the SNP want a Tory government and the Tories want the SNP to do well.”
The question is whether, if the SNP held the balance of power, Eagle and others would be forced to speak to them rather more than other parties. But Balls has today drawn a line the sand that Labour would find it hard to retreat from. As thing stands, it appears likely that the party would call the nationalists’ bluff by tabling a left-leaning Queen’s Speech and a Budget and daring them to vote them down.