David Maddox: Ed Balls still plays the pretender but hopes for leadership will have to wait
IT IS generally accepted in the lobby that the more a party says something isn’t happening, the more you realise it is, and the more political rivals express their undying love for one another, the more you realise they are just waiting for the chance to plunge the knife.
With this in mind, shadow chancellor Ed Balls gave what can only be described as the alternative leader’s speech yesterday.
Anyone who thought that he has given up on his ambitions to lead Labour and maybe let his wife Yvette Cooper have a go, should Ed Miliband fall, is greatly mistaken.
His slot at the conference speech was supposed to be on his brief and the economic strategy, yet it took Balls about 15 minutes before he even raised the subject. Instead, he did what we would expect of a leader: praised Manchester, talked about the Olympics, talked about anything but the economy.
Rather ironically for a man who won’t stand aside for his wife, he also complained about David Cameron’s treatment of women politicians.
There had been reports that he and Ed Miliband had fallen out, and Mr Balls and his wife had organised a lasagne party at their house for potential rebels.
There has been a stream of counter briefing against the story, so was it really true?
Mr Balls tried to lay the ghost to rest: “Let us pay tribute to my friend, our leader, Britain’s next prime minister, Ed Miliband.” Like the football club chairman’s vote of confidence in a manager, the term “my friend” had a terminal ring, but not yet.
Two years on from a leadership contest that ended in the fratricide of David Miliband, Ed Miliband looks safer at a conference than he has ever done. The party is well ahead in the polls and there is a happy feel to the conference.
The muttering about his leadership is quieter than the last two years, but not gone. And yesterday was the day for the pretenders. Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, looked rather dull and managerial just one day on from admitting he has leadership ambitions.
Earlier, last year’s star, shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy, showed he has lost none of his evangelical passion, but was relegated to a short slot at the start of the day to address a half-empty hall.
Then there was shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, the fixer and policy wonk, and the only man endorsed by Tony Blair as a future leader. He took off his jacket and tried to lift the audience with a performance that would not have been out of place in his father’s Presbyterian church.
But the feeling is that the leadership issue has been laid to rest until after the election in 2015, which means today Ed Miliband can for the first time at a conference try to go beyond being just an opposition leader and present himself as a prime minister in waiting. But with friends like Ed Balls around, he will know there is no shortage of people with the ambition to take his place.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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