The Telegraph has an interview with Ed Balls today in which he says he would not run again for leader but would support Yvette, were she to run in the future. Now it is quite, quite clear there is not going to be a leadership contest any time soon. The Party here in Liverpool is pretty united apart from a tiny handful of the usual suspects.
The interview and this declaration is absolutely couched in support for Ed M and his leadership. Balls was asked a direct question – it wasn’t raised by him – but even so, it could easily be read as a challenge or a warning to Ed M. I’m sure to a certain extent, that is there, I’m sure Ed Balls, having given up his own ambitions for leadership, has not given up his wife’s, but I think it is subtler and more clever than that.
I don’t think either Cooper or Balls would challenge Ed M for the leadership. One key reason Balls – despite a bravura performance – couldn’t break the top two in the leadership contest was that he was too closely associated with the plotting and tussling that happened during the transition from Blair to Brown. He was viewed as someone who put loyalty to clique above loyalty to the Party. He and Yvette will be more than aware of this negative in their image, and know that if they are to ever lead, they will need to display loyalty now.
But were the right to start agitating for a leadership contest again, that’s when Balls becomes a key player. By announcing that he wouldn’t run, he not only bolsters Yvette’s chances, but has the absolute opportunity to scupper David M’s chances too. A well timed speech by Balls along the lines of “I’ve run once and I lost by the rules of our contest fair and square” would frankly kill David’s chances of looking like anything other than a sore loser. The right would have to rally round an alternative candidate, who – in all likelihood – would be Scottish a tough place for the wing of the Party most focussed on increasing our appeal with Southern England (essential for winning again, but not the be-all-and-end-all it is sometimes made out to be).
Meanwhile the soft left will coalesce around Cooper, the unions will back her, as will many members who are put out by having another internal contest. Yvette – frankly – would walk it.
Cooper and Balls know that essential to their own success is to be completely loyal. But I’m not convinced the Labour right yet understand what their alternatives really are. Perhaps this interview will help to open their eyes.