Day finally dawns for Balls

Posted on January 20, 2011

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Ed Balls has had to wait a long time to be given Labour’s economic brief. At points during Gordon Brown’s premiership, it looked as if Brown would turn to his old friend to replace Alistair Darling as Chancellor. In the end, Brown was too weak to force through such a move. After a good showing during the leadership campaign, he might reasonably have expected to be appointed to the Shadow Chancellor position by new leader Ed Miliband. In the end, Miliband plumped Alan Johnson, an ally of his. Now, in the wake of Johnson’s resignation, Balls finally has the brief he has coveted for so long.

Johnson’s initial appointment had raised a few eyebrows, and nothing he sudsequently did in the role did anything to assuage those initial doubts. It is widely believed that Miliband wanted a close ally in the important role, hence Johnson’s appointment in spite of little economic expertise. The most recent gaffe involved the former postman admitting that he did not know the UK’s national insurance tax rate, but shakiness had been evident before that. Leader and shadow chancellor disagreed over plans for a graduate tax. It seemed only a matter of time before Johnson bowed under pressure and departed. But that it has happened so abruptly, and in so-called “personal” circumstances, will be a shock to many.

The most concerned man in the country may now be George Osborne, the Chancellor. Surely a relieved man when Miliband chose Johnson over Balls, he hasn’t been so lucky three-and-a-half months later. Miliband has been given a chance to rectify a mistake. Sidelining Labour’s most effective attack-dog with the home affairs brief, when the key issues concerning this parliament are economic ones, was an error. In opposition, Balls is a genuine asset to Miliband, capable of hounding the Tories from all angles. And he has real economic abilities to boot. George Osborne’s easy ride may now be over.

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Posted in: Politics