Fraser Nelson

A load of Balls

A load of Balls
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Let's rewind back to this morning, and Ed Balls' appearance on the Today progamme.  It was such a classic demonstration of distortion and buck-passing, that we've decided to give it a fisk, Coffee House style.  Here's the transcript, with our thoughts added in italics:

James Naughtie: Talking about bad behaviour, there’s been a bit of it going on in government, hasn’t there?

Ed Balls: Well, I’ve, um, seen the reports in the Sunday Times on Sunday and I think those emails were vile, horrible, despicable. I think there’s no place in politics for that kind of stuff. I think it’s awful.

Fraser Nelson: Balls is shocked, shocked to find it going on.

JN: You must feel this quite, er, personally. You had a very close working relationship with Damian McBride, both in the Treasury and subsequently, didn’t you? I mean, you knew him very well.

EB: I worked with him in the Treasury and, um, I obviously worked with, um, all the people in Downing Street as we all did as Cabinet Ministers. Um, I can’t explain or excuse this...

FN: Balls, McBride, Michael Ellam, Sue Nye, Ian Austin and Ed Miliband are the six remaining members of the 'Octet' outlined by The Spectator in Sep06. Brown is defined by his inner circle. Balls knows them all intimately, has done for years.

James Forsyth: I love the idea that Balls, the man who chairs the Wednesday meeting, has just the same kind of relationship with Downing Street and the Brownites as any other Cabinet minister.

JN [interrupting]: ‘Cos you were close, um, I mean, two things, you were close to him, you were a close colleague of his in the Treasury. You also know as a minister, don’t you, what the code of conduct says, for Special Advisors?

EB: The reason why he resigned on Saturday – because that conduct was inexcusable. And there’s no place in politics for it. Um, I also think that it was awful that those emails were published. I don’t know how they came into the public domain – the fact that they were published and smeared across the newspapers is also awful. But, you know, Damian’s behaviour was unacceptable.

FN: Note how Balls immediately tries to shift blame on to the newspapers that alerted the public to what McBride was up to. Of course he's close to McBride - he's now following the McBride exculpatory line.

JGF: Note how he never gives the actual reason he resigned. Does anyone think that McBride would have resigned if the emails had become known about in Downing Street but not leaked?

JN: That’s another question, of course, because there is no evidence that he thought he would have been in trouble if he hadn’t leaked into the public domain. That’s really the point.

EB: Well, look, there was no excuse for this. I mean, er, there have been statements that have been made saying they were never intended to be published. I don’t care: the fact that you write these things down on emails and send them around is unacceptable behaviour and I think, to be honest, Jim, all of us in politics in the Labour Party, in all political parties need to look in on ourselves look – and this is for every political leader - at the people we employ, the activities they’re undertaking, the things that they are doing and we all need to work to raise standards and sort this out. This isn’t just for one political party, this is for all political parties.

FN: Translated: Look, Jim, which side are you on, eh? Why are we taking all this mess when the Tories have hired the ex-editor of the News of the Bloody World! Go rake some muck over there for a change. So when I say "all parties need to look" I want to insinuate that the Tories were at it as well. I want to get this message across to your listeners.

JGF: This is classic, he wants to turn this from a Labour smears to a politicians smears story.

JN: You said a moment ago that you obviously knew what the code of conduct was. It says, among other things, for Special Advisors that they should avoid personal attacks and must observe discretion. When you were working with Damian McBride, did you believe that he was avoiding personal attacks and observing discretion?

EB: I did. As far as I ever saw – but to be honest, um, I worked with Damian McBride when he was a Treasury Head of Media and then Special Advisor, and I think he was generally thought at the time to do a very good job on the economic matters. I don’t, um, know and haven’t been involved in his, um, political work.

FN: So you haven't chaired those Wednesday meetings then? Didn't have a beer with Damian? Talk about wider startegy with him? Go in on the many early morning conference calls with him? End up in a Karaoke bar with him? None of that, eh? Prepared to show us your mobile bills, to see how often McBride's number comes up?

JGF: But has McBride been involved in your political work Ed? That’s what people keep saying.

EB: But I mean that, you know, as you know, Jim [JN: Come on, come on…], as you know [JN: look…] and you wrote a book about these things, it’s very easy to find people after the fact who can find an accusation and then find somebody to blame. [JN: Well…] But, I mean, you know, I’m not going to lay blame for past, er, misdemeanours. In this particular case, there was a terrible misdemeanour and people have paid for that with their careers.

JN: Well, Alan Milburn, er, former Cabinet colleague, er, of yours who’s, sort of, back in favour now, um. He says it’s morally unacceptable, [EB: I see] what’s been going on and he said this and, just let me quote [EB: I said the same with Roger] yeah, absolutely. No, you said it a moment ago but, he, Alan Milburn said this: what he’s now clear is that for years it has been members of the Labour Party who have been on the end of vicious briefing campaigns. Were you entirely unaware of that?

EB: Look, as I said, we all have to look in upon ourselves. I, myself, and Yvette, my wife, we’ve been on the end of, um, campaigns which have ended up with Conservative spokesmen making complaints

FN: Ohhh, priceless. Damian was smearing Tories and their wives, so Balls now claims he's had the same treatment. Difference being that Mrs Balls is - how you say - a Cabinet member...

EB... which proved to be unfounded to the Permanent Secretary, but which started with smears on the Guido Fawkes website and if you look at the kind of comments and the kind of comments made by people on those websites: it’s homophobic, it’s misogynist, it’s deeply sexual and awful and I would never want my children to see the things which have been written about us, so this has been going on for a few years, across parties...

FN: Again, the Balls smear: he seeks to conflate the Tories with sites like Guido. If the Tories wanted to, they could not run anything half as effective as Guido or ConHome.

JGF: Also what would you call the emails apart from misogynist and homophobic? What does that say about the Downing Street culture?

EB...and it’s not good and we’ve all got responsibility to clean this up [JN: Well… yeah…] and I completely agree.

FN: No, Balls, no. The Conservative Party do not have a responsibility to "clean up" websites they have nothing to do with. See the return of his central smear: that the Tories are somehow behind the comments left on Guido's site.

JN: Well, if it’s been going on for a few years and if Mr. McBride was subject to that code of conduct, which, as I say, says ‘avoid personal attacks and observe discretion’, aren’t you, not alone, but aren’t you guilty of having turned a blind eye to what was going on; ff you say it’s now got to stop and it has been going on for years?

EB: The first time that we knew about these emails was Friday afternoon and Damian resigned [JN: the emails…] and rightly so.

JN: ...The emails, certainly, but what about the style?

EB: Well, as I said, I’ll accept, erm, those comments about, erm, the particular style applying to any individual or to Downing Street in particular. I think there is a wider issue for our politics, look, you know, I’m talking today about cracking down on bullying in schools.

FN: And what about bullying in the trade unions? Your mate Charlie Whelan was formally accused of doing that at Unite, where he's political director. Perhaps he could come round to some schools and give a lecture on it... EB...but look at the House of Commons in which politics, to be honest, has become more personalised, erm, and more, erm, aggressive. You know, er, I don’t think it sets a good example. [JN: OK…] But in terms of finding particular people, in a particular part of politics and saying they’re the ones who’ve been doing the personal briefings [JN: Well…] as opposed to people who work for David Cameron or used to work for Tony Blair – come on Jim, you know how naïve that is [JN: Well…] We’ve all got a responsibility to sort this out [JN: Absolutely, but…]

FN: Absolutely? Why on earth is Naughtie accepting Balls' bogus point? The Tories have no responsibility to "clean up" internet sites that hate politcians. The only "responsibility" politicians have is to uphold freedom of speech.

EB: And I don’t accept at all, the, the idea that it was for, you know, in some parts of politics and not in all.

JN: But you make the comparison with schools, you’re talking about head teachers. Now the emails, no-one’s suggesting that the Prime Minister knew about them, er, I haven’t heard anyone suggest that. But [EB: no, but hurr…] what [EB: the Prime Minister didn’t know about them] absolutely not. Well exactly. Nobody was suggesting that [EB: good.] Erm, what people are saying, very widely, in your party and outside it, is that they are the product of a culture. A way of doing things, maybe a knowledge that you go for your enemies with all guns blazing. Um, as someone put it yesterday: “You play the man, not the ball.” And aren’t people entitled to conclude that that’s been encouraged from the top?

EB: No, and I don’t think that’s, erm, true at all.

FN: Does he seriously expect us to believe that  Brown, who plucked Damian from the obscurity of the VAT division of the Treasury and trained him, didn't know the tactics he used?

JGF: I was tying my tie while listening to the interview this morning and, at this point, I doubled up with laughter. Where did Balls think those stories in the paper came from? Did he think it was coincidence that every potential rival to Gordon ended up being destroyed in the same way?

EB...What I said was “all leaders have got the responsibility to look at the people they employ and the tactics that they, erm, employ. Um, I’ve spoken to Gordon Brown about this a few times, quite a few times about this in the last few days. He is furious about these emails...

FN: Furious they were intercepted.

JGF: Note how this rather undercuts the point Balls made at the top of the interview about having the same kind of relationship with Downing Street.

EB... He’s appalled by, um, some of the things which have been said. You know, he has been somebody who, you know, believes in ideas...

FN: Idea one: G Brown Esq should be in No10. Idea two.... erm....

JGF: Oh come on Fraser, idea number two is that the ends justify the means.

EB... wants to pursue the best thing for our country is, er, er, er is worried about what’s happening in the economy and frustrated that the Conservatives who on Saturday said that the, em, failure in Downing Street was to worry about personal attacks rather than the economy [JN: yeh]. They’ve been talking about this for days. But, look, you know, it’s terrible what’s happened. It’s got to be sorted out. What he wants to do is to get back to the big issues which matter to people in our country...

FN: Ah, those big issues. The ones he cancelled the Oct07 election for, so he could explain them to us. I wondered when we'd get to hear them...

JGF: This is Labour’s latest spin, we want to talk about serious issues and the Tories want to talk about this. Well, I think a smear operation being run out of Downing Street is pretty serious. And, second, if you’re so into serious politics why were your friends trying to set up a site to disseminate filth?

EB...The economy, jobs, discipline, the future of public services and one other thing, Jim: it’s been said in the last two or three days that partly this culture is about what is called “dividing lines”. The idea that Gordon Brown is at fault because he likes to find differences between the Conservatives and the Labour party...

FN: No, at fault because - as Milburn says - his henchmen have identified and taken out some of the most able men in Labour Party. This is the great irony behind McBride: he is a partisan in a Labour civil war, not a political party battle. Balls returns to main exculpatory line: that McBride was a creature of an agreessive Labour v Tory world.

EB...the fact is, Jim, there are very big differences in values, in policy, in their view of the future of the country. And I make no apology for saying that I will seek at every point to point out the differences between the parties and the risks to our country of allowing the Conservatives to take control of education policy...

FN... The people Balls wants to stop controlling education are the parents: they would be empowerd by the Tory plans. But that's another issue.

JGF: I love the idea that the Tories are the risk compared to a government that have managed to leave Britain so indebted that Cabinet ministers are trying to reassure us that there is nothing wrong with going to the IMF.

EB: That’s not about, um, a bad culture that’s about proper good, honest, open values-based politics; and that’s what we should be getting back to.

JN: Ed Balls, thank you.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

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