James Forsyth

How close we came to Chancellor Balls

How close we came to Chancellor Balls
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Sue Cameron’s Notebook in the FT is one of the best guides there is to the mood in Whitehall. The main focus of her column today is the discontent among the Mandarins about the fact that huge cuts will have to be made but they are getting no guidance from their current ministers as to where and how this is to be done.

But the bit which stood out to me was how advanced Ed Balls plans for moving to the Treasury were. Cameron reports that:

"Some in Whitehall have still not recovered from the reshuffle drama when schools secretary Ed Balls had his hopes of becoming chancellor dashed. 'It was Shakespearean,' says one onlooker. 'Ed had his finger on the crown. He’d even cleared his diary and said goodbye to his civil servants. He knew he was moving – then he didn’t.'"

The more that comes out about the reshuffle, the more clear it becomes that Brown—whatever he says—did intend to move Darling. It was James Purnell’s resignation that stopped him from doing that.

Making Balls Chancellor might have been the act that sparked off a broader Cabinet rebellion. So, ironically, Purnell might have unintentionally saved Brown from himself.

Update: Ed Balls' SPAD is in touch with an emphatic denial of Sue Cameron's story. He says that Balls' diary was never cleared and that he never said goodbye to his civil servants.