When Ed Balls is around, there are no shortages of stories. Balls, as is so often the case, has been the talk of Westminster today. First, there was the chatter generated by the FT’s story that members of the shadow Cabinet were irritated that Balls’ proposed VAT cut hadn’t been run past them. Then, there was Alistair Darling strikingly failing to endorse Balls’ VAT cut on the Daily Politics and to round it all off the shadow Chancellor was leading for Labour in its opposition day debate on the economy.
The Tories are convinced that Balls’ relations with his fellow shadow Cabinet members is a weak spot for Labour. Indeed, many of the 13 interventions that Tory MPs made on Balls today were on this point. (The sheer number of Tory interventions on Balls was a further testament to how effective Greg Hands’ backbench Osborne operation is, something that those trying to handicap a future Boris Osborne leadership contest shouldn’t overlook)
There is, undoubtedly, still some tension between Balls and various of his colleagues. One hears tales of, what one might diplomatically call, unhelpful body language in shadow Cabinet meeting. Several members of it won’t forgive Balls his past while at least two fear that he is up to his old tricks again.
But the cleverness of the Tory tactic is that by talking up these divisions, they give the story momentum.