Peter Hoskin

Labour needs a Byrne rather than a Balls

Labour needs a Byrne rather than a Balls
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And Westminster's Idle Question of the Day is: will Ed Balls be made shadow chancellor under a Miliband leadership? There are good arguments both for and against the proposition – and most of them are made in this blog post by the Guardian's Nicholas Watt. Even Blairites, he says, are warming to the idea of Balls running Labour's economic policy. But if it's to happen under David Miliband, then the two men would have to reconcile their different views on tackling the deficit. Under Ed Miliband, the reconciliation would have to be more personal than economic. Neither, I suppose, is impossible.

But as all this speculation whirls around Balls, I do wonder why Liam Byrne's name hasn't been mentioned more often in connection with the role. Put aside his two infamous memos (here and here), and the former chief secretary to the Treasury is more suited to these straitened times than many of his colleagues. He did what, by many accounts, was a diligent job in identifying cuts before the election. And, unlike the government in which he served, he was quite upfront about the process. A few months ago, I even speculated whether he might stand as a "cuts candidate" in the leadership election. Now, his views on the public finances might mesh quite easily with those of the elder Miliband brother.

There is, as always, a snag: Byrne is said to be lobbying for the shadow business job. Perhaps that explains why his name has rather faded from view. But either Miliband might still want to push him towards the shadow chancellorship. After Ed Balls' combative but wrongheaded speech last week, there is now an even greater premium on fiscal sanity – for Labour and for the rest of us.

UPDATE: The FT's Jim Pickard has more on the Balls for shadow chancellor story here – his main observation being that supporters of David Miliband aren't keen on the idea. The New Statesman's George Eaton also weighs in here.