James Forsyth

Laws and the coalition

Laws and the coalition
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David Laws’ eagerly awaited account of the coalition negotiations contains some great lines. Peter Mandelson’s declaration on being told of the Lib Dem’s desire for a mansions that ‘surely the rich have suffered enough already’ is classic. While William Hague’s description of the Conservative party as an 'an absolute monarchy, moderated by regicide’ is a candidate for the dictionary of quotations.

But politically the thing that struck me about it most was what it tells us about Ed Balls. Balls had worked with Gordon Brown for years and had been one of the most ardent Brownite. Yet it was Balls who effectively pulled the plug on the idea of a Lib Lab pact when Brown was still desperate to try and make it work. As Laws writes:

"Danny asked: 'Can we rely on Labour MPs supporting an AV referendum?'

'That is what is guaranteed in our manifesto,' said Mandelson.

Then Balls intervened: 'The Chief Whip thinks it could be difficult to get the AV referendum through. Many of our colleagues are opposed to it. It cannot be guaranteed.'

It was a deadly intervention and, I felt, a calculated wrecking device. If a hotchpotch deal with Labour and various other parties could not deliver on our policy prospectus, on economic stability or even on the most modest form of electoral reform legislation, what on the earth was the point of it?’" Balls’ willingness to scupper the prospects of a Lib Lab pact at a time when Brown, his long-time boss, was so keen to make it happen demonstrates both Balls’ ruthlessness and his intellectual self confidence.