James Forsyth

The Balls deterrent

The Balls deterrent
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There have been many interviews with Peter Mandelson this week, but I don’t think any of them have got as much out of him as Patrick Wintour has in today’s Guardian:

‘For he is quite clear in the interview that Labour would be probably be in power now if it had been possible for Brown to be replaced by a consensual alternative.

"If you really force me, I think probably it would make a 20 to 30 seat difference to the result. They would have gone to 280 and we would have gone up to 270. They probably would have been the largest party, but not by a decisive margin."

Asked why, then, he tolerated Brown's continuation in office he says: "I felt a sense of personal loyalty. I felt a real bond between us and I was not going to be shaken on that.

"But it was also my guess that if Gordon stepped down and people got behind David Miliband, Ed Balls would have entered the contest, and before you knew where you were there would have been an ugly fight, not just between two people perceived to represent new and old Labour, which was the last thing we want."

But he would not have stopped the attempted coup in January this year if the three or four cabinet ministers involved had gone through with it.’

Mandelson’s comments show how effective the Balls’ deterrent was for Brownites. As soon as Balls made it clear he would force a contest that would be bloody and divisive if Brown was forced out, Brown staying became the safer option even though most of the Cabinet seemed to realise that he was leading Labour to defeat.