James Forsyth

Was this the Straw that broke Jack’s back?

Was this the Straw that broke Jack's back?
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The knives are out for Ed Balls at the moment. Partly this is because, as Michael White points out in The Guardian, he is a proxy for Gordon Brown. But it is also because he’s been empire building with little thought to the feelings of his fellow ministers.

One friend of Coffee House points to evidence that Balls gave to the inaugural meeting of the Children, Schools and Families Committee as a reason why Jack Straw might have felt like punching Balls:

I am jointly accountable to Parliament and this Committee, with Jack Straw, for every aspect of youth justice and youth justice policy, even though most of the budget for youth justice is in either the Ministry of Justice or the Home Office, rather than my own Department.

Q51 Ms Butler: I will come on to some of the details of the Children's Plan, but in terms of the Department, how many functions does the Department for Children, Schools and Families have that the Department for Education and Skills is not performing?

Ed Balls: The truthful answer to that is a large number, but a large number of joint responsibilities. If you take youth justice, for example, we have joint responsibility for the management of the Youth Justice Board, for ministerial oversight of day to day operations, for appointments. Every policy decision is made jointly by myself and Jack Straw or by Beverley Hughes and David Hanson. We now have, located in our Department but led by a senior official from the Ministry of Justice, a 30-plus strong team of officials who jointly, across the two Departments, prepare all advice on Youth Justice issues. That is a set of responsibilities and expertise that the Department did not have in pre-DFES days. You will not see that reflected in our departmental expenditure limit, because our departmental expenditure has a small amount of resources for the prevention of crime. Most of the expenditure is happily in the Home Office or the Ministry of Justice.But Straw is hardly blameless on the sensitivity to colleagues’ front. As Kevin Maguire notes in the New Statesman, Straw has a tendency to stomp all over Jacqui Smith’s turf. Just to add to the sense that the cabinet is in disarray, Iain Martin reports that when he told a cabinet minister that the government seemed to be sticking together, he replied: "Really, is that how it comes across? That's interesting."

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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