Mike Smithson reports than a senior Lib Dem thinks Ed Balls would be an ideal opponent for Liam Fox, the man to exploit the coalition’s most obvious weakness. It’s a salivating prospect for the independent observer – confrontation between two skilled and principled communicators – and if anyone can damage a Conservative-led government on defence it is Balls.
But there’s the rub. In their ideal worlds, Balls and Fox don’t differ on the broad principles of defence policy. Balls’ call for the independent nuclear deterrent’s renewal and the defence of Labour’s interventions were a feature of his hustings, as was protecting essential public services – and, in the mindset of opposition, they don’t come more essential than the armed forces in a time of war. Assuming Fox and Osborne reach a compromise, the Defence Secretary can deflect suggestions that he ‘copped-out’ by pointing at Labour’s terrible record on defence in government and their decision to delay a strategic defence review. Not even Balls, Brown’s anointed heir, could destroy that legacy.
A more likely scenario, perhaps (if rumour becomes fact), is Balls shadowing Theresa May, grilling her on a weekly basis about crime and immigration from the perspective that the working classes are the victims of loose law and order policy and mass immigration. That is a threat to the coalition, but, of course, he wants to be shadow chancellor.