Balls’ career prospects roll on rocky ground

1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA
1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA
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How are the mighty fallen! Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, was until last week hailed as the ‘Big Beast’ of Labour’s front bench, more daunting and politically robust than Ed Miliband himself.

Now, in the wake of an appalling performance in the Commons in response to Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, Balls is suddenly looking like yesterday’s man. He compounded the “offence” by blaming his inadequacies on the stammer from which he once suffered.

I have long been under the impression that Miliband had been in some dread of Balls, whose overweening political ambition the Labour leader may have seen as a threat to his own position.

No longer.

Immediately after the 2010 general election and Miliband’s election as Labour leader, Balls was the obvious choice for shadow chancellor.

But Miliband, perhaps because he feared Balls’s political acumen, chose Alan Johnson, an amiable character, but totally unsuited to this post.

When Johnson had to pull out, Miliband had no option but to pick Balls for the job.

Balls is now bereft of his role as the roaring bull of the opposition front bench. The man Miliband probably regarded as his most serious challenger now appears to be a back number.

So will Miliband keep Balls in his job? He may wish to revert to former chancellor Alistair Darling, who is no political street-fighter but has a safe pair of hands, a cool head, and is capable of making deadly political points without raising the roof.

It is too early to say that Balls’s political future is behind him, but the road ahead looks stony and full of potholes.

You have to marvel that Lord Justice Leveson can produce a report on media ethics that is almost 2,000 pages long, and barely mention the internet. He also said, at the end of his so-called press conference in London, that he would be saying no more about the matter. Yet he zoomed off to Australia and raised the subject in two speeches there.

In one of those addresses he said it would take time to “civilise” the internet, adding: “The internet does not itself trade in gossip.

It simply publishes it online, conveys it on Facebook uploads in on to YouTube tweets and retweets it.”

Profound comments!

He also said: “The established media broadly conforms to the law and when they do not, they are potentially liable under the law.”

Well, we all knew that.

And if Lord Justice Leveson now admits that is the case, then what is the point of the legal underpinning of regulations on the press on which his report appears to be based?

Some of his thinking does not seem to add up...