This is an article I didn’t expect to be writing.
Ed Balls is not a man known for his particular liking of Liberal Democrats in general and most especially not Nick Clegg. You could generally have assumed that there was not a lot of love lost. In fact “Ed Balls’ prawn cocktail charm offensive” is a fairly standard Clegg bingo drinking game item. Both had insinuated that the other would not be welcome in any future coalition cabinet.
But strange things have been happening over the past wee while.
During the Call Clegg Christmas Special, Nick was asked how he persuaded people. He said that he generally liked to use humour and not to attack people, just argue about ideas. He said he’d make an exception to that for Ed Balls, though.
Then, a few days later, sources close to the leader briefed the Independent that Ed Balls might get to go to a Labour/Lib Dem Coalition ball after all.
And now Ed Balls has told the New Statesman that he sees no reason to doubt Nick Clegg’s integrity, that he wouldn’t rule out working with him in a Liberal Democrat/Labour coalition and that the two of them had a nice wee chat in the Commons.
I had a friendly chat with him a couple of hours ago in the House of Commons,” he reveals. “I’m not saying where, but the kind of place people pass in the House of Commons. We had a nice chat about how things were going. I think it was the first time I’d had a conversation with him for a really long time . . . I can say, with my hand on heart, the only conversation I’ve had with Nick Clegg in the last 18 months was very friendly and warm. I may disagree with some of the things he has supported but I have no reason to say anything nasty about him as a person.”
Even more strikingly, he adds: “I understand totally why Nick Clegg made the decision that he made to go into coalition with the Conservatives at the time. I may not have liked it at the time, but I understood it. I also understood totally his decision to support a credible deficit reduction plan, because it was necessary in 2010. I think the decision to accelerate deficit reduction, compared to the plans they inherited – which was clearly not what Vince Cable wanted – I think that was a mistake . . . I can disagree with Nick Clegg on some of the things he did but I’ve no reason to doubt his integrity.”
Would Balls be prepared to enter coalition with Clegg? “I think what you always have to do is deal with politics as you find it . . . I saw that subsequently he made a further statement to one of the newspapers that these things weren’t about personalities, and I think he’s right about that.
And as soon as that came out, we’ve had some Twitter banter from the pair of them.
— Nick Clegg (@nick_clegg) January 8, 2014
I agree with Nick… RT @nick_clegg: Ed Balls
— Ed Balls (@edballsmp) January 8, 2014
Maybe it’s time to think the unthinkable, that the Shadow Chancellor has in fact been abducted by aliens and replaced with a duplicate. Well, with Malcolm Tucker in the TARDIS, I guess anything’s possible.
I’m certainly not going to complain about a couple of politicians having a bit of fun. It’s much better than them being cantankerous and curmudgeonly. It’s amusing, but I wouldn’t be either trusting the Labour Party or making any assumptions about any future coalitions just yet.
What’s next, though? NickEd, the Musical? Coming to a Glee Club near you…
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings