What’s with the Nick Clegg/Ed Balls love-in?

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.



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 Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Hannah Bettsworth 8th Jan '14 - 7:15pm

    Ed Balls

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 8th Jan '14 - 7:37pm

    I think Nick is getting more popular as people get to know him. He certainly is very popular among that section of the population who are willing to consider voting for us, even in Scotland.

  • Natalie Jester 8th Jan '14 - 9:06pm

    Ed Balls.

  • Max Wilkinson 8th Jan '14 - 9:14pm

    Ed Balls

  • In earlier discussion I pointed out the need for us to disengage from the coalition well in advance of the General Election. The reason I believe this is vitally important is so that if need be we do go into coalition with Labour. We could be accused of being political prostitutes if we jumped out of bed with the Conservatives on election day and straight into bed with Labour.

    I suggested a period of 6 months, another member suggested 3 months. We can discuss what the optimum would be, but it should certainly be a number of months rather than weeks.

    I do feel somewhat vindicated, the events of today indicate that we should be able to get on well with Labour. After all, the SDP was an offspring of Labour. The Labour party of today is very different, and it would be unlikely that a splinter of SDP type would happen at the current time.

    The Social Democratic aspect of our party would certainly feel ‘spiritually’ at home in a Labour coalition. There is no hiding the fact that the relationship with the Tories is more than a little strained.

  • @Simon Shaw

    You are a conundrum sometimes.

    I recall you saying in the past that your preference for the next election would be a Labour Majority government or minority government
    I thought Liberal Democrats were all about plural politics, hence the reason the party has argued for electoral reform, AV, STV etc. etc.

    It seems as though you would rather the Liberal Democrats be a party of permanent opposition though if they were unable to command a majority government on their own.

    You do seem very alone with your idea’s. I can not recall ever seeing any other member of the party sharing a similar view. I may be wrong?

  • Simon is no conundrum; he prefers a long-term LD-Conservative partnership, in or out of government, because his political sympathies are on the right end of the Lib Dem spectrum. Political calculations have little to do with it. Conversely, those who look forward to a Lib Dem-Labour partnership are a bit more toward the left end of the spectrum, and in the middle are those who would rather see the Lib Dems shed their ties to either party and rebuild themselves in opposition to both. But the complicating issue is that it’s now been sixteen years since the Lib Dems have stood up in opposition to a Tory government, and if that is not remedied prior to the election, it’s hard to maintain a neutral position that doesn’t give the impression of being pro-Tory in fact if not in sentiment.

  • Simon Shaw’s concerns are relevant if the party fails to put forward a distinctive political identity. This is particularly a problem if the party becomes a predominantly centrist (rather than a Liberal) party. There are much greater dangers in refusing to entertain a coalition with Labour or Conservatives, as this would negate reasons for voting for anything other than the two other parties.

    The formulation that it is the voting system that decides, with voters voting for MPs whose responsibility is to form a government is correct. A further corollary is that a minority government is also a possibility; the idea that no overall control definitively obliges lib Dems to participate in a coalition come what may cannot apply either. Clearly a minority Labour or Conservative government could attempt to govern by forming different alliances for different policies, but the temptation for the groups to renege at the last minute might prove irresistible, however unless this is an option a ‘negotiation’ could end up as simply the larger party dictating terms.

    Whatever the nuances of Simon Shaw’s political inclinations, I do think he is right to be wary of the implications of an election that produces no overall control but in which Lib Dems have significantly lost votes and seats, as this would weaken our position and ability to negotiate. In the past Simon has discussed what out come of an election would be better for Lib Dems in party political terms: he ahs (I think) suggested that a Labour majority would be better for the fortunes of Lib Dem support. In those terms, it is clear to me that Lib Dem support would recover more quickly n the event of a Conservative majority. Perhaps he did not consider this as he saw it as unlikely, but in any event this is a different (though related) question to what would be better in terms of achieving the implementation of Liberal Democrat policies.

  • Paul Pettinger 9th Jan '14 - 12:49am

    Caron – what is your evidence? The last LDV survey found 37% of members were disappointed in Nick Clegg as Leader, by definition a group of very politically engaged people well disposed towards the Party.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 9th Jan '14 - 8:03am

    Paul, this party has never given its readers an easy ride – and nor should it. Nick was +12 in our survey which is confined to members alone. People working on the ground in our held seats will often tell you that Nick is more of an electoral asset than we think. Those are the people we need to vote for us.

  • Ed Balls is the kind of person who never even blew his nose without a strategy behind it. This sounds very much like “‘Will you walk into my parlour?’ said the spider to the fly”.Given Balls’s utter insincerity as regards the economy and lack of willingness to negotiate as part of the two Eds duo in May 2010, I would take this one with a huge bag full of salt, not just a pinch.

    Maybe he thinks the Lib Dem seat numbers will hold up more than current polling suggests. But I don’t think there is any new polling evidence out there that could prompt a shift like this.

  • David Evans 9th Jan '14 - 9:29am

    @ Caron – Unfortunately it’s all the people who have decided not to vote for us because they dislike Nick and his broken promises that is the problem, not the few who are left who think he’s a nice chap.

  • @David Evans

    “Unfortunately it’s all the people who have decided not to vote for us because they dislike Nick and his broken promises that is the problem”

    Apart from the policy on tuition fees, which was impossible to deliver due to lack of MPs and money, what would those be, exactly?

    Sadly you seem to have fallen for some ill-informed Labour narrative about Nick Clegg. In fact, under the circumstances, Nick Clegg has kept a remarkably large number of his promises.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Jan '14 - 11:54am

    Joe King

    We could be accused of being political prostitutes if we jumped out of bed with the Conservatives on election day and straight into bed with Labour.

    That’s why we should have from the start of the coalition, and should be doing now, have done all we can to reject the “jump into bed” analogy. We should have said from the START this is not a “love in”, this is not a “marriage”, it is not any sort of agreement based on mutual attraction, it is a simple reflection of how the people voted and how the electoral system they endorsed by two to one a year later distorts that vote in terms of representation. As most Labour and Conservative politicians who said anything in the AV referendum said, they like our electoral system because they like the way it distorts representation in favour of whichever party got the most votes so that party can form a clear government, the distortion of 2010 didn’t quite do that, but it did it enough to make a Tory-dominated government the only workable option, our agreement to the coalition was just an acceptance of that fact.

    My view is that the distortions of FPTP mean a no-majority Parliament isn’t that likely a possibility after the next election. I don’t see any particular reason why, as it took ten general elections between the last no-majority Parliament and the next, despite that last no-majority Parliament having initiated the third party revival that kept Britain a two-and-a-half party system ever since, it should not be another ten or so elections before the next one. If it is a no-majority Parliament, the likely number of Liberal Democrat MPs and others means the probability is that as in 2010 it will be a Parliament where a coalition of LibDems with one of Labour or the Conservatives is viable, and with the other is not. I don’t suppose Ed Balls is incapable of seeing that, therefore it makes sense to prepare the grounds for the possibility that a Labour-LibDem coalition is the only government that would get a majority, apart from a “grand coalition”.

    The belief that the Conservative-LibDem coalition was formed out of the two parties finding each other attractive, and so “jumping into bed” has ENORMOUSLY damaged our party. Our leadership should have slapped down anyone who used it, steered clear of any language or imagery which might have encouraged that way of thinking, gone out of the way to say the coalition is a business arrangement, it’s a reflection of how the people voted, it’s what YOU people of the UK said YOU wanted when you voted in 2010 and in the referendum in 2011 – when in both cases we wanted something else but were on the losing side. To what extent the fact that this wasn’t done is due to lack of competence and to what extent it is down to that tiny fringe element of our party which wants “liberalism” to be changed to mean “extreme free market economics (and thanks Big Business for the cash you give us for pushing it that way)” is open to question. I don’t know enough about what happens at the top to be sure, though I tend to prefer cock-up to conspiracy as explanations for most things unless there’s really clear evidence the other way. Even so, it’s going deeper into conspiracy theory to suggest the intention of the right-wing fringe was to destroy the Liberal Democrats, so if they are in control, they can perhaps see what I suggest is the pragmatic line to keep enough of the party they’ve taken over alive to have made it worth taking it over.

    So let’s drop all this emotive language, moving the analogy forward to it being “prostitution” if circumstances dictate a different coalition next time round. The line we had at the last general election “if coalition is necessary, then we will try it first with whichever is the bigger of the two other parties” works, it’s sensible, it throws the blame for whatever happens back on the British people, it gets us off that hook we should never have allowed ourselves to be impaled on of being blamed for US having chosen what happened. The main line should be “If you want Liberal Democrat policies, the only way you can be sure to get them is to vote Liberal Democrat”. To the attack “Wah, I voted LibDem last time, and got this rotten Coalition”, the answer is “Thanks for your vote, but sad to say 50% more people voted Conservative than Liberal Democrat, and the electoral system which the British people backed by two to one turned that into 500% more Tory MPs than LibDem MPs – DON’T BLAME US”.

  • Martin Gentles 9th Jan '14 - 10:57pm

    Balls, like much of Labour, is starting to realise that they need the Lib Dems if they are to either win outright, or form a coalition. Bashing us to death is self-defeating.

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