Labour bruiser and Lib Dem leader unite over chancellor position – to ‘Stop Vince Cable!’
By David Hencke | 29 January 2014
Exaro can reveal the extraordinary reason for the public rapprochement between Balls, the Labour bruiser, and Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats.
They share a concern that Cable will demand to become chancellor if Labour, led by Ed Miliband, forms a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats after the general election in 2015.
Balls is expecting to become chancellor. And Clegg does not want Cable as chancellor in any coalition with Labour.
Cable, as a Liberal Democrat in the current coalition with the Conservatives, is deeply uneasy about the government’s fiscal policy, favouring stronger attempts to stimulate the economy.
Even if Clegg remains deputy prime minister in any coalition with Labour, he believes that Cable as chancellor would have more power than him. So, Clegg would prefer Balls to be chancellor in any deal with Labour.
As a result, Balls and Clegg have united in what well-placed sources in both parties see as a “Stop Vince Cable!” campaign.
A senior Labour source told Exaro: “It is widely thought at the moment in the shadow cabinet that Ed Miliband is not going to win an overall majority, but Labour is more likely to be the largest party in Parliament.” In this case, Labour would seek to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
Such talk in the shadow cabinet prompted Harriet Harman, Labour’s deputy leader, to urge colleagues publicly over the weekend to stop discussing a post-election pact with the Liberal Democrats.
According to the Labour source, Balls decided to be publicly complimentary about Clegg out of concern that Cable was after his job.
Balls said earlier this month that he had “no reason” to doubt Clegg’s integrity.
The source said that the comments bolstered the chance of ruling Cable out as chancellor in any coalition negotiations between Miliband and Clegg after the 2015 election.
A senior Liberal Democrat, meanwhile, told Exaro that Clegg had become increasingly annoyed with Cable since his colleague threatened at the party’s conference in September not to back the current coalition’s strategy for cutting the UK’s deficit.
The Liberal Democrat said: “Vince Cable is an incredibly vain man. He hoped that Clegg might stand down as leader in this Parliament, so that he could stand.
“He realises by now that Clegg is going to fight the next election as leader, so he has set his sights on becoming chancellor. He was shadow chancellor between 2003 and 2010, when the Liberal Democrats were an opposition party. It would make him one of the most important figures in a new coalition government.”
Cable is even compared by colleagues to Gordon Brown, former prime minister, for an obsession about keeping information to himself.
“It is no coincidence that Vince Cable and Gordon Brown were both young members of the Labour party in Scotland at the same time. They were very similar in keeping things to themselves,” said the source.
The insider recalled Clegg’s irritation with Cable as shadow chancellor. Clegg would complain to colleagues that he had to wait until Cable went on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to find out what the party’s economic policy was on a particular issue.
In addition, Miliband has warmed to Clegg since they met socially at the Olympic Games in London in 2012, the source added. Balls was eager to signal publicly that he was not so hostile to Clegg, in order to avoid being out of step with his party’s leader.
The shadow chancellor said in 2012 that Clegg’s actions since becoming deputy prime minister in 2010 would make it “very difficult” for Labour to work with the Liberal Democrat if he remained party leader.
And in an interview last year, Clegg said that he likes to avoid making political rivalries personal, but “made an exception” for Balls.
But Balls struck a different tone earlier this month when he spoke of having a “friendly chat” with Clegg in the House of Commons. It “was very friendly and warm”, he said.
Last month, Exaro revealed Miliband’s plans for fuller state funding of political parties.