Ed Balls has today made his very own full, open and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats – or, rather, to Vince Cable. The shadow chancellor said he could work very well with Vince (but, pointedly, not Nick Clegg).
‘I wish George Osborne would see Vince Cable as a man to do business with and listen to, rather than telling the newspapers he is putting his allies in [to the Business department] to try and surround him and hold him back. Vince should be listened to on banking reform and on the economy. I could work with Vince. I would like the Liberal Democrats to say right now that this coalition has failed and we’re going to change course.’
Balls can’t really work with anyone (just ask Ed Miliband); and nor is he likely to have to. The Westminster political system seldom gives us coalitions because victories tend to be decisive. If today’s polls were tomorrow’s election results, Labour would have a Blair-scale majority of 92 and there would be too few Lib Dems for it to be worth forming a coalition. On current boundaries, which now look set to stay for the next election, they’ll lose two-thirds of their MPs. There would be just 18 of them – so if Labour needed a top-up it could do a deal with the nationalists, as in the 1970s, or with the minority parties, which are doing fairly well right now. Balls will know this very well.
So why is he being so generous to the LibDems? I suspect that he has another agenda. Balls knows that the Lib Dem membership is appalled by the party having lost half of its support, with no sign of recovery. He’ll also know that they think the Tory embrace has become toxic. LibDem activists will be pushing to break up the coalition, entertaining their own fantasy of survival in a Lib-Lab coalition. Vince Cable will encourage this because it will advance his own chances of supplanting Clegg. And Balls will encourage such reveries, because they can only serve to destabilise the coalition. Ah the games, the games.