Ed Balls was in a bullish mood this morning when he did his round of broadcast interviews. The Shadow Chancellor did his best to get all huffy when it was put to him that the Tories don’t much like his idea that the OBR should audit party manifestos, saying:
‘I not only want it to happen, I think it will happen. So because the Conservative party will play party politics with trying to give the public reassurance that all parties’ manifestos add up, to rebuild trust in politics, then it won’t happen? That’s their choice, but I don’t think that’s what they’ll do.’
But he saved his real righteous indignation for the section of the interview on Damian McBride. ‘To be honest nobody ever came to me and complained about Damian McBride,’ he said. ‘I didn’t pass on those complaints to Gordon Brown. I didn’t complain about Damian McBride, because I don’t think until we saw the revelations in this book, we didn’t know what was going on.’
This sounds a bit implausible: one of the key points about the McBride extracts so far has really been that we did know that this was going on, but that the former spin doctor has brought a vague picture into sharp relief. His revelations haven’t been surprising, even though they have been horrifying. So it’s odd that while everyone else knew vaguely what the book would reveal, Balls claims ignorance entirely.
But the Shadow Chancellor didn’t quite finish there. He said:
‘I didn’t know that Damian McBride was doing personal briefings against ministers. The first time I’d found out was when I saw the text of that hideous email in 2009, and I said to Damian “what have you done? How could it come to this?”.’
So Balls did know something, clearly, by 2009. But his claim that he had no idea McBride was briefing against ministers seems to have left those journalists who were in the lobby at the time with a grim smile on their faces.