Sack Ed Balls! Pressure grows on Miliband to grasp the nettle
Alistair Darling, now running No campaign in Scotland, will be free soon. And he's boring – which is good
LABOUR critics of shadow chancellor Ed Balls are sharpening their knives at the prospect of a new television documentary which examines his role in the sacking of Sharon Shoesmith, head of children's services in Haringey, following the 2007 Baby P scandal.
Labour tongues have been wagging ever since Balls's red-faced and blustering performance at the Autumn Statement; it was so bad that David Cameron was still joking about it at Prime Minister's Questions last week.
There is a growing campaign for Ed Miliband to sack Balls and bring back Alistair Darling, who was chancellor in Gordon Brown's government.
The trouble is, Miliband appears just as reluctant to sack Balls as Tony Blair was to rid himself of Brown. Will the Sharon Shoesmith documentary provide the ammunition to persuade the Labour leader to change his mind?
It is no secret that following the tragic death in 2007 of Baby P, an investigation into Haringey children's services conducted by the education watchdog Ofsted gave it high ratings in most categories. As The Guardian reported in October 2009, that report was then secretly downgraded from 'good' to 'inadequate'.
The upcoming documentary will, I understand, revive claims that the downgrading by Ofsted – leading to the sacking of Sharon Shoesmith - came only after political bullying from the Brown government. Ed Balls was Children's Secretary at the time and it was he who announced Shoesmith's sacking.
In 2011, Shoesmith's was deemed by a tribunal to have been sacked unfairly. When it was disclosed in October this year that she had received compensation of around £600,000 for her unfair dismissal, Balls was quoted as saying the size of the payment "leaves a bad taste in the mouth". Balls's enemies believes that was disingenuous.
There is no doubt that many of the MPs pressing Miliband to ditch Balls have old scores to settle with Balls for his role as a henchman of Brown and for helping Ed Miliband to steal the crown which they believe should have gone to Ed's more Blairite brother, David.
The appearance last week of Balls’s softer side, playing the piano at a north London concert hall (Der Dichter Spricht, the final movement of Schumann’s Kinderszenen) and going through the voting lobbies in Parliament dressed in a Santa Claus outfit (for a children’s party), was dismissed as pure spin.
One Labour MP told the Mole: "We all know what he’s doing – he’s trying to show he’s human. He’s a bully."
But the main case against Balls is his continuing failure to convince the electorate that he would make a better chancellor than George Osborne.
A recent Guardian/ICM poll showed that Cameron and Osborne are still more trusted to run the economy than Balls and Ed Miliband by a margin of 39 per cent to 23 per cent. That is despite most people – 70 per cent – in the same poll saying they feel no benefits from the economic recovery.
It is the failure of Balls to offer a convincing alternative to Osborne’s house-price-fuelled economic recovery that makes some Labour MPs believe Miliband will have to grasp the nettle and move him if he wants to be sure of a majority government at the 2015 general election. And the name on their lips as Balls's replacement is Alistair Darling.
Diane Abbott, who was sacked by Miliband in his last reshuffle, told the BBC's Andrew Neil: "One thing you shouldn't do is underestimate Ed Miliband's capacity for ruthlessness. If he feels it is the right thing to do - bringing in Alistair Darling or whatever - he will do it."
Darling is tied up at the moment running the No campaign against Scottish Independence but he will be free next May. He’s accused of being boring, but as a Labour source told the Mole: “After Balls, we need someone safe and boring to run the economy – that’s what people want.” ·