Ed Balls: 'I never knew McBride was up to no good'. WHAT?
Shadow chancellor refuses to join the 'I told Gordon to fire Damian' brigade - and uses the S-word to boot
ED BALLS refused to join in the ritual McBride bashing by Ed Miliband and other shadow cabinet members who are trying hard to distance themselves from the bile pouring from Damian McBride's memoirs, bought up and serialised by the Daily Mail.
Miliband and Douglas Alexander, in Brighton for the Labour party conference, both revealed at the weekend that they had independently urged Gordon Brown to sack 'Mad Dog' McBride as his spin doctor.
But Balls told Radio 4's Today programme this morning: "Nobody came to me and complained about Damian McBride. I didn't pass on complaints to Gordon Brown. I don't think until we have seen the revelations in this book, we knew what was going on."
He said the first he knew about Mad Dog's habit of briefing against ministers was when he saw the "hideous" text message smearing some Tories which eventually brought about McBride's resignation in 2009.
That produced a hollow laugh around the breakfast tables at Brighton from the commentariat who know that Balls - Gordon's closest friend at Westminster - was at the heart of the Brown inner circle. Ben Brogan, deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, blogged that Balls's claim was "extraordinary" and had caused spluttering in the marmalade at Brighton.
Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, said on the Today programme: "I get the sense of a collective eyebrow hitting the ceiling in Brighton. There will be deep scepticism."
Gordon Brown will not be bothered about Robinson's views. McBride says in today's extract that the tribal Brown always dismissed the well-liked and respected BBC man as a "Tory" (he was national chairman of the Young Conservatives in 1986).
Damian McBride is about as welcome at the Labour conference in Brighton as a dose of bubonic plague but he will be in town tonight for a Newsnight interview with Jeremy Paxman.
Former Culture Secretary and Blairite Tessa Jowell urged Brown yesterday to issue a statement disowning McBride. She revealed in the Mail on Sunday that she had been smeared by Brown's spin doctors after telling Brown to his face he should quit before the 2010 election to give his party a chance of winning.
Balls, who is due to deliver his keynote economic speech to the conference at noon, said: "I do not think the world is helped by Gordon Brown saying anything about this. It is irrelevant, it is depressing..."
Balls may be hated by some former Blairites and lack affection among voters but he still has the backing of Ed Miliband, who made it clear at the weekend that he will remain as his Chancellor if Labour win the next election.
Yet Balls immediately raised more eyebrows by using the S-word in his Today interview. It follows the exchange in the street in Brighton when Ed Miliband, speaking from a soapbox, was told by a punter: "You should bring back socialism."
Miliband replied: "That is what we are doing, sir."
Miliband never actually uttered the S-word, but Balls said: "I have always used the word 'socialism', no problem."
Under Tony Blair, when the S-word was banned, the exchange would have caused a heart attack among New Labour spin doctors.
Right on cue, Lord Mandelson warned Miliband in the Financial Times this morning not to move off the centre-ground, saying the Labour leader needs to cement a broad-based appeal if he is to win.
So, what will Balls have to offer today in the way of policy? He will commit Labour to wealth redistribution by increasing tax on the banks to pay for child care support. This will to be raised from 15 hours to 25 hours a week for working families.
There will be no more borrowing for day-to-day spending, but Labour will reorder priorities within the spending figures inherited from David Cameron and George Osborne.
So, Balls is promising a new dawn for socialism, but it's not going to be blood-red. Which is why Owen Jones, the chirpy lefty commentator, and former Deputy PM Lord Prescott, are still grumbling about Miliband's lack of clear direction. ·