I went to an unusual book launch by a politician this week. Instead of a self serving glowing account of their great achievements (pace Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson to name but two) this book by Ed Balls is refreshingly honest – it talks about his political mistakes (intended or otherwise).
Ed Balls – who probably will become more famous for his performances on Strictly Come Dancing than his role in promoting tax credits – suffered the ” Portillo moment” at the last General Election when he was unexpectedly defeated by the Tories. Indeed he revealed BBC Panorama had unsuccessfully tried to get him to do a programme with Michael Portillo on this very fact and compare and contrast how high flying politicians feel when the electorate rejects them.
Organised by the Strand Group (see report ) at Kings College, London Ed Balls admitted many mistakes – such as he could have handled better the sacking of Sharon Shoesmith, the former head of Haringey’s childrens’ services, over the notorious torture and death of Baby P.
He was also critical of May’s failure of leadership over Brexit and also warned that when governments have a weak opposition the media narrative is all about splits in the government – hence the obsession about the Blair Brown split when Iain Duncan Smith led the Tory party. So if the Labour row continues May could find life difficult as the media hone in on Tory Brexit splits.
One experience Gordon Brown and Theresa May share is that both of them have been anointed Prime Minister – neither faced a campaign against rivals and both took office without winning a general election.
In his book Ed Balls describes the botched attempt to call a general election immediately after Gordon became leader. Ed writes at the time ” the ‘risk’ of going for an early general elecrion was nowhere near as risky as deciding not to.”
But Labour dithered – first talking up an early election – and then knocking it down.But the result was devastating and certainly Brown made a mistake in not acting earlier and more decisively.
As Ed concludes on the day Brown backed off from an election: ” A dismal day in October, a day from which Gordon’s premiership and the togetherness and trust of his closest advisers and confidants never recovered.”
So what would Ed advise Theresa to do now. I asked him this when I got him to sign a copy of his book.
His answer was frank. She should call an election setting out her own manifesto and then be able to choose her own Cabinet.
Given the troubles she will face with colleagues – and potential new rows over decisions like Heathrow, HS2, Brexit, immigration etc and the current divisions within Labour it might be good advice for the Tories. And she has a much smaller majority than Brown had at the time.Otherwise she might regret it like Gordon Brown.
I wonder if she might surprise us all by announcing it at the Tory Party Conference?