I’m not the first journalist to point out that Balls has his work cut out to distance himself from Gordon Brown, his old mentor. But in a Telegraph interview tonight he has a stab at it:
(He also reveals that Labour was prepared to reconsider Trident as the price for a coalition deal. And that he had to talk Gordon Brown out of standing on the proviso that he would step down after a year).
Here are the key quotes:
1] He was apparently not quite as cosy with Brown as you might have thought.
There is a sense of relief that his closest ties with Mr Brown are finally severed. “I had more blazing rows with him than anyone. You had to do that sometimes to shut Gordon up.”
2] The Iraq War was a mistake
Although Mr Balls concedes that, had he been an MP at the time, he would have voted for the war on the basis of the facts provided, he now concedes that not only was the information wrong but the war unjustified. “It was a mistake. On the information we had, we shouldn’t have prosecuted the war. We shouldn’t have changed our argument from international law to regime change in a non-transparent way. It was an error for which we as a country paid a heavy price, and for which many people paid with their lives. Saddam Hussein was a horrible man, and I am pleased he is no longer running Iraq. But the war was wrong.”
3] Labour’s election campaign was flawed:
“We [the leadership candidates] all have similar messages, on welfare reform and immigration, because we’ve all had lots of conversations with people like Mrs Duffy. Gordon would have had a better campaign and a better time of it if he had spent a lot of time in public, having those conversations. You can’t do politics through the speech and the delivered message.” There could be no more stinging criticism of a campaign orchestrated by Lord Mandelson and others.
4] Tuition fees were a mistake
“The Browne review [currently looking at whether to raise tuition fees] should go wider than fees and look at the whole way we finance universities and students. I’d much rather move to a system where you get support up front and pay it back through a graduate tax. It wasn’t what we did. And we paid a price for it.”
Meanwhile – as if this was not enough for one day on the leadership contest – the Guardian has an interview tonight with Ed Miliband where he describes the race as a “contest of comrades”. The former energy secretary still seems a bit short on detail of what he would actually do as Labour leader; to be fair there are still nearly three months to go.