When Ed Miliband and Ed Balls met late on Wednesday evening at the former’s offices over cups of coffee they sought to “thrash out” economic differences and agree a joint strategy for the coming years. Both men are aware that the appointment could either be seen as a sign of Miliband’s weakness – did he feel there was no one else? - or his strength, in that he now feels able (rightly or wrongly) to contain the strong Balls ego.
Their task is to convince the world that they have not entered a shotgun wedding – given that some senior colleagues suggest they do not even like one another. (One shadow cabinet member suggests their relationship has the potential to be even worse than Miliband-Miliband, given that Balls used to treat his new boss as the ‘office boy’ back in the Treasury days).
Aides are describing how the two teams will work much more closely together, with Balls taking the office in the Norman Shaw building previously used by George Osborne but – as my colleagues recently revealed – rarely used by Alan Johnson. Working in close proximity, their aides will supposedly follow the same lines of authority to prevent rival power bases developing.
The two men have been working together for 16 years and known each other well. Even brothers squabble now and again, say Labour aides. So far, so good. But it is one thing to recognise the damage caused by the Brown-Blair poison of the past and to vow not to repeat it. It’s another to achieve that aim.