It is something that people are starting to ask, however prematurely: there are still three years to go before the general election. But the question is not without good reason.
I revealed back in June that Miliband rejected Balls not once but twice to be shadow chancellor. On both occasions he tried to get his brother David to fill the role, unsuccessfully. When Alan Johnson quit after just a few months in the post Miliband was left with no option other than hiring his onetime Treasury rival.
Miliband did not want to be tied into Balls’ fierce anti-austerity rhetoric: he wanted to continue straddling the fence over public cuts and keep the Blairites on board.
Now that the Balls argument is less isolated in his position, that is both good news and bad for the party leader. On the one hand, Labour is more in tune with the public mood. On the other, the internal power dynamic has shifted towards Balls, who has shut down any talk from earlier in the year about shadow cabinet members producing lists of cuts that Labour would do if it was in power.
The talk now is of “chief executive and chairman” or even “co-chief executives”.
There have been tensions between the two camps. The two men supposedly share neighbouring offices but in reality Balls spends plenty of time in his own office near Big Ben.
For a flavour of how the two camps see each other, here is an extract from my article two months ago:
Ed Miliband: Has been accused of indecision. The Balls camp see Miliband as a dreamer who enjoys nothing better than indulgent four-hour “wonkathons” with intellectual fellow travellers from the left.
Ed Balls: Has been accused of overbearing manner and arrogance. The Miliband camp see Balls as part of “continuity New Labour”, preferring to put pragmatism over idealistic “breaks from the past”.
In that piece I wrote:
When Mr Balls was in limbo as shadow home secretary in the early months of opposition, he showed visible frustration, talking down to the new leader at shadow cabinet meetings – sometimes even blocking Mr Johnson with his legs as he tried to edge past.
Allies of Balls deny this anecdote: in fact they have even gone through the seating arrangements of the shadow cabinet to explain that this was not even possible. But it may be telling that Johnson felt this way about his colleague.
In a piece for Total Politics, also in early June, I described the Ed-Ed relationship as “almost like a married couple, with all the ups and downs that entails”.
When Miliband took a sabbatical to teach at Harvard 10 years ago, it was in part because he felt “overshadowed” at the Treasury, which was then the “Ed Balls Show”. Now it’s Balls who has had to swallow his pride. “I wouldn’t have made Balls shadow chancellor, would you?” says one senior Labour figure. “He will want to eclipse Miliband.” Of course the party denies that there are any tensions at all and that the team is functioning perfectly.
Balls was “not exactly deferential” to Miliband, I wrote. There were also policy splits, for example Miliband was more keen to attack City bonuses while Balls attacked excessive City regulation and criticised the ‘opportunistic’ way that Cameron removed Fred Goodwin’s knighthood. And there are still rumblings about Labour’s economic position; and whether it really has one.
This week John Rentoul wrote in his Independent on Sunday column:
What a contrast with Labour, which seems to have replicated the dysfunctional relationship in new, convoluted ways. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have been getting on particularly badly recently, although each has long found the other trying.
Any talk about recreating the Gordon-Tony nightmare relationship is still very premature, from what I’m told. (Although one insider has told me that relations between the spokesmen for the two Eds has become increasingly suspicious.)
Genuine attempts are being made to keep things on an even keel. As I wrote in Total Politics: “Everyone inside the Labour project knows that a toxic Balls-Miliband partnership would be disastrous”.
Nick Watt in the Guardian chips in today with news that Balls is out-polling Miliband at least relatively (their ratings both remain negative), adding:
Critics in the party say Miliband often gives the impression that he is in awe of Balls. Frontbenchers say that, in every meeting of the shadow cabinet, Miliband invites the relevant shadow minister to speak before calling on Balls.
Meanwhile the Times has fresh rumblings today about the “strained” relations between the two men, with Balls described as “secretive and domineering” and “high maintenance” by one insider, according to journalist Sam Coates. The question is whether the two men will shrug off the carping or whether small differences will blossom into long-running hostilities, a la Brown-Blair.
Coates writes that Labour will be unlikely to set out much of a policy platform at next month’s party conference: it is unclear whether that will help Labour avoid damaging headlines or merely create a vacuum in which they will be written.