Ed Balls is in a bind.
On the one hand he has been the most effective member of the shadow cabinet in recent weeks, successfully landing punch after punch on the coalition over the Building Schools for the Future programme.
On the other his leadership campaign is running into the sand. In a poll last night for the Sun he came in fifth behind all the other candidates, with just 11 per cent of those polled (against 37 per cent for David M and 29 per cent for Ed M). It seems that Labour supporters haven’t warmed to him.
So what to do? If Balls swings his weight behind one of the brothers he could give significant momentum to that candidate and therefore secure the shadow chancellorship as a reward. If he stays in the contest and comes third he might get that job anyway. But if he comes in fifth the winner is under no obvious obligation to give him that plum role, for which he is qualified and would no doubt want.
Unison has become the second big union to back the younger Miliband in the labour leadership contest, following the GMB’s decision to do so last week. Unions carry a third of the vote in the leadership contest, and with two of the biggest now supporting Ed, he is starting to be talked about as a very credible challenger to his brother David, who remains favourite.
Ed said: “To have received the backing of a union representing millions of frontline workers is a real boost for my campaign to lead our party.”
But the big one is still to declare. That is Unite, the combined mega-union which has among its members the BA cabin crew.
It has been assumed that since Charlie Whelan, a former Brown adviser and close friend of Ed Balls, is Unite’s political director, the union would back Balls. But as the Guardian’s Michael White points out, Unite is not particularly, erm, united – and at least one of its general secretaries, Derek Simpson, supports Ed Miliband. If Unite do swing behind Mili-E, his campaign will have all the momentum.
The news is in; the first big trade union has put its backing behind Ed Miliband. The GMB. It’s an important endorsement and will feed the growing feeling that Mili-E could still win through with backing from the unions, grassroots and those vital second preferences.
David Miliband may or may not have been right to have abstained from toppling Gordon Brown when he had the chance. I sympathise with his view that the subsequent civil war would not have been worth it; as he tells Alex Smith at LabourList today: “I don’t think anyone would have benefited from a second Kamikaze pilot.”
Now that Brown has gone, however, Miliband is not holding back. Here are some key lines from this evening’s Keir Hardie speech in Wales:
As Britain’s largest union Unite should have considerable influence over the leadership contest; unions make up a third of the total voting. Although unions don’t have single bloc votes they can tell members who they favour.
Paul Waugh has an intriguing quote from Diane Abbott, the surprise Labour leadership contender, suggesting that David Miliband is already into three figures in terms of MPs’ support:
“David Miliband is hoovering up nominations. Quite rightly, he’s a very able candidate, he’s got over 100. It’s just it squeezes everybody else. There’s a slight tendency – it’s not a tendency which David Miliband encourages – for people to think ‘well, who’s going to win, let me nominate them because I’ll get a job.’”
There is a bit of speculation around Westminster that the former schools secretary may not gather the 33 MPs he needs to mount a leadership bid – even with the deadline extended from Thursday to June 9. The theory is that his charms are lost on some members of the PLP.
Another hit at the new Labour Uncut blog where founder Sion Simon reveals that Labour’s NEC will extend the leadership nominations process after complaints from figures including Jon Cruddas. The four-day window for nominations would make it much harder for candidates (including new arrival Diane Abbott) to get through to the contest.
The launch of Ed Balls’ leadership bid today is a reminder of why his efforts may founder; he’s just too close to the ancien regime. As former acolyte of Gordon Brown he will always struggle to set out an alternative vision for Labour without knifing the former prime minister.
Apologies for the slight delay. It’s a long walk back from the steps of St Stephen’s entrance through the corridors of the Commons and back to my desk.
So, David Miliband will stand for the Labour leadership. It’s official.
Surrounded by a phalanx of 14 MPs*, including former ministers Gareth Thomas and Jim Fitzpatrick, whip Mark Tami and several newcomers – three women were noticeably at the forefront – he made his pitch**. The actual launch won’t come until next week, in his constituency of South Shields. Here’s the text of the speech.
Miliband said it was an exciting time in politics (er, obviously) and with the new coalition there was an opportunity for Labour to dominate the left and centre-left – ie at the expense of the Lib Dems. He promised the contest would be “warm, generous, comradely” (will Ed Balls make the same vow?) and soon disappeared back into the building. No mention of his brother.
The little group lost momentum as they walked back past Westminster Hall and stood, slightly depleted, in the central lobby. One of the followers, a new MP by my estimate, seemed a bit lost. “Come with me,” said Miliband. “You can come with me.”