How could the leader of the Labour Party end up being shackled to his shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer? Ed Miliband must rue that early decision after his election to scrap the annual shadow Cabinet elections. That was supposed to give him the freedom to choose his own team. Instead it looks as though he threw away an opportunity to test the popularity of his frontbench team with Labour MPs.
Of course, this is not the first time that a Labour Party leader has been lumbered. But at least you might plausibly argue that in those heady days back in 1994 former leader Tony Blair had a deal with Gordon Brown. Together they were seen to be ready for government, and won.
Today, Ed Miliband is in a very different space. He is stuck with an economic spokesman who wasn't his first choice, and whose policies are indistiguishable from the ConDem coalition's. Most Westminster old hands would, and if asked will, argue that it is too late to do anything about it now. Well may be it's too late to sack Balls. But there is no reason why Miliband should not be making policy announcements publically that have support in the party and oblige Balls to comply.
Over the past month I have been posting occasionally, mainly on the theme of devolution and the little discussed role of UK budget-making in fuelling calls for transferring powers from Westminster and Whitehall. My article in the latest edition of Chartist inspired the cover cartoon by Martin Rowson - Balls and chain.
Yesterday, I attended an event at the University of Westminster organised by The Democratic Society, Involve, democratise and the university's own Centre for the study of democracy. Entitled 'Developing the space for a public conversation about democratic reform', this chat about a chat was the stuff consultation nerds get off on. But as the breakout sessions got going and discussion became more focussed, I realised here was a ready made opportunity to advance the idea of inclusive UK budget-making.
It took the Scots nearly 20 years to recover from an abortive referendum on devolution in 1979, when the majority in favour was less than the 40% of the electorate necessary to succeed. Today, no-one could doubt the appetite for democratic reform in Scotland with a massive 84.5% turnout, the highest in any election in the UK since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1918, nearly 100 years ago.
But it was the result of a conversation that started decades earlier.
Ed Miliband has barely six months to salvage his party's electoral fortunes in Scotland, and with it the prospect of securing a majority of seats in the Westminster Parliament. Holding him back is his shadow chancellor and formal rival for the Labour leadership. How can he conceivable capture the national imagination at this late stage?
Well, Miliband prides himself on standing up to vested interests, and there can't be a bigger one around the shadow cabinet table than the Balls/Cooper combo. I suggested devolution offered Miliband the chance to escape Balls and chain here. But weeks have elapsed and all that is on offer is a England Devolution Act transferring control of a modest £30billion to local and regional authorities. That style of hand-me down politics fuelled Scotland close to voting Yes to independence.
What is needed is a fresh approach to UK budget making - an inclusive one in which revenue and capital needs are worked out by local leaders and then shared UK-wide with a view to reaching a consensus about the national budget. Participatory budgeting could be added to broaden involvement. All it requires is leadership.