Who will replace Gordon Brown as Chancellor? I expect the job will go to Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, friend and fellow Scot. But it's not a done deal. Larry Elliott, economics editor at The Guardian, argues that Ed Balls is the most qualified to be the new chancellor but he will not get the job: Two await the call to move into No 11
Brown's impending departure raises two intriguing questions for his mandarins: who will succeed him and will there be any shifts in policy under a new chancellor. Officials are keeping their own counsel over the name of the next chancellor, but the choice boils down to three names: Ed Balls, Alistair Darling and Jack Straw.
Balls is by far the best qualified candidate for the job, but he won't get it. As chief economic adviser, he was the second most important person in the Treasury for most of the Brown era, and when it came to some of the big decisions - independence for the Bank and scepticism about joining the euro - it was Balls leading Brown. Balls is now back at the Treasury, ostensibly in the most junior ministerial job as economic secretary, but every official knows that the lowly title belies his real influence. As Brown has lost interest in the day-to-day running of the Treasury, Balls has - according to some insiders - in effect become the real chancellor.
In a perfect world, it would not matter that Balls has been an MP for less than two years nor that he has been Brown's closest confidant for the best part of 15 years. In the real world, though, there would be a political price to be paid from appointing Balls; it would suggest that Brown wanted to surround himself with diehard Brownites and had taken a bunker mentality with him to Downing Street. Brown thinks Balls needs to cut his teeth in another department before becoming chancellor.
Darling is a supporter of Brown, although he is quite happy to voice independent views and far from the patsy that some believe. He is also competent, which in the current cabinet is a highly prized virtue, and the favourite for the job. The problem, though, is that Darling sits for a seat just across the Firth of Forth from Brown's and in light of the furore about Labour requiring votes from Scottish MPs to impose laws on England that do not affect their own constituents, it might not be thought the smartest of ideas to have politicians from north of the border in the two top jobs in the government, especially if Brown leaves John Reid, yet another Scot, to sort out the mess at the Home Office.
Straw's only experience of an economic brief was more than 30 years ago but that is not considered a major impediment and he is a good each-way bet to become chancellor. His positives are the negatives for Balls and Darling: he is not part of the magic circle around Brown (although he has been careful to keep on good terms with the chancellor) and he sits for an English seat. The row over the wearing of the veil has done Straw no harm; indeed, his popularity rocketed when he voiced his views. David Cameron would struggle to make the same political capital out of Straw as he would out of Balls or Darling and he could be trusted to do a competent job while keeping the seat warm for Balls to return after the next election (assuming Labour wins, of course).
But will a new Chancellor lead to a significant change in policy direction? With Brown as Prime Minister, that seems quite unlikely.