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John Rentoul

John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.

"The Independent's must-read man" - Daniel Finkelstein

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Ed Balls's contribution to philosophy

Posted by John Rentoul
  • Monday, 7 September 2009 at 04:04 pm
The Education Secretary* has caused a fuss by saying on the Today programme this morning, speaking for "the Government": "None of us wanted to see the release of al-Megrahi."

As everyone has noticed, this is not quite the same as what the Prime Minister said last week: "I respect the right of the Scottish ministers to make the decision, and the decision."

But I think it is unfair to say that Balls has contradicted his boss. He has, rather, offered a psychological analysis of the human condition. Nobody wants Megrahi to be let out; but some people, notably those in positions of responsibility and softies such as me that try to understand the world from their point of view, recognise that it is in the broader interest that he should be.

It's a bit like giving up smoking. You may decide that you should give up, but when someone offers you a cigarette, you take it. Humans are capable of wanting two contradictory things at the same time. Humans in positions of power have to choose which is more important. I am sure that this is what Balls meant. Shame he didn't say: "None of us wanted to see the release of al-Megrahi, but all of us recognise that it was in the national interest to let him out."

*I refuse to call him Children, Families and Schools Secretary. For his own good.