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U.K.’s Balls Offers Nick Clegg Olive Branch Over Coalition Talks

Jan. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Ed Balls, treasury spokesman for the U.K. opposition Labour Party, offered an olive branch to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, saying he “understood totally” why the Liberal Democrat leader entered coalition with the Conservatives.

Balls has specialized in taunting the government in Parliament, including making a “flat-lining” gesture at Prime Minister David Cameron to represent the economy’s failure to grow. Clegg said at the end of December that Balls is the one politician with whom he has a personal feud.

“I can say, hand on heart, the only conversation I’ve had with Nick Clegg in the last 18 months was very friendly and warm,” Balls said in an interview with the New Statesman magazine. “I understand totally why Nick Clegg made the decision that he made to go into coalition with the Conservatives, I may not have liked it at the time, but I understood it.”

With an election due in May 2015, the coalition members are emphasizing their distance from each other. Balls’s comments suggest Labour may be getting into position in case it needs to form its own coalition with Clegg’s party.

Clegg in December told LBC radio in December that he tried not to take political arguments personally. “I make one exception, for a man named Ed Balls,” he said.

Balls said in his interview, conducted on Jan. 6, that he’d had “a friendly chat” with Clegg “a couple of hours ago.” Asked if he could go into coalition with him, he quoted Clegg’s comment that “these things aren’t about personalities.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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