Is this man worth a bet as next Labour leader?

Is this man worth a bet as next Labour leader?

Could Ed Balls be the best value outside bet?

John Rentoul on the Independent’s new blog platform has written an epic two-part feature for GQ magazine on Ed Balls’ apparent ambitions to be leader of his party (see part I and part II).

He acknowledges that the idea might seem preposterous to many, and quotes a aide to former Prime Minister Tony Blair:

Until recently, this has been a ridiculous prospect. I couldn’t even finish the question before one aide to the previous prime minister said: “No. No communications skills. No base of support in the party.” But Balls thinks he is getting better at television. And he does have some support in the party. He has always adopted positions just to the left of whatever the New Labour consensus was. And the Team Brown Heavy Mob provides a ready-made base among Labour MPs, although they wobbled badly in the late summer when David Miliband was looming over them, and spent a lot of time discussing whether there could be a better Stop DM candidate than Balls.

I have written before that I think Ed Balls has upped his game as a Cabinet Minister since being shadowed by Michael Gove and David Laws. He is better at presentation than he used to be, and clearly has the ruthless ambition that David Miliband so clearly lacked in the autumn.

He doesn’t have a clear base in the party, but in a highly fractured contest, that may not matter as much. If he faces two serious challengers after the next election (assuming Labour do not hold on to power), it will be Harriet Harman and either David Miliband or James Purnell. The latter will likely be condemned as being too Blairite (in the sense of being too right-wing) and whilst I always follow Our Genial Host’s reminder about Harman’s intrinsic advantage in internal elections, I am not sure that if Balls could make it into second place, he would be the tolerable comprimise for some.

The second homes scandal hurts him, but less than might be expected, and I just wonder if the current odds (16/1 at time of writing) might offer good value when counterposed to the 10/3 on Harman or the 11/2 on the Foreign Secretary.

If a credible left-winger stands, pulling TUC votes away from Harman, then Balls might have an opportunity. For all the opprobrium of his detractors, he is bright, earnest, and not slick. He is neither posh, nor common. He could equally announce a Purnell-esque raid on undeserved benefits as a bill to strengthen the power of the unions. In fact, there is little I cannot see him doing. With that sort of reputation, a young man might just go far.

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