Ed Balls has had a great leadership campaign. He’s been furious in his condemnation of the coalition government, has run eye catching campaigns, and has shown himself to be a more than able parliamentary performer.
His team, which seems to be smaller than many of his rivals, is nonetheless nimble and quick enough to launch campaigns at short notice whenever they present themselves. Few will have missed the way that Balls excelled at tearing apart Gove over Building Schools for the Future and academies, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that he was also straight out of the blocks launching attacks on the VAT rise and the abolition of “go-orders” too. In short, the campaign has been a credit to him and his team, as it constantly punches above its weight.
He’s also gone some of the way towards dispelling some of the myths about him. Instead of the gruff, angry, brooding bully that we’d all been led to believe he was, Ed has actually come across as friendly, personable and even funny in both debates and TV interviews. And he has succeeded in picking up support, not only from those already close to him, but those who admire his fighting qualities, like the MPs, former MPs and PPCs from the south east who came out in support of him last week.
However, the odds of Balls winning are poor at best. He came last in the recent YouGov poll of party members and trade unionists, and although he’s picked up the support of a couple of new MPs since nominations, he’s still way behind the two Milibands in that section. The unions could have kept Ed in with a shout of the big prize, but with only the CWU backing him (whilst the GMB, Unison and, perhaps most gallingly, Unite back Ed Miliband) it’d be a miracle if he were able to perform well enough in the union section to keep himself afloat long enough to get into the final two.
As Hopi Sen said recently, Ed Balls has run an excellent campaign, but he suffers from his reputation built up in the Gordon Brown years. Every negative that has been hurled at the backroom politics of the former PM seems to stick to Balls in a way that doesn’t happen with fellow former Brownite Ed Miliband. It was always going to be difficult for him to escape this reputation. Perhaps the most tragic aspect of the race has been that in many ways he has escaped the reputation on the surface – people are now willing to admit liking and admiring him – but it hasn’t seem him gain significant support.
I don’t believe that Ed Balls is still in the race to win. It’s clearly a straight fight between the Milibrothers now. What Ed Balls has got out of this race though is something that could be equally as important to his career. He’s shown himself to be pugnacious, strong-willed, ferociously intelligent and quick on his feet at the dispatch box. In short, he’s made himself indispensible to a party that hasn’t exactly warmed to him in the past. It’s hardly a Mandelson-esque turnaround – but it ain’t half a decent summer’s work.
This is the third in a series of posts looking at how the leadership candidates, and their campaigns, have performed so far. They’re being done in alphabetical order, so tomorrow’s article will feature the Andy Burnham campaign. You can read the first post on the leadership race for the party as a whole, and the second on Diane Abbott.