It is almost undisputed now that Ed Balls and his team have run an excellent campaign. We said as much back in early August, but since then he’s kicked on and reached an even higher gear. I’m still convinced that he can’t win though – extend the contest for another month and allow MPs to nominate all over again and he might have a chance – but he’s still been an important part of this race. His campaign was hobbled from the start by his closeness to Gordon Brown and his longstanding political reputation. By the time the campaign was well underway and Ed had disproved some of the misconceptions about him, it was already too late.
What has been particularly impressive about Ed is the way in which he has avoided expending his time and energy on the other candidates of the race (all of whom he will be asked to work with in future) and focussed on what can only be described as a relentless demolition of Michael Gove’s and the government’s education policies. On free schools, academies, and particularly ‘Building Schools for the Future’ Ed has taken the government to task with a vigour that I don’t think we ever really saw from him in government. He has shown himself to be truly talented in the art of opposition, with a keen eye for the mistakes of others and a killer instinct that is rare amongst front line Labour politicians of his generation.
Alongside this shadow cabinet ability though there have been a stream of significant and weighty policy announcements that are worthy of greater discussion that we have time for here. His Bloomberg speech in which he attacked “growth deniers” was seen as the point at which the country at large began to sit up and listen. His housing policy which included building 100,000 extra affordable homes (which he trailed on LabourList) showed an ability to take lessons from the doorstep and craft them into a positive policy that members could then in turn take back to the doorstep. He has continued to be engaging in media appearances, and speaking on a personal level, when I interviewed him last month he was a joy to listen to – this man is a very serious thinker about economics.
Back in August I said that he’d made himself indispensible to the party. Now he’s perhaps in a position to take his pick of the shadow cabinet posts. Many have suggested that he is well suited to the shadow chancellor role, however that will be dependent on the result of the leadership contest. Ed’s critique of the government’s cuts and his argument for growth as an alternative to cuts doesn’t chime with the economic ideas of some of his rivals. Certainly it’s difficult to see how David Miliband could place Balls in the shadow chancellor role when their ideas seem so divergent on this most important issue. But Ed Balls will be in the mix though – and he deserves to be.
Every evening this week I’ll be taking a look back at each of the leadership campaigns – starting last night with Diane Abbott. The reviews will be in alphabetical order, and replace our “In the race” feature, which is taking a break until conference.