How Ed Balls must change (and how he already has)

January 21, 2011 9:43 am

Ed BallsBy Sunder Katwala / @nextleft

For the new partnership to last four years rather than four months, Miliband may need his new shadow chancellor to complete a personal reinvention as a frontline politician.

Ed Balls was – from 1997 to 2004 – among the most powerful advisers in post-war British government. As chief economic advisor, Balls had a decisive influence on several of the most enduring economic decisions of the Labour governments – including the independence of the Bank of England, and the decision to stay out of the euro, as well as the broad macreconomic framework which brought Labour a long run of economic success, and the great crash of 2008. Before the age of 40, Balls had made more impact on British economic policy and the treasury than many post-war chancellors.

That experience contains a mixture of blessings and burdens for the new shadow chancellor. What has been less often recognised is that Balls has already had to undergo a series of significant transitions since then.

On becoming an MP in 2005, Balls had to adapt to the different skills required by a frontbench politician, particularly in the media and public speaking, to those of forging policy and using political power behind the scenes.

As power passed from Blair to Brown, and Balls took up a cabinet post, he argued that the party could leave the “prism of Brown versus Blair” behind. It was a nice thought, but proved rather premature. And this factional history was surely one of the reasons why Ed Balls struggled to get a serious run in the 2010 leadership contest, even though he had (like many in Westminster) anticipated a David Miliband-Ed Balls leadership contest for several years.

Yet, perhaps in part because he was freed from the hope of victory, Balls managed to end the leadership contest stronger than he began it. That was partly because his challenge to the coalition resonated with Labour members. (Though, strikingly, a politician often attacked, and occasionally praised, for tribalism began to win praise from political opponents too, being made Parliamentarian of the Year by the Spectator for his destruction of Michael Gove over the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future).

It was also because Balls visibly relaxed and emerged as his own man with his own platform, rather than being defined purely as a second brain for Gordon Brown. This was widely remarked by many of those who followed the Labour leadership contest closely, and widely missed by the majority who did not.

But this will be put to the test over the next few days, with the Conservatives and their press allies making a determined effort to define both Balls and Miliband purely in terms of being a Gordon Brown continuity project.

Ed Balls’ challenge as shadow chancellor will be to ensure that it is this government’s economic record which comes primarily under scrutiny, and not only that of its predecessor.

A longer version of this post can be read at Next Left.

Comments are closed

Latest

  • News Seats and Selections Miliband’s greatest quality is that he’s willing to have a “bloody good think”, says Dobson

    Miliband’s greatest quality is that he’s willing to have a “bloody good think”, says Dobson

    Last week, Frank Dobson announced his intention to stand down as MP for Holborn and St Pancras after 35 years. Today, The Guardian have a candid and, at times, touching interview with the former Health Secretary. In a wide-ranging conversation with Owen Jones, Dobson sounds optimistic about the current state of the Labour Party: he’s “very confident” Labour will win next year’s election and is pleased that the Party has avoided going “a bit 1979″. Ed Miliband has ensured that […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Is the NHS in crisis? What is going on with our health service, explained

    Is the NHS in crisis? What is going on with our health service, explained

    Monday’s front-pages would have made for pretty grim reading in Number 10 and Jeremy Hunt’s office. “Critical: NHS in crisis as budgets cut”, said The Sun.  “Millions shut out of doctors’ surgeries”, added The Times. Headlines about the NHS are exactly what the Conservatives don’t want ten months out from a general election.  Talk to our strengths, not our weaknesses, says Lynton Crosby.  However, as Monday’s headlines showed, this is difficult to pull off in practice. But, behind the headlines and […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured The Nasty Party’s nasty campaign has begun

    The Nasty Party’s nasty campaign has begun

    Three days ago a group of prominent Tory women warned that the Lynton Crosby led negative campaign the Tories are running risks re-contaminating their party and damaging their electoral prospects. But since when did the Tories ever care about women and their uppity opinons? Yesterday (30th July 2014) before 11pm, @CCHQPress – an official Tory Twitter account tweeted 62 times (including retweets). That seems fair enough, with all that’s going on in the world. Guess how many tweets were about […]

    Read more →
  • News Reynolds: re-elect the Tories and average house prices could be 13 times the average wage

    Reynolds: re-elect the Tories and average house prices could be 13 times the average wage

    Emma Reynolds – Shadow Minister for Housing - will today warn voters that another five years of a Conservative government could be disastrous for Britain’s housing crisis. The fifth instalment of The Choice, the Labour leaderships’ series of speeches over the summer, Reynolds will reveal new figures that show if current trends that have emerged under the Tory government were to continue until 2020, a housing gap the equivalent of three cities the size of Birmingham would open up and the average house […]

    Read more →
  • Comment As the PPC in Iain Duncan Smith’s constituency, Ed has taught me two important lessons

    As the PPC in Iain Duncan Smith’s constituency, Ed has taught me two important lessons

    Ed Miliband has tackled the issue of his perceived image problem. Rather than embarrassingly excuse himself or convince the public he is something he is not, he has embraced his own persona, accepting it in order to extinguish the ongoing media analysis of who he is rather than what he stands for. This move shows courage, political prowess and most of all, it’s set the stage for next year’s election to be about policy rather than personalities. I cannot tell […]

    Read more →