The cult of Ed Balls tells you everything you need to know about the hole that Labour moderates are in

by Atul Hatwal

Nothing is more revealing of the emotional and political lacuna at the heart of the non-Corbyn Labour party than the veneration of Ed Balls.

It’s not just Ed Balls day. On its own that’s transitory Twitter fluff. More problematic is the way he’s viewed by so many moderates as this huge Labour presence. A lost sage, sprinkled with sparkly Strictly stardust.

His interventions are treated by MPs, former advisers, journalists and swathes of the Labour Twitterati as if he some extraordinary combination of Attlee and the Fonz. You can almost hear the giggling in the tweets gushing over him.

Labour’s problems with Jeremy Corbyn are well documented but less aired is the dire state of the alternative. In Michael Dugher’s valedictory interview with the New Statesman, explaining his reasons for standing down as an MP he said it was, “no good moderates blaming Corbyn. Labour members were lured to Corbyn out of desperation. What we offered didn’t inspire, it wasn’t radical, it was more of the same.”

Dugher is right and his long-time friend, Ed Balls, is a case study why moderates failed.

Balls was a very good economic adviser to Gordon Brown, an average performer in parliament on a good day (sometimes, as with his response to the Autumn Statement in 2014, he was atrocious), patchy on broadcast and an absolutely dreadful political strategist.

When he became shadow chancellor in early 2011, he set a benchmark for success as getting ahead of the Tories on the economy. Labour went into the 2015 election almost twenty points behind. That’s his responsibility.

He did not have the extraordinary personal journey of someone like John Prescott, from a broken home, a steward serving drinks at sea, self-educating and rising to become Deputy PM.

He did not leave an indelible legislative mark from his time in Cabinet like Barbara Castle with the equal pay act.

He was not in the eye of the financial storm in 2008, steering the nation’s economy to calm water – that was Alistair Darling.

There is no ideological legacy, no Croslandite intellectual bequest to future Labour generations. There is no defining transformation of the Labour party, as Neil Kinnock achieved or even a landmark speech, such as Hugh Gaitskell’s with a resonant phrase such as “fight, fight and fight again for the party we love,” to rally the moderate spirit through the years.

Ed Balls went to a good public school, to Oxford, over to Harvard for a stint teaching, returning to write leaders for the FT, on to working for Gordon Brown in opposition and government, to MP and into the cabinet two years after entering parliament. Sometimes life can be so simple.

Like many of that generation of New Labour SpAds who glided into the Commons, the reality is that his primary value was as a backroom adviser. When he, and the rest such as David Miliband, Andy Burnham and Ed Miliband went front of house, the ceiling caved in.

To slightly misquote Joe Pesci in Casino, “In the end, they fucked it all up. It should have been so sweet, too.”

The road that began with that generation’s entry into the Commons in the early to mid-2000s will finally end on June 8th this year with the immolation of a Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn, walking wilfully onto the electoral pyre.

Ed Balls elevation to Labour superstar status on the basis of such a thin record says it all about the absent alternative that propelled Jeremy Corbyn to his huge leadership victories.

Moderates need to do better if the party is to be resurrected after the coming election defeat. Part of that involves finding more worthy heroes than Ed Balls.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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11 Responses to “The cult of Ed Balls tells you everything you need to know about the hole that Labour moderates are in”

  1. NHSGP says:

    He did not have the extraordinary personal journey of someone like John Prescott, from a broken home, a steward serving drinks at sea, self-educating and rising to become Deputy PM.


    The Tudor Cladding on expenses.

    The clean up of his grace and favour appartment. Just how much shit do you have to spread that needs thousands of pounds to clean up.

    The breaking of the law shagging the staff.

  2. martin says:

    i am going to swear here whether you like it or not,corbyn have fucked over the working classes and has in fact made damm clear that he does not care a fook about anybody but himself and his small number of cronies that surround him,you corbyn have made sure this charlatan may will be in power until at least are a selfish git corbyn.lets hope dan jarvis will step up to the plate and replace you,ok….marrtin from birmingham

  3. I do believe that Atul is beginning to see the light. Let’s not get hung up on labels. Atul’s ‘moderates’ being another man’s ‘Blairites’. Let’s just use the obvious classifier ‘New Labour’.

    New Labour’s problem is right there in Atul’s article.

    There is no ideological legacy…

    Of course there isn’t. How could there be? There was no ideology. New Labour became no different from any other liberal party chasing the centre ground. Keeping the ideology of those that founded the party would be just too much of a burden.

    Even the soft left of the party no longer had it so no wonder the membership sees in Corbyn a possible leader who still has some roots in democratic socialism and social democracy in its real sense. They voted for him not once, but twice. Who else was there really. Just look who he was up against both times. Even an anti-Leninist like myself supported him because the danger of having no ideology was greater than having some of our old ‘friends’ on the left gaining influence. What was amazing was how popular Corbyn became with young people who were never exposed to the ideology present in the pre-Blair Labour Party.

    The PLP has become so gentrified that there must still be a big doubt whether it can ever find its way again.

  4. Anon says:

    Oh dear – finally we wake up to the idea that the Labour Party is not really representative of the masses.

    Mr Hatwal, it isn’t just about people like Balls – and you did hint at the SpAD problem – it is now about a political party and its belief that it has a right to survive vs a party that believes that it is there to represent a particular demographic of the UK.

    The shipyards, steel makers, and coal mines may well not be there anymore – but the people ARE. And they wish their children and grandchildren to have a future beyond being dole-bound vote fodder for the Labour Party.

    The working class – and in particular, the ‘white working class’, have no future under Labour: they are turkeys voting for Christmas if they vote Labour.

  5. Ian says:

    When in Parliament Balls was an embarrassment, sitting there shouting, gurning and gesticulating like some naughty child in class, showing not an ounce of shame or humility for the mistakes he helped Brown to make, and trying to blame the coalition for following a spending policy that was far closer to what he himself had advocated before 2010 than it was to the original Tory plan.

    It’s great that now he is deprived of any influence over our lives he does appear to be a decent guy after all, but there sure wasn’t much sign of this when he had some power. Balls is a case study in how power can bring out the worst in some people.

  6. Alf says:

    Ed Balls was just a demented communist.

  7. Anne says:

    Atul this is not one of your better articles and I am not sure what the point of it is – Ed Balls is yesterday’s man – why bring this up now – we should be concentrating on the issues at hand.
    Look we are coming up to a general election there is plenty to discuss.
    My concern is actually more the poor suitability of most of the Conservative Cabinet – including Teresa May. All stage managed appearances – very poor performance on The Andrew Marr Shaw – absolutely no substance and she is in charge of Brexit negotiations- we stand absolutely no chance of a good deal with EU. Very little talent in the Cabinet – David Davies was a has been politician before Bexit while Liam Fox never was.
    Let Francis O’Grady (TUC) on board – at least she will protect workers rights.

  8. Terry Casey says:

    Its nice of Duher to admit the centre failed the membership although I would have preferred he had before they attempted to bring the party down in a fit of pique. Not only did he and his colleagues have nothing to offer, they had already lost 181 seats and 5m votes, I became sick of hearing the Labour Party saying “We will learn from our mistakes” it was as common as May’s Strong mantra, but they never did learn, how often did we see ministers and representatives of Labour sitting on their hands when asked about the banking crash and taking abuse over it without reply, they were less than useless.
    I think The SPAD situation ruined the Party with so many parachuted into safe seats and sadly cannot be removed because they are protected by the rest who are all ex SPADs, the party had been changed into a Party led by a group of unworldly sycophants that made disastrous decisions after disastrous decisions culminating in the disgraceful abstention of the welfare bill, the members were dumbfounded and I think it was the last straw after so many disappointments, Corbyn may not be perfect but he is a million times better than what went before.

  9. madasafish says:

    I liked Ed Balls as a person. I still do.. But as a politician? err no…No real connection with voters…

    The trouble with Labour is that the old “working class” – as in mines, factories and huge offcies have gone. It started going in the 1980s.. And who has Labour targetted since?

    The well off middle classes in London and big cities? Yes.
    The immigrant population? Yes.
    The artistic and chattering classes ? Yes.
    The public sector? Yes

    But what is left of the working classes now drive white vans or are self employed or non unionised. And Labour – or rather its spokespeople either despise them , or don’t understand them – or want to get rid of them (see the 20 point plan which would unionise them all).

    Back to a basic reappraisal of the electorate you want to support and those you don’t. Ed M had his 35% target..and won 30.4% in 2015..A child can see that ANY plan which only aims at that sector is not enough to win a GE.

    So to achieve the 40% plus needed to win a GE, the Part needs to identify the sections it needs to target.. and the potential conflicts with existing supporters.. So whilst aiming to gain large scale Muslim support , it has basically waved two fingers at it Jewish support..

    Nothing is clever . This is all basic stuff.. Until Labour does that, Ed Balls and his ilk are going nowhere..

    (The Tories learned that lesson in the 1990s and are targetting Scotland and Northern England – the polls suggest with some success..)

  10. paul barker says:

    I thought this was an interesting piece, till the last line.
    Atul sees the utter smallness of both wings of Labour but hes fails to come to the obvious concusion : labour is simply not relevant anymore.
    If Labour didnt exist would anyone really try to invent it in its present form, now ?
    “Lets have a Party to represent The Unions” ?! Really ?
    Lets have a Party that includes small “l” liberals, Maoists, Social Democrats, Trots, Nationalists, Anti-Nationalists, Social Conservatives, Feminists, Stalinists etc, they should all work well together.
    Labour is a living fossil left over from The Victorian Era & one thats slowly dying. Labour serves one function : to keep The Tories in power.
    Its time to let Labour die with some dignity.

  11. Heidstaethefire says:

    I would take anything you read about a tory revival with quite a lot of salt, my crazy piscine friend. In the nineties, they got 24% of the vote and no M.Ps. At the last election they got 22%. In the council elections up here, their entire policy offer for councils is nae referendum! No mention of any of the policy areas for which councils are responsible. If they do pick up anything this time, it’ll be because of their posturing on independence, and the terminal decline of labour.

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