May 15, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
In amongst the carnage last week was a result that made me sad. Ed Balls lost his seat in Morley and Outwood and British politics lost one of its great contributors. That someone of such importance to the Labour election campaign was defending a majority of only 1100 was a real problem. Evidence emerging now suggests Labour had data that told them he should have been allowed to spend more time in his constituency during the campaign. But he didn’t, and he’s gone. We all lose.
First and foremost, Ed Balls was a great Economist. Oxford educated, a with a lot of experience at the Treasury. You don’t have to agree with him to see that he did a lot of thinking about the subject. His Bloomberg Speech in 2010 (click here) used a mix of economic theory, along with politics and history to challenge the theory behind the Conservative-led Coalition’s austerity package. During his time as Shadow Chancellor, he took part in many debates of the highest level, and whilst we got used to seeing him making a flat-lining gesture at the Prime Minister in the midst of the rough and tumble of Prime Minister’s questions, his actual arguments against the government’s economic policy were sensible and in some ways were proved right. Not only that, he, like his hero John Maynard Keynes, adjusted his view as the economy began to pick up. Thus he accepted that some of what had worked should be kept, but that some measures should be taken, for example, to share out the proceeds of that growth.
Given Labour was for five years the sole opposition party, they needed someone like Ed Balls to be there, breathing down the neck of George Osborne. For a year he was at the Department of Education, and you could hear Michael Gove’s sigh of relief miles away when he was moved to Shadow Chancellor. Such was the ferocity of his attacks on Osborne, that many argue it forced the Chancellor to change course in 2012 after the infamous “omnishambles” budget. Osborne realised that clearing the deficit in total was not going to be possible, and relaxed austerity enough that one could argue it caused the zero inflation growth we have now. That he won’t be there any more, with the Conservatives running a majority government, and about to deliver £12bn of welfare cuts that they never explained how they would do, is a shame.
According to reports from many, outside politics he was a genuinely nice, fun, interesting person. We know about his cooking and his piano playing, and no Labour Party Conference was complete without a picture of him bursting out of a football kit whilst fouling a journalist in the match they played with Labour MPs. A story that tells me a lot about him is from Damian McBride. McBride was the spin doctor sacked by Gordon Brown in 2009 having been found to have been accused of planning a Labour leaning blog that aimed to smear Tory politicians. He tells the story of how he contacted all who worked with him, advising them to break off all contact with him, particularly in the run up to the next election, given that he was damaged goods. Balls replied with two words, one of them beginning with F, for what he could do with that request, and has stayed in contact since. As McBride says, you find out who your friends are at times like that.
But I have a personal reason to be sad about Ed Balls. When my son was two, he developed a terrible stammer, which it seemed at one point he might not get over. He couldn’t get words out, got stuck on one syllable for ages, and even at his age used to tell me he was ‘ill’ and ‘not normal’. As we embarked on speech therapy, I red some articles about Ed Balls and his stammer, and how hard he had had to work to overcome it. He needed to use particularly words (‘look’) to start sentences to unlock his speaking, and even on this campaign trail, he genuinely struggled to read out speeches that he had just been given. That someone with his stammer had got so far in economic and politics gave me hope for my son. Balls never forgot this either, becoming patron of the British Stammering Association, and never being afraid to speak about his condition.
I hope he will be back soon, British politics, and I, will genuinely miss him.
4) fun person