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Is Balls heading for a “Portillo moment”?

Tory opponent releases attack ad comparing leading Brown ally to Michael Portillo in 1997.

Here's an attack advert that Ed Balls's Conservative opponent has released, suggesting that the Schools Secretary could suffer the same fate as Michael Portillo did in 1997.

It's refreshing to see the comparison made correctly for once. The term "Portillo moment" is too often used merely to describe a well-known MP losing his or her (often marginal) seat. In fact, it should only apply to a significant political figure (Portillo was defence secretary) losing a safe seat (he had a majority of 15,563).

As such, Jacqui Smith's defeat in Redditch, where she has a notional majority of just 1,948, would not be a Portillo moment. But Balls's defeat in the new constituency of Morley and Outwood, where he has a notional majority of 9,784, would be just that.

So, what are the chances? The Tories dismiss talk of a "decapitation" strategy, but they are aggressively targeting the seat and campaigners have apparently been taken aback by the local hostility towards Balls.

The Schools Secretary also faces a challenge from a popular BNP councillor, Chris Beverley, and has been accused of pandering to anti-immigrant sentiment in response.

It seems all the ingredients are in place for an upset. And there is no doubt that the defeat of Balls, described by one cabinet minister as "the chief stormtrooper of the Brownite shock-troops", would be welcomed by the Tories like no other.

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