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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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.