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.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.