Ed Balls is the least popular Labour politician

Blow for leadership candidate as poll shows that he is significantly less popular than his rivals.

Opinion polls on politicians should always be treated with caution, for the simple reason that many of those surveyed will know little or nothing about the figures in question.

But with Labour immersed in its first leadership contest for 16 years, the latest PoliticsHome poll may make more of an impact. The poll found that Jon Cruddas is Labour's most popular politician, with an approval rating of +3. He is the only Labour figure with a positive rating, although only 27 per cent of the public had an opinion of him.

That Cruddas has never held ministerial office means that he has not been required to take the sort of decisions that can alienate the public. But I'd be surpirsed if his affable, open style didn't also benefit him.

Of the leadership contenders, Andy Burnham fares best, with an approval rating of -2, followed by Ed Miliband on - 5, David Miliband on -7 and Ed Balls on -39. Of the four, more of the public (61 per cent) had an opinion on Balls than any other candidate.

Findings like this should concentrate Labour minds. It would be politically irresponsible to elect a candidate so clearly disliked by the public.

Meanwhile, despite the noble efforts of my colleague Mehdi Hasan, Vince Cable remains Britain's most popular politician, with an approval rating of +24.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.