Millwall football fans are well known for their defiant chant “No one likes us — we don’t care”. I’m reminded of this terrace song when I meet Ed Balls’s supporters.
The former schools secretary is reviled by the press and disliked by the public, but his many fans persist in the belief that Balls is the man to return Labour to government.
While the next Labour leader is still likely to be a Miliband, it would be foolish to write Balls off at this stage. As Mike Smithson points out in today’s Guardian, his popularity with the trade union movement could yet see him emerge as the victor.
Balls was his usual pugnacious self at last night’s New Statesman Labour leadership debate, but he lacked the lightness of touch and self-deprecation that a leader requires. These defects were captured in one highly revealing exchange with Ed Miliband.
After a particularly verbose answer from Balls, Miliband quipped: “It’s like being back in the Treasury.” To which Balls humourlessly replied: “Tell us the answer then, Ed, like you normally do.”
I can understand why many Labour activists would relish a Balls victory. He would take the fight to the Tories and the right-wing media in a manner few could match. But these qualities, though admirable, are not sufficient to return Labour to government.