Will one of Labour’s Big Beasts return and run?
As the extraordinary episode in Labour’s history that is Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership enters what looks like a chaotic death-throw, eyes and minds inevitably turn to what – and who – comes next.
Various names have been suggested: Watson, Benn, MacDonnell, Jarvis, Nandy and others. Some have ruled themselves out but with events so fluid, I’d be inclined not to take any such statement too categorically.
None of those names comes without serious shortcomings. Some are of the same wing of the party as Corbyn and even if more competent as a leader, will struggle to connect with the crucial swing voters. Others have the opposite problem and are viewed with at best deep suspicion by many of the members and supporters who propelled Corbyn to victory last year. Many are untried and untested. Others have been tried and have been found to be lightweight.
So in such circumstances, might Labour look to a King over the Water? The name of Ed Miliband was tipped by Alastair Meeks some months ago but what of an arguably even more improbable option, the other Ed: Ed Balls?
Critics might point to the apparently insuperable problem that he’s not an MP (and indeed, he appears to be enjoying life outside Westminster). All true. However, these are extraordinary times. That David Miliband – also a non-MP – is as short as 6/1 and no longer than 12/1 as next Labour leader tells you that. Those odds are, however, strongly to be avoided.
Why might Balls be different? Firstly, his odds at 100/1 are quite literally a different order of magnitude but in terms of merit, Balls landed blows on the coalition government. He was an effective opposition front bencher and after a year of the precise opposite, Labour might be a bit more inclined to someone with a track record there. Whether he still has the fire for that fight is one question that does admittedly need to be asked.
The hurdle of being outside Westminster? There is of course the Batley & Spen by-election coming up. Balls was MP just down the road in Morley & Outwood prior to the election and while he wasn’t a great constituency MP, he knows the area well enough. It’s not a rock-solidly safe Labour seat but that won’t matter for the by-election. The opportunity is there should he want it and be allowed it through the selection process. Were a ‘Draft Balls’ campaign to gather momentum, the process is there to enable his eligibility for nomination.
I grant that it’s not likely. There are any number of things that could trip the scenario up. However, if Balls were in parliament now, he would undoubtedly be being talked of in the first sentence as a potential replacement for Corbyn. And he wouldn’t be the first long shot to come in these last 18 months.