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Labour race: who knows Ed Balls?

By Anna Doble

Updated on 19 May 2010

Ed Balls has joined the race to become the next leader of the Labour Party. So who is he and who are his backers? Who Knows Who finds out.

Ed Balls announces he will be contending the Labour leadership election. (Credit: Reuters)

If the Milibands are the thinking voter's crumpet, Ed Balls is quite possibly the ham sandwich in this leadership race - with Andy Burnham the fresh green salad.

Balls takes pride in his "man of the people" image. He announced his intention to challenge for Labour's top job between cups of tea with ally Vernon Coaker and chats about Nottingham Forest with supporters.

He told reporters he would back whoever won the contest "110 per cent", adding: "We all have some similarities, but we're also very different.

"David [Miliband] has been a foreign secretary, travelling around the world... I was born in Norwich, I grew up down the road from here, I'm a Yorkshire MP."

Who Knows Who: Labour leadership contenders

Balls is rarely seen without his signature mug of tea in hand. He leaves the house with it in the morning, press pack or not, and prominently clutches a "down to earth" cuppa on his website (

But this football-loving Nottingham High School lad is also a graduate of Keble College, Oxford where he was a member of both the Labour and Conservative clubs.

(Ed Balls: no political mug - Reuters)

And like David Miliband, he has seen a little more of the world than the East Midlands. A Harvard Kennedy Scholar, Balls also taught at the famous American university in the late 1980s.

He then became a leader writer at the Financial Times and also worked for The Telegraph. In 1994 Balls became economic adviser to then shadow chancellor, Gordon Brown.

A famous Brownite, he stood by the former PM throughout the Blair years and the Brown premiership. He was a key player in Brown's inner circle and the pair were known for mixing policy talk with football banter.

Balls was also close friends with Damian "mad dog" McBride, the Brown spin doctor forced to quit over "smeargate", and accused of unleashing the "forces of hell" on former chancellor Alistair Darling.

It is likely Balls will enjoy the support of another football mad union man from this group, Brown's former adviser (and Unite political director) Charlie Whelan. In April, The Spectator described the trio as the "Balls-Brown-Whelan power axis".

Labour and Unite: the awkward couple

The association may not bring much advantage (and could well do the opposite) in the post-Brown era but the connection clearly remains. Balls' leadership bid is supported by Michael Dugher, Brown's former spokesman and newly-elected MP for Barnsley East.

Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, also backs Balls. She was visible at his side during the announcement on Wednesday and, a former Unison officer, she (like Whelan) could be useful in mustering votes for Balls from the unions.

Labour's ruling national executive committee (NEC) announced on Tuesday that the contenders would face a lengthy four-month contest. The electoral college system could work in Balls' favour. The process involves Labour MPs and MEPs, grassroots activists and affiliated organisations, including trade unions.

Balls is married to former work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper. The pair, who have three children together, became something of a "New Labour power couple" before losing their ministerial positions at the election. 

But Ed Balls may fancy his chances if he does become leader - like David Cameron and Nick Clegg (plus a sizeable chunk of the new cabinet) he is from the magic generation of Oxford politics graduates - all aged 43.

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