During the leadership elections, Ed Balls was the only contender with the ability to engage Labour audiences emotionally. Early in the campaign, at the huge Fabian hustings, he attacked the Tories’ desire to end breakfast clubs by reminding us that for some of these kids, it will be the only square meal they’ll eat that day. The audience gave a gasp to this, and I thought they’d fallen in love with this guy, but the polls stayed stubbornly low.
No other candidate was able to remind us of why we became socialists. At another hustings, he told the story of some children who were so amazed by their new school that one looked up at him and said, “I never thought we’d be worth this much”. It was touching, and everyone was drawn in by him, but still the polls stayed stubbornly low.
I met him at some point, and found him to be a really nice, easy going guy. He seemed to be a people person, which is a major quality in a politician. But the low poll rating refused to budge. He wasn’t going to win.
Bill Clinton once said that if you want to run for President, the first thing you have to do is to get people to see you as President. It didn’t matter how much raw talent Ed Balls had, by this time, he was being seen as the loser. I started to hear people describe him as being the henchman of Gordon Brown. They associated him with division in Downing Street, and bad news in Tottenham.
At the time, I was on Oona King’s campaign as photographer and film maker but I was frustrated and felt like my ideas were being ignored, which was unfair, on reflection, as these campaigns tend to happen under the sheer chaos of pressure. But I wanted to help the underdog, Ed Balls, so I made contact and offered to make a film.
I was only peripheral on the Ed Balls campaign. It was a bit weird in that they had been together since the beginning, while I’d come along only once it was obvious he was losing. It was a tiny, close knit team, mostly very young. Ed once joked that he came in one day, to find the campaign office empty. When he asked why, he was told that school term had re-started. He was only half joking.
I didn’t much enjoy the leadership debates, because it was so woolly. Maybe I was unfair. If any of them had any good ideas then those would have been spent during the last government and as we know, that government had lost the election. So maybe I shouldn’t have had such high expectations. But still, it was woolly regardless.
But with Ed Balls, he’d always make you listen to him, because he had such conviction. A good politician doesn’t ask what you want him to stand for, he tells you what he stands for, and demands that you stand beside him. As far as Ed was concerned, it was a catastrophic mistake to end the fiscal stimulus.
A good politician doesn’t fear being vulnerable. When asked why is it that the last government’s policy was to end the fiscal stimulus, even though Ed was a part of that government, he simply said, “I lost the argument.” There was no shame and no bitterness. His conviction was not shaken. When asked to clarify, he simply said, “I lost the argument.”
I think what I got out of last year’s leaders campaigns, was to learn about myself. I felt as if photography was below me and that I should occupy some higher position on the campaign, but without experience of campaigns, I had no skills. I felt that I had ideas to offer, but it’s impossible to come into a campaign with ideas; there is no time to chew things over.
I decided I should go back to writing, which I’ve done. Also to accept that I know precious little about the actual business of politics, but that I’d like to learn. I think the whole experience made me more confident, while at the same time more humble.
The other thing I know from the Ed Balls campaign is that if, in time to come, there is another leadership election, then he should time it to be between terms. Those young, but committed campaigners would be needed again, but this time as managers.