Five similarities between Hillary Clinton and Ed Balls

4:12 pm - January 23rd 2011

by Sunder Katwala    

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As Ed Balls takes up the key role of Shadow Chancellor for the Labour Opposition, in many ways the politician he most resembles is US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Here are five parallels between the two.

1. Scenes from a political marriage: Both Balls and Clinton have faced the challenge of establishing their own political identities having first exercised influence as unelected players in a powerful political partnership. Hillary spent eight years in the White House as First Lady, while the Brown-Balls era from 1997 to 2004 was the closest thing to a political marriage the Treasury is likely to see.

2. Champions of the tribe: Both Clinton and Balls both have public reputations as polarising politicians, not afraid of political combat. Clinton controversially hit back at a “vast right-wing conspiracy”. Balls has been the Labour figure keenest to take on the Conservatives. On the major political clashes of the day – the ‘culture wars’ in the US; the deficit argument in Britain – they have been the figures most associated with their partisan position by both supporters and opponents. (Given Balls’ key role in shaping New Labour’s macroeconomic strategy, it is a relatively novel experience for him to be so vociferously championed by the party’s Keynesian left).

3. The incumbency disadvantage: Both Clinton and Balls were unsuccessful in their bids to lead their parties – in the 2008 Democratic primaries and the 2010 Labour leadership race – because of a perception of incumbency. That they were perceived to offer continuity rather than change, enabling internal opponents to mobilise new cohorts of activists and members in particular. (Though Balls was never the frontrunner, unlike Clinton, and so Ed Miliband campaign’s riff on a ‘movement versus the machine’ theme with younger party members was aimed primarily at framing David Miliband as the candidate of the party establishment).

4. The value of expertise: Balls and Clinton also share a reputation for experience and expertise. Clinton’s global profile and network has assisted her diplomacy as Secretary of State. Balls is acknowledged by friend and foe to be Labour’s most formidable economist (with even his sometime adversary Tony Blair paying tribute to Balls as “really able” in his memoir).

5. The team of rivals: Ed Miliband has, by both personal inclination and political circumstance, followed a similar “team of rivals” approach to that of Obama, (channelling Lincoln). The close leadership result saw Miliband place emphasis initially on the supporters of his brother.

However, the successful Obama-Clinton partnership in the current US administration would perhaps provide a closer analogy to a David Miliband-Ed Balls alliance than this one between the two Eds. There is something of a contradiction between those fretting about a repeat of Blair-Brown tensions between the two Eds and another group worrying about a so-called Brownite takeover. The first group worries that the two Eds won’t see eye-to-eye and the second group that they are too similar.

Indeed, a “team of rivals” approach to pluralism at Labour’s top table would be strengthened if Ed Miliband were to succeed in bringing both David Miliband and Jon Cruddas back to the political frontline as the next election looms.

A longer version is at Next Left

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments

1. Thomas Hobbes

6. Hopelessly out of their depth: both claim an intellectual mastery of their brief but prove daily they have no clear understanding what the consequences of their policies will be

7. Page in History: both will have nothing but a footnote in their page in history – known only for standing idly by while their respective partners fucked the population, to varying degrees

Aren’t comparisons more profound elsewhere?

1. Scenes from a political marriage: George Osborne touched his feet on the church aisle just as David Cameron chased along to pick up the bride (leadership of the Conservative party). The congregation had scarcely a moment to hear the organ pipe up. Osborne lost his bride to one of his best friends.

2. Champions of the tribe: Osborne and Cameron are socially liberal. Cameron presents himself as a reinvented man, more caring (in economic circumstances) than the Carlton PR man. Osborne has not reinvented. Thus Cameron appeals to the new Conservative generation, and Osborne to others.

3. The incumbency disadvantage: Cameron and Osborne were Tory high fliers, both compromised by association with the bad old days. For reasons that I cannot comprehend, Cameron has been allowed to distance himself from his grim times.

4. The value of expertise: Now, my comparison falls on stony ground.

5. The team of rivals: In coalition, Cameron must appoint LibDems to his cabinet. Obviously, not the candidates that he preferred. Osborne’s supporters don’t like this sort of thing.

Sunder, OP: “Indeed, a “team of rivals” approach to pluralism at Labour’s top table would be strengthened if Ed Miliband were to succeed in bringing both David Miliband and Jon Cruddas back to the political frontline as the next election looms.”

I am taking this argument seriously. Labour needs liberals on the opposition benches. Too many political debates are technocratic; that means that an administrator has come up with a bright idea, which makes sense in an ideal world, but fails in our real world.

Liberals (with a small L) adapt to change according to the evidence. If the evidence changes, adapt your policy and stick with the principles.

Clinton is frighteningly good at her job, to the world’s benefit. (As well as the usual business of a foreign secretary she does things that go almost wholly unreported to benefit women in the developing world).

Ed Balls is equally clever but is also fucking silly, so there’s no prospect of him emulating her success if he became chancellor.

Sunder, you do realise four of those five points could also be made about Yvette Cooper? Point three only doesn’t because Balls – like Bill Clinton – ran for the top job first.

Ed Balls looks suspiciously like the guy in “The Invention of Lying”:

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