Strictly speaking I’m not a fan of ballroom dancing, either as participant or TV viewer. However, being a bit of a politics anorak I found it absolutely compulsive to watch Ed Balls, former shadow chancellor and MP for the Yorkshire constituency of Morley and Outwood, strutting his stuff beneath mirror balls on Saturday nights.
To the surprise of everyone, himself included, he sensationally hot-footed all the way through to week 10 of Strictly Come Dancing. But the real miracle in my eyes, and one that may have wider significance as a career-saver for politicians in future, is that by the end of it he was being hailed as “the people’s champion”, and even described as “a national tr… national trrresh…” No, I can’t bring myself to write that about
For let’s not forget, Balls had a considerably less lovable image as an MP – especially among some on his own Labour benches – before he was voted off the Westminster stage at the 2015 general election. Notoriously, he was Gordon Brown’s rottweiler and earned his keep by savaging Tony Blair behind his back. And when Brown became PM, Balls spent much of the time with his teeth sunk into Brown’s chancellor, Alistair Darling.
Now that Balls has been admitted back to the human race, perhaps other politicians could be rehabilitated. For instance, Ed Miliband might benefit from a spell on the dancefloor, although he would find it hard to do a pasodoble with the big stone that’s destined to forever hang round his neck. And how about Nick Clegg? Dressed up with a few sequins and doing the foxtrot, he might finally be forgiven for… nah, forget it.
But back to Balls. Labour is being urged to find him a safe seat, from which he’d surely make the greatest entrance since Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. He might just be the telegenic leader that Labour badly needs if it’s ever going to win power again, although I personally wouldn’t hold my breath on that one. Balls’s fancy footwork is unlikely to earn him many votes in the main competition he would have to win, which we will call Strictly Corbyn. After all, didn’t Balls describe the Labour leader’s style as a “leftist utopian fantasy”? Corbyn and his hard-left comrades would see Balls as way too apt to trip the right fantastic.
However, I think Labour would be mad to ignore Balls’s new-found popularity, improbable thought it still seems, at a time when an Ipsos Mori opinion poll has found that politicians are the least trusted people in the UK. Indeed, perhaps Labour’s path back to government could be smoothed by recruiting some showbiz celebrities. They certainly couldn’t be any worse than all those lawyers, hedge fund managers and millionaires the party has been parachuting into safe seats for the last 20 years.
The Conservatives, of course, have MPs of their own in need of reputation makeovers on the dancefloor – people like George Osborne. But after Brexit, the Tories wouldn’t be seen dead doing European dances like the German waltz and Spanish flamenco. Perhaps they could perform something British, like Morris dancing, although they’d have to find someone to play the traditional role of the Fool. Who could they possibly find, Boris?
Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe