Following Alan Johnson’s resignation on Thursday as shadow chancellor and the subsequent appointment of Ed Balls, rival politicians used the weekend press to call into question Balls' suitability for the job, while this morning in The Independent columnist Mary Ann Seigart said Ed Balls would be 'a disaster for Labour'.
Speaking yesterday on The BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg criticised Balls for not properly regulating the banking system when he was Minister for the City.
Shadow foreign minister Douglas Alexander admitted Labour had failed to rein in the banks before the financial crisis of late 2008, but emphasised the party was determined to ‘pull together’ after Johnson’s resignation.
Jon McLeod, chairman, corporate communications and public affairs at Weber Shandwick, said: ‘The issue with Balls is it reminds everyone of Labour's slightly bizarre leadership election.
‘Ed Miliband needs, again, to assert his authority to demonstrate that it is his party.’
He added: ‘It is the media, rather than policy navel-gazing and stomach-scratching, that is the key to this. With Balls as an attack dog, Coulson out and the coalition grid snarled up, Labour could profit in the short term. If, however, Balls takes the opportunity to apply his own economic and ideological veneer to Labour's messaging, then we are back to Blair-Brown.’
Eben Black, director at DLA Piper, agreed. He said: ‘Labour has to go all-out to present itself as a new team breaking with the recent past. Ed Balls is going to come under attack from the coalition but of course that is to be expected, and is a badge of honour. If he was welcome, that would mean trouble. What Labour did do was brief around his appointment that he and the other Ed had hammered out their differences on the economy.
‘Balls has to distance himself from Brown and be seen to be moving forward without a taint of the past, even if that means ditching his previous positions. Meanwhile, the Tories will be in a mess after Coulson's departure - notice that David Davies, who is always very helpful, has already warned that they now risk losing touch.’
But Graham McMillan, CEO of Open Road, added: 'Balls is an exceptionally able economist and a very effective Opposition spokesman – just ask Michael Gove, who got beaten up by Balls on several occasions. But he has a reputation for briefing against his colleagues in the past and the Tories and Lib Dems will paint him as the author of the country’s economic problems under the previous Government.
'Balls needs to knuckle down and ensure he toes the party line completely for at least the next 6 – 12 months. The coalition and the media will be looking for any signs of him being disloyal or undermining current Labour policy – he must not give them any. He also needs to ensure he and Ed Miliband develop a strong relationship based on trust. That will be difficult for Balls – who used to be a more senior figure in the party than Ed Miliband – but if Balls can do it, then over time Labour can start to capitalise on Balls’ strengths as a performer in taking on Osborne. The coalition are worried about Balls and hope that he will let himself down by bringing disunity to Labour. It is now up to him.'