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Edward "Ed" Michael Balls (born 25 February 1967) is a Britishmarker Labour politician, who has been the Member of Parliament for Normantonmarker since 2005. Although he only became an MP at the beginning of the current Parliament, he has been an advisor to Prime Minister Gordon Brown since 1994, and is regarded as one of Brown's key lieutenants. Since June 2007, he has served in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

Early life

Balls was born in Norwichmarker, Norfolk and educated at Crossdale Drive Primary School in Keyworthmarker, Nottsmarker and then the private boys Nottingham High Schoolmarker. He studied PPE at Keble Collegemarker, Oxfordmarker, and later attended Harvard Universitymarker as a Kennedy Scholar. Whilst at Oxford he became a member of the Conservative Association: "He joined the Tories at Oxford because they used to book top-flight political speakers, and only members were allowed to attend their lectures. Ed was, however, also a member of the Labour Club. He was more active in that, and was always, at heart, a man of the left."


His career began as economic leader writer at the Financial Times (1990–94) before his appointment as an economic adviser to the then shadow chancellor Gordon Brown (1994–97).

In 1994, in a speech written for Gordon Brown to give to an economics conference, he used the phrase "post neoclassical endogenous growth theory", which was picked up on and gleefully recounted later by Michael Heseltine, who coined the humorous quip: "There you have it! The final proof. Labour's brand new, shining, modernists' economic dream. But it's not Brown's - it's Balls".

As Labour swept to power in the General Election of 1997 he continued as an economic adviser to Brown, who was then Chancellor. He then served as chief economic adviser to HM Treasurymarker from 1999 to 2004, in which post he was once named the 'most powerful unelected person in Britain'.

In July 2004 he was selected to stand as Labour and Co-operative candidate for the parliamentary seat of Normantonmarker in West Yorkshire, a Labour stronghold whose MP, Bill O'Brien, was retiring. He stepped down as chief economic adviser to the Treasury, but was given a position at the Smith Institute, a political think tank with extremely close ties to Gordon Brown. He was reportedly paid £100,000 for less than a year's work.

Member of Parliament

In the 2005 general election he was elected MP for Normanton with a majority of 10,002 and 51.2% of the vote. The West Yorkshire seat has been occupied by Labour MPs for longer than any other constituency in the United Kingdom. It is, however, scheduled to disappear before the next election under the latest changes proposed by the Boundary Commission. Balls ran a campaign, in connection with the local newspaper the Wakefield Express, to save the seat and, together with the three other Wakefieldmarker MPs (his wife Yvette Cooper, Mary Creagh and Jon Trickett), fought an unsuccessful High Courtmarker challenge against the Boundary Commission's proposals.

In March 2007 he was selected to be the Labour Party candidate for the new Morley and Outwoodmarker constituency, which contains part of the abolished Normantonmarker constituency and part of Colin Challen's current Morley and Rothwellmarker constituency. In return for giving way to Balls, it was rumoured Gordon Brown offered Challen a job on an environmental think tank as well as a possible peerage.

Ministerial career

Balls became Economic Secretary to the Treasury, a junior ministerial position in HM Treasurymarker, in the government reshuffle of May 2006. When Gordon Brown became prime minister on 29 June 2007, Balls was promoted to Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

In October 2008, Balls announced that the government had decided to scrap SATs tests for 14-year-olds despite their consistent promises to the contrary, a move which was broadly welcomed by teachers, parent groups and opposition MPs. However, the decision to continue with SATs tests for 11-year-olds was described by Head teachers' leader Mick Brookes as a missed opportunity.

Political activities

Balls has played a prominent role in the Fabian Society, the think tank and political society founded in 1884 which helped to found the Labour Party in 1900. In 1992 he authored a Fabian pamphlet advocating Bank of Englandmarker independence, a policy that was swiftly enacted when Gordon Brown became Chancellor in 1997.

Balls was elected Vice-Chair of the Fabian Society for 2006 and Chair of the Fabian Society for 2007. As Vice-Chair of the Fabian Society, he launched the Fabian Life Chances Commission report in April 2006 and opened the Society's Next Decade lecture series in November 2006, arguing for closer European cooperation on the environment. Balls had previously been seen as being a eurosceptic, in Labour party terms, because of his opposition to the euro and the EU constitution.

Balls has been a central figure in New Labour's economic reform agenda. But he and Gordon Brown have differed from the Blairites in being keen to stress their roots in Labour party intellectual traditions such as Fabianism and the co-operative movement as well as their modernising credentials in policy and electoral terms. In a New Statesman interview in March 2006, Martin Bright writes that Balls "says the use of the term "socialist" is less of a problem for his generation than it has been for older politicians like Blair and Brown, who remain bruised by the ideological warfare of the 1970s and 1980s".

"When I was at college, the economic system in eastern Europe was crumbling. We didn't have to ask the question of whether we should adopt a globally integrated, market-based model. For me, it is now a question of what values you have. Socialism, as represented by the Labour Party, the Fabian Society, the Co-operative movement, is a tradition I can be proud of", Balls told the New Statesman.

Allegations over allowances

In September 2007, with his wife Yvette Cooper, he was accused of "breaking the spirit of Commons rules" by using MPs' allowances to help pay for a £655,000 home in north London. It was alleged that they bought a four-bed house in Stoke Newingtonmarker, north London, and registered this as their second home (rather than their home in Castlefordmarker, West Yorkshire) in order to qualify for up to £44,000 a year to subsidise a reported £438,000 mortgage under the Commons Additional Costs Allowance. This is despite both spouses working in London full-time and their children attending local London schools. Through a spokesman, Balls and Cooper countered the allegation by saying "The whole family travel between their Yorkshire home and London each week when Parliament is sitting. As they are all in London during the week, their children have always attended the nearest school to their London house."

Commons outburst

In March 2008, Balls sparked controversy by appearing to reply to David Cameron's assertion in parliament that the government had presided over the greatest increase in overall taxation of all time with the phrase "So what?" Balls maintained that he had said "So weak!", in response to Cameron's previous questioning, and this was the phrase that was recorded in the parliamentary register Hansard, but the incident remained highly controversial. Analysts have published slow-motion recordings of the comment and it remains ambiguous.

Damian McBride

In April 2009, Balls was linked to controversy over the disgrace and resignation of the Head of Strategic Planning at 10 Downing Streetmarker, Damian McBride. The Sunday Times reported on 19 April 2009 that Balls was responsible for running the McBride operation, which included deliberate lies about the family members of political opponents. Balls denied this.

In an interview on the BBC radio "Today" programme, Balls was asked whether he thought that Damian McBride had respected the special advisers' Code of Conduct which ruled out personal attacks. He answered

"I did. As far as I ever saw. But, to be honest, I worked with Damian McBride when he was a Treasury head of media and a special adviser and I think he was generally thought at the time to do a very good job on the economic matters. I don't know and haven't been involved in his political work."

The BBC Chief Political Correspondent Nick Robinson challenged this on 20 April 2009, saying

"My eyebrows shot to the ceiling as I heard that particular clip... He was the closest media adviser to the Prime Minister for many, many years and he was known extraordinarily well by Ed Balls, was a close ally of his... They knew his style, they liked his style, they employed him, they worked with him, and any attempt to suggest they didn't won't succeed."

Personal life

He married Yvette Cooper MP, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, in Eastbournemarker on 10 January 1998. Cooper is Member of Parliament for Normantonmarker's neighbouring constituency of Pontefract and Castlefordmarker. They have three children: Meriel Eliza (Ellie, born July 1999), Joel Thomas (Joe, born 24 August 2001) and Maddy (born 2004).

His father Michael Balls is a former academic and European civil servant, an expert in alternatives to the use of animals in experiments and chairman of the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME).


  1. Revealed: How Ed Balls was a Tory under Thatcher, Guy Adamns, The Independent, 5 July 2006
  2. It should, however, be noted that this phrase makes perfect sense to those with a background in economics, since endogenous theories of economic growth were developed after the neoclassical period in economics.
  3. The Guardian - Interview: Will Woodward meets Ed Balls
  4. The Guardian - The Guardian profile: Ed Balls
  5. The Daily Telegraph - Call for inquiry over Balls's think tank
  7. The Daily Telegraph - Mandrake - Tea and Sympathy - 3 December 2006
  8. Hansard - House of Commons - 23 Apr 2007 col.754
  9. Iain Dale's Dairy - Danny, I Fink You're Wrong
  10. The Fabian Society - Narrowing the Gap: The final report of the Fabian Commission on Life Chances and Child Poverty
  11. Fabian Society - Ed Balls 'Next Decade' lecture: Britain's Next Decade
  12. New Statesman - Interview: Ed Balls
  13. The Daily Telegraph - Ed Balls claims £27,000 subsidy for 2nd home
  14. YouTube - Ed Balls - So what
  16. audio link
  17. transcript
  18. The Daily Telegraph - Health minister celebrates birth

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