John Street’s Diary – conference special

Written By: Tribune web editor
Published: September 28, 2011 Last modified: September 28, 2011

Many will have seen pictures of Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls hurtling his not inconsiderable frame around the soccer pitch. Although unlikely to attract any sportswear sponsorship offers (unless like Abercrombie and Fitch and the Jersey Shore cast, they are to ask him to refrain from wearing their brands), they do speak to his love of the game. Just as his politics – and keen understanding of Marxist theory – seem to have been nurtured by, if not acquired from, his father the distinguished zoologist Professor Michael Balls so, too, does his passion for soccer. Professor Balls, an Oxford graduate like his son, started his academic career at the University of East Anglia in the 1960s – then a hotbed of radical leftist thinking (think Malcolm Bradbury et al) and was a fervent Norwich supporter. In 1967, his team was in a crucial cup-tie with the legendary Manchester United side that included George Best, Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and others. But young Professor Balls was about to become a dad at the same time. While not quite a Sophie’s Choice dilemma, he had to choose between the game and being there for Ed’s entry into this world. After much deliberation he opted for the game. Giant killers Norwich beat Man U… and three days later Professor and Mrs Balls became proud parents to a bouncing baby Ed. With thanks to the Eastern Daily Press’s estimable political editor – and fount of knowledge on all things Norwich, Chris Fisher.

Still on the subject of a “bouncing” Ed, the Shadow Chancellor who had a very good conference indeed, citing many of his favourite thinkers and forecasters ranging from Santayana, Hegel, Marx, Keynes – and himself – shared the Tribune platform with Tom Watson. Self-deprecatingly referring to himself as Tom Watson’s warm-up man, the immaculate-tailored Mr Balls commented on the scourge of News International’s recent weight loss and his own gain. Both men might be described as “comfortably proportioned” but Mr Balls, reflecting on their girths, wondered if that was what Ed Miliband had in mind when he spoke of the “squeezed middle”.

Shadow Culture Secretary Ivan Lewis – who was so unfortunately overshadowed by just about everybody during the summer’s phone hacking scandal – played up to conference urging licenses for journalists. Blogger Hopi Sen, who has a black belt in pricking pomposity, immediately tweeted that Mr Lewis had brought the conference to its feet and was a future Prime Minister. But Mr Lewis, dubbed a text pest by the media for earlier unrequited advances to a colleague had no sooner sat down to enjoy his crowd-pleasing moment than rumours circulated that he is facing the ignominy of losing his current portfolio in the reshuffle.

There is good capitalism and bad predatory capitalism, Ed Miliband told his conference this week. The bad, he suggested was characterised by former RBS boss Sir Fred Goodwin (Fred the Shred, awarded his knighthood by Gordon Brown for “services to banking” –and, no, he hasn’t sent it back even though Ed tried to disown it). The good is typified by ex-Rolls Royce boss Sir John Rose who was chief executive there for 15 years. What Ed perhaps didn’t have quite enough time in his speech to explain is that 58-year-old Sir John, having stepped down from Rolls Royce, has just joined the board of bankers Rothschild’s. He will be deputy to Baron David de Rothschild, who was appointed chairman in 2003. The baron is the great-great-great grandson of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, the founder of the Rothschild dynasty, and is descended from Baron James de Rothschild, who established a bank in Paris in 1812 but traces its roots to 1798, when 21-year-old Nathan Mayer Rothschild arrived in England from Germany to start a textile business. With a Channel blockade making exports difficult, Nathan turned to London’s financial markets to make his fortune. Sir John has a distinguished record as a champion of British manufacturing, so rather than see it as him going over to the dark side it is best to think of him as a missionary for enlightened business thinking and employment which has been so lacking in the wider banking industry these past few years.

Labour’s conference slogan, “Fulfilling the Promise of Britain”, might be a bit pants, but it is slightly better than the Tories’ “Leadership for a Better Future”. The question raised by both these is: when?  Still, neither slogan scrapes the bottom of the barrel in quite the same way as the Liberal Democrats’ “In Government, on your side”. As opposed to what? “In Government, knowing where you live and coming to get you”, which is presumably what the Lib Dems are trying to imply the Conservatives are all about. “In Government, but not for very long and then probably never again” might sum it up more accurately for Nick Clegg and his rotten party .