Former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls is doing an excellent job re-inventing himself in his post Parliament period, and it seems you can't, right now, open a newspaper or turn on the TV without seeing Ed. And I don't think it is overly cynical to believe that Ed's ubiquity is in part a strategy to publicise his memoirs, which are now in print. While I haven't had the chance to read the book yet, a couple of points that have been reported in the media are classics of their kind.
Considering the big picture, it is amazing how some things that seem so obvious can nevertheless be so wilfully ignored by people who should be at the top of their games. Indeed, there's a lesson right there, but that's for another time.
Politics is, without doubt, tribal, a team sport if you will, and for a team to win against a competent opposition, they need to act like a team. Accordingly I was shocked to read Ed Balls say of his relationship with party leader and would be PM, Ed Miliband:
Having kept me at a distance in the run-up to the election in 2015, I think we probably only spoke twice in the whole four-week election campaign. That was astonishingly dysfunctional when I compare it to how Tony [Blair] and Gordon [Brown] worked
Is it any wonder they lost? As was seen with Blair and Brown (in the beginning), and Cameron and Osborne recently, the bond between party leader/PM and the Chancellor is the most powerful nexus in government. That Balls and Miliband had effectively stopped talking to each other will have massively impacted both Labour's strategy and tactics, meaning that failure was all but certain. What message did this send to the front line troops? A pretty demoralising one I'm guessing.
Second, it's a well known aphorism in politics that for strong government you need strong opposition and for many of the Blair years, Balls feels this was not only missing but detrimental to all. Ed Balls comments:
A strongly led Conservative Party in 2001 would have been the best thing that could have happened to us. The overriding story became Blair-Brown and the succession. Everything was seen through the prism of Blair versus Brown and who was going to succeed him, Brown or someone from the Blair camp
In essence, the Conservative Party were invisible and the Labour Party's political objective, that of being in power, was taken for granted allowing faction objectives to take priority. Labour ceased to focus on staying in power because power was assumed, instead they focused on who should wield power. The divisions within the party remain apparent to this day. Given the opposition vacuum, Labour entered a comfort zone followed by infighting, with disastrous consequence for their seemingly forgotten principal objective, eventually ceding power.
Top leaders are universally agreed that the comfort zone is the enemy of achievement and it is interesting that Jose Mourinho attributes Chelsea's disastrous 2015 season to the team more broadly entering its own comfort zone. Mourihno told Sky Sports:
If you are in a club that wins, if you want to win again, you have to create instability in the winners, To do this, you have to make them doubt, you have to buy new players, you have to take them outside their comfort zone because if you win, there is a normal tendency to go to a comfort zone.
Complacency is the enemy of performance. Whenever you feel in your comfort zone, alarm bells should ring.
And since we are talking Balls, I can't resist this somewhat unconnected but nevertheless amusing story. Garry Kasparov, the world's greatest chess player recalls in his early days how his aggressive attacking style was unsuccessful against a positional player who liked to grind opponents down, forcing them into an impatient mistake. After losing two games in a row, the young Kasparov was given advice by another chess legend Boris Spassky:
"Squeeze his balls," said Spassky, "but just squeeze one, not both!"