There is growing interest in whether or not former Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls will use his newfound popularity on Strictly to return to top politics
He may have been voted off Strictly Come Dancing, but the question on many lips now is whether Ed Balls could be planning to use his newfound popularity as a launchpad to win elections of a different kind.
Ten weeks of outrageous costumes and glitterballs, hip-thrusts and pouts have effected a remarkable transformation in the former shadow chancellor’s public image.
And many at Westminster are asking whether he could be planning to use it to engineer a return to frontline politics.
Before he put on his dancing shoes, many voters saw Ed as a bully and a bruiser – an image forged in his years as Gordon Brown’s henchman in the long-running TB-GB wars with Tony Blair.
Others saw him more as an economic egghead who was out of touch with ordinary people and inclined to come out with phrases like ‘post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory’.
His defeat at the hands of Andrea Jenkyns by a miniscule 422 votes was celebrated by Tories as the highlight of the 2015 general election – and seen by many voters as the ‘Portillo moment’ of the night.
And after his TV triumphs, some expect Ed to follow Michael Portillo down the road from political pugilist to genial light entertainment host.
Ed’s supporters in Westminster agree that Strictly gave him the opportunity to show voters his true character.
One Labour MP who voted for him as leader in 2010 told the Press Association: “The good thing about this run on Strictly is that members of the public can see the person that those of us who worked with him have always known.
“The reputation as a bully was always wrong. He really is a great guy, someone who inspires loyalty and someone who was very popular and well-liked and respected by people who worked with him.”
The MP left no doubt there would be a welcome for him on the Labour backbenches, where he remains ‘very popular’, but stressed that it was a very personal decision for him whether he wants to return to the bear pit of politics or pursue other interests in academia – he is a senior fellow at Harvard University and a visiting professor at King’s College London – or broadcasting.
It seems likely that Conservatives would be more than a little queasy at the prospect of the former shadow chancellor taking up the cudgel against them once more.
Former minister Alistair Burt tweeted as he was eliminated from Strictly on Sunday: “Find another show for Ed Balls asap! Don’t let him have a by-election – we would be doomed!”
Light entertainment star Richard Osman joked earlier in the Strictly run that Theresa May should call a snap election before Ed had shown voters his Gangnam Style, ‘otherwise he’ll be Prime Minister by Xmas’.
If he does return to Westminster, finding a safe seat to fight in a by-election should not be too much of an obstacle.
And if he waited until 2020, the boundaries of his former Morley and Outwood seat have been redrawn in a way which makes it easier for Labour to win.
A bigger question mark hangs over whether the current Labour leadership would welcome him back.
He has suggested that Labour are unelectable under Jeremy Corbyn and it is thought unlikely he would find a place in his shadow cabinet.
However, there is a vacancy on the Labour backbenches – exposed by Owen Smith’s under-powered bid for the leadership earlier this year – for a big-name figurehead and potential future leader around whom centre-left MPs opposed to Corbyn could rally.
Whether that is a role which Ed wants is so far an unanswered question.
He has so far steered clear of any suggestion that he is seeking a return to the front line, saying: “I’m not sure retreads work in politics.”
But with a reality TV star just elected president of the United States, perhaps in modern politics nothing is impossible.