Born in Barton Mills, Mildenhall, Suffolk, Balfe spent time in a children's home in Sheffield. He began working in a bakery in 1960 and joined USDAW. The following year, he moved to London and worked first for the Crown Agents for Overseas Governments, then at the Foreign Office.
In 1970, Balfe resigned from the Foreign Office in order to stand as the Labour Party candidate in Paddington South. He was unsuccessful, and instead became the Research Officer for the Finer Committee on One-Parent Families.
At the 1973 Greater London Council election, Balfe was elected in Dulwich, serving until 1977. During this period, he was also political secretary of the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society. At the first direct elections to the European Parliament, in 1979, Balfe was elected as the Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for London South Inner. He held his seat until its abolition in 1999, then won a seat from fourth place on the party list for London. He supported a single European currency and was a member of the European Movement.
In late 2001, Balfe stood for election to the post of quaestor in the European Parliament, against instructions from his party group. As a result, he was expelled in January 2002. In March, he joined the Conservative Party, the first elected Labour politician to do so since Reg Prentice in 1977.
On 19 September 2013 he was created a life peer taking the title Baron Balfe, of Dulwich in the London Borough of Southwark. Balfe currently serves as President of the Cambridge Conservative Society, the Honorary Chairman of the British Dietetic Association and a member of the Advisory Board at the UK-based 'Polar Regions' think-tank Polar Research and Policy Initiative.
Involvement in EU Referendum Campaign
Balfe has now taken an active role in "Cambridge For Europe", a local campaign which cites as its purpose ensuring "that people in Cambridge and its wider region fully understand the arguments for continued membership of the European Union". In addition to being a member of the group's steering committee, he is also a patron.
Political activities in the Lords
- On 4 June 2015, Balfe proposed "A BILL TO Make provision to allow European Union citizens who are resident in the United Kingdom to vote in parliamentary elections and to become members of Parliament; and for connected purposes".
- Christine Buckley, "Why some unions still see red when wooed by Richard Balfe", The Times, 13 April 2009
- George Jones and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, "Labour rebel joins Tories in disgust", Daily Telegraph, 6 March 2002
- The London Gazette: . 24 September 2013.
- "Steering Committee - Cambridge For Europe". Cambridge For Europe. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
- "About Us - Cambridge For Europe". Cambridge For Europe. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
- "Home Page". Balfes. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
- parliament.uk: HL Bill 27 56/1 European Union Citizens (Electoral) Rights Bill (HL)