Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

Robin Hood

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

  I laughed quite a lot, the other day, reading an interview with Ed Balls. And not just because of his name. I’m past that. I even, as I wrote last year, quite admire it.

  He was interviewed, in quite a long piece over several pages, by Ann Treneman of The Times. Ann Treneman’s a proper grown-up political writer, not just a light celeb interviewee. So I was surprised by something she said, during a section of the interview where she’d asked Balls (of course) about crying. Here’s the extract - the first person voice, when not in quotes, is Treneman’s.

“The first time I can remember crying [says Balls], I must have been 5 or 6. I’d gone to see the Disney version of Robin Hood and there is a point where the rabbits have saved up all year to give the little rabbit a gold coin for his birthday and then the Sheriff of Nottingham comes in and says [Ed does a rough, deeper voice], ‘I’ve come to collect the taxes.’ And he takes the gold coin!”

Oh my God, I say, you were Labour even then.

“Well, the rabbits had saved all year. And then their opportunity to deliver for the little rabbit had been ruined.”

  Can you see Treneman’s error here? This doesn’t mean he’s Labour at all! I mean he is, of course. And I can see what her thinking must have been, if she wasn’t listening with analytical closeness: the child Balls disliked nasty authority figure the Sheriff of Nottingham and sided with the oppressed little people, which is a Laboury thing to do. But the scene that Balls is claiming makes him cry is a scene of HIGH TAXATION. These aspirant middle-class rabbits had saved carefully for the future, and then the nanny state (in Sheriff form) had made a sudden tax change and snatched their savings away. What the rabbits had done - saving saving, squirrelling squirrelling, then voluntarily giving it away to another rabbit who seemed to need it, was rather Big Society. What Treneman should actually have spluttered, in the face of Balls’s misery at the tale of this plan being obstructed by an interfering state, is: “Oh my God, you were a Tory!”

  So why did I laugh? I laughed because I bet Ed Balls sat with his advisers for ages before this interview, knowing he’d be asked what else he’s cried at, deciding what to say. And I bet they high-fived each other and took an early lunch, when they came up with this: a clever little message for the electorate, on behalf of the potential Labour Leader, that he’s on the side of the struggling middle-class savers. He hates punitive taxation. It makes him CRY. He’s a real middle-ground, unscary, Early Blair, election landslide kind of guy.

  ... and then the journalist misunderstood and said he was Labour anyway! Ooh, how teeth must have gnashed at HQ.

  Nothing against Ed Balls, by the way, or Labour, or Ann Treneman. I don’t dislike any of those things. But I do hate over-calibrated political PR and spin, and can’t help cackling to see it go wrong.

  [PS. Speaking of Robin Hood, the UKIPT poker tournament in Nottingham has just announced a guaranteed £1m prize pool! Details are here  - but note, where it says £700 to buy in, of course you can win a ticket much more cheaply in the satellites running on PokerStars. It’s also guaranteed that, if you win the gold here, no sheriff is going to take it off you.]

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Victoria N at 8:19 pm on March 28th, 2012

Haha! Ed Balls insinuating a subconscious support of Conservative ideals is wonderful. I truly love your mind and oh so wonderfully accurate analysis. It is good to see a post from you; it has been too long :)

The Tim at 10:02 pm on March 28th, 2012

I can remember crying at that one, along with Bambi’s mother getting shot and Tiny Tim’s death.

Philip at 7:14 am on March 29th, 2012

I don’t understand your point. You seem to be saying that Ed Balls would be upset to have been called Labour after having tried to position himself in the middle ground. Surely that’s a perfect outcome. After all, he is Labour. He wants to position Labour in the middle ground. He’d struggle to become Prime Minister as a Labour MP without being associated with the Labour Party.

I realise I may be missing your point completely, so apologies if so.

Anyway, Labour aren’t in favour of high taxation per se. In the film the taxes were used to support the opulent lifestyle of the King. I can only assume that it was this added element of social injustice that reduced the 6 year old Edward to tears.

Torn Face at 10:59 am on March 29th, 2012

Hi Vicky, I’ve been watching a lot of programmes featuring you on You Tube, I think your poker analysis is second to none and you have a very bright and entertaining sense of humour. However this piece of fluff about bunnies and cry babies is somewhat banal, I want to hear what Tom Dwan eats for breakfast, apart from Phil Ivy, and some grisly stories about Devil Fish.

Bill Green at 1:54 pm on March 29th, 2012

“Labour aren’t in favour of high taxation per se” Care to provide any evidence, Philip?

Philip at 6:28 am on March 30th, 2012

Hi Bill,

Well, a few bits of evidence that Labour are not in favour of high taxation ‘per se’.

Policy of reduction of VAT on home improvements, stamp duty holiday for first time buyers, policy of national insurance break for small companies taking on new employees, poll tax….

I’m also pretty sure that they wouldn’t be wholly in favour of a tax where the resulting funds were hoarded in large earthenware pots in the royal palace.

Of course in reality high taxation in the period was largely to fill the gap left behind by foreign wars. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest Labour would get behind that.

fingéró at 6:44 pm on March 31st, 2012

Yes but please can we all spare a thought for the young Dave C and George O sitting a few rows back and weeping through the rest of the film as Robin steals from the rich to give to the poor.

Geoff at 11:56 am on April 1st, 2012

“if you win the gold here, no sheriff is going to take it off you.” Until you try to spend it. !

Victoria Coren

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