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.]