Ed Balls came to UEA to give a talk on 17th of May 2017. There was a book signing session afterwards. Of course I had my book signed. Overall he's a lovely person. It makes me miss the New Labour. I know I moaned about them a lot while they were in power, but they really weren't that bad. The New Labour was brought down by a series of small mistakes (selling off the Gold Reserve), and a few big mistakes (Iraq War). Anyway, these are my three favourite stories from Ed Balls.
So Ed Balls was with Gordon Brown in a Concorde flight back in 2002. The airplane suffered a compressor stall.
Ed writes in his new book, called Speaking Out: “Gordon said ‘well, here we are’ and I said: ‘Yep, maybe this is it’.”
When the plane got to 24,000ft Gordon turned to Balls and said: ‘What do you think? Should we finish my speech?”, recounts Balls.
Fortunately the plane stopped falling, disaster was averted, and the speech was finished.
Radio Times 1)
Apparently Ed Balls and Gordon Brown talked about their life in the decent, and Gordon Brown started blaming other people about things. Additional information can be found at 2).
Ed Balls also told us this story:
Ed Balls, the Labour party’s answer to Michael Flatley, tells a story in his autobiography about being at a dinner to mark Jonathan Sacks’s 20th anniversary as Chief Rabbi, which was attended by the Prince of Wales. Balls’s wife, Yvette Cooper, fell into conversation with the prince’s security officer, who asked what she did and she explained that she was the shadow home secretary. In fact, she said, gesturing at her husband, he’s a politician too. “Ah yes,” the policeman replied. “I thought I recognised Nick Griffin.” Cooper sweetly expressed her surprise that the leader of the British National Party had made the Chief Rabbi’s guest list.
Ed Balls also told us about his struggle with stammering.
Through those regular meetings [with Jan], I began to develop a set of strategies which made life increasingly easier. I still lived with this fear that blocks could just come out of nowhere, and that one would happen at a time that would be disastrous both for me and for the government. I told Jan about this, and she gave me perhaps her most important bit of advice. “The best thing you can do is be open and go public about it. It will relieve the pressure and make a block much less likely.”
The trouble was, at the time, I just didn’t think that was a possibility. It felt like admitting a weakness, and that’s just not what politicians do. I did speak privately to a few people, besides friends and family. I told Michael Palin, whose name adorns the Centre for Stammering Children in London, and the Speaker John Bercow, who had attended the centre with me. I also confided in the BBC’s Nick Robinson; I thought it was important that at least one senior person in the media knew, just in case I had a real meltdown in public and nobody knew why.
The key breakthrough on that front happened a few months later in a primary school in Islington. As part of my discussions with the Michael Palin Centre and the charity Action for Stammering Children, I’d commissioned a DVD of children talking about their stammers. It was called “Wait, wait, I’m not finished yet”.
I arrived with Michael Palin to launch the DVD to an audience of 150 or so people. I’d been given a copy the night before, foolishly hadn’t watched it, and when I saw for the first time these incredibly brave primary-school children speaking about their stammers and saying to teachers don’t interrupt us, don’t finish our sentences, I was incredibly moved and tearful. I had to stand up straight afterwards to say a few words of introduction, and I was so shaky and thrown, I was blocking throughout.
Afterwards, a man came up to me and said: “Can I just ask you, do you have a stammer yourself?” And I said: “It’s not really about me today, it’s about the children.” And the man said, with a lot of emotion in his voice: “My son is one of the kids in that video, and what he’s done there speaking about his stammer is really brave. And I think you’re being a coward by not doing the same. Why don’t you give these kids some hope and confidence that you can have a stammer and become a Cabinet minister?”
I stood there mortified. I went back to the department and wrote a personal letter to every one of the children who’d appeared in the DVD, thanking them for what they had done and telling them that I had a stammer too, and that they had inspired me. And that was the moment I realised I had to be open about it.
The British Stammering Association4)