Oh, please! Don’t play the victim card, Mr Balls
07:50 GMT, 7 December 2012
Mr Balls was on BBC radio yesterday morning discussing his terrible performance in the Commons
December always brings us pantomime bullies who squeal blue murder and stamp their booties the moment they receive the tiniest come-uppance. Normally it is Cinderella’s ugly sisters or Captain Hook.
This year, however, there was no need to go to your local playhouse’s production to witness the spectacle. You simply had to listen to not-so-nice Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, on BBC radio yesterday morning.
Mr Balls was discussing his terrible performance in the Commons the day before, when he gave Labour’s response to the Government’s budget plans.
What a prize pratfall. It was like seeing Norman Wisdom play a wine waiter with a full tray of champagne flutes — who then steps on a rogue grape. Whoa! Crash, tinkle. Sorry, Mr Grimsdale.
Comrade Balls, normally thuggishly assertive, normally encased by smirky self-satisfaction, came a proper cropper. His party leader, Ed Miliband, was so taken aback that he nearly swallowed his peppermint.
Mr Balls’s mishap was reported cheerily by yesterday morning’s newspapers (though not by the Left-leaning Beeb, which concentrated on Mr Osborne’s lack of munificence to welfare claimants).
At dawn, Mr Balls was on reputation-retrieval manoeuvres. He went on Radio 4’s Today programme and, later, Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show, adopting the whispery, hurt tones of the authentic drama queen. It being radio, I could not be sure, but I’d say his mascara had run and a damp handkerchief was being wrung in his fingers
He spoke in such a breathy manner it could almost have been the late snooker commentator Ted Lowe rather than bawler Balls.
He claimed the reason his speech was so scorned had nothing to do with being outwitted by his enemy George Osborne. It was not because Labour’s tax-and-spend policies are a relic of the very Blair/Brown-era ideologies that landed us in our financial crisis. It was not because he, Balls, is an unrepentant Keynesian who thinks we can borrow our way out of record debt.
No! It was because he is a victim. It was because he has a stammer.
‘Everybody knows that I have a stammer,’ he said. ‘Sometimes that stammer gets the better of me in the first minute or two when I speak, especially when I have got the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and 300 Conservative MPs yelling at me at the top of their voices.’
Then came the Gloria Gaynor moment when he added almost with a simper: ‘Frankly, that is who I am. I don’t apologise for one second.’
Before we go any further, and before a posse of grievance-industry Levesonians beat a path to my door, let me acknowledge that sufferers of speech problems deserve huge sympathy. To have a stammer must, plainly, be a trial for anyone. For a man in public life, it could be a source of considerable anguish.
Decency also demands I concede that Mr Balls might just about be a role model for people with a stammer.
The trouble is, there’s sparse evidence of the aforesaid stammer in the many moments of crisis in Mr Balls’ battle-scarred Commons career.
Mistake: Ed Balls slipped up by saying, unintentionally, that 'the national deficit is not rising' when responding to George Osborne at the Autumn Statement
Indeed, recordings of his Commons speech on Wednesday clearly show that he hit trouble 32 seconds in — and that he did not stammer at that point.
His mistake was to say, unintentionally, that ‘the national deficit is not rising’. He uttered these words without any hesitation. They flowed out of him freely, unimpeded by any disability.
The reason the Tory and Lib Dem benches laughed at this exact point was nothing to do with mockery of a speech affliction. If anyone believes that, they are either a Labour spin doctor or unaware of just how politically correct our politicians are. Our MPs know they must never tease someone on account of a disability. That knowledge is deep within them.
The reason Mr Balls was mocked was that he has, for months, moaned that the deficit is rising. He meant to say that on Wednesday, too. The trouble for him was that George Osborne had just produced independent figures showing that the deficit was dropping.
Stumped: Mr Balls was left in a state of panic when George Osborne produced independent figures showing that the deficit was dropping
Mr Balls was left in a state of panic by this unexpected good news. Well, I say ‘good news’ but to Mr Balls it was plainly unwelcome because it showed the Government’s economic policy may be working.
That, and that alone, was the reason he provoked such widespread mockery in the Commons. If you don’t believe he was thrown into confusion by these events, let me tell you that during Mr Osborne’s speech, Mr Balls was feverishly consulting tables of figures, examining text messages on Harriet Harman’s phone, scratching out lines of his scripted text, circling certain statistics and generally assembling a Wendy house in the face of a gale.
I know because I was sitting directly above him in the Press gallery, and I watched him with interest.
Now Mr Balls has decided to play the victim card. It is like the satirist Ali G saying: ‘Is it cos I is white’ Mr Balls claims he is being teased on account of his stammer. Oh, puh-lease.
Such a tactic, while absurd and laughable, is actually sickeningly disreputable. It devalues genuine victimhood.
And coming from one of the most notorious bullies at Westminster, it also stinks of hypocrisy. It really is like the Sheriff of Nottingham turning to the panto audience and wailing ‘It’s not fair!’ when Robin Hood exacts revenge for countless acts of wickedness.
Aggressive: Each week, Mr Balls sits in his place on the Labour frontbench and screams abuse at Government ministers
The truth is that Mr Balls is — by some distance — the most aggressive parliamentarian of the current Commons. Every week he sits in his place on the Labour frontbench and screams abuse at Government ministers. More than that, he waves his hands, like some goon making funny gestures behind a TV news reporter during a live interview. He knows that this puts off ministers while they are speaking.
He laughs like a jackal when David Cameron’s face goes red. He honks in derision when George Osborne’s voice pinks.
We don’t hear them say he is mocking their physical afflictions — but they are grown-ups. Mr Balls is plainly not.
Heckler Balls complains about . . . being heckled! Priceless. But this also tells us something about the man’s character.
Would a normal person — and no, before the grievance brigade goes nuts, I am not saying people who stammer are abnormal! — not have reacted with ruefulness to Wednesday’s mishap
Would a normal person not have said: ‘Yup, I goofed there, didn’t I’ If he had said that, would the country not have thought: ‘Good on you, Balls, for showing a little humility’
Just think how Boris Johnson would have behaved had he done a Balls. He would have made a joke out of it and been so charming that everyone would have adored him for it.
But Mr Balls demonstrates his desperation and anger by lashing out, blaming others for his corker of an error.
More importantly, let us be in no doubt that his response to the Autumn Statement was indeed a grave moment for Labour.
It starkly illustrated the Shadow Chancellor’s determination to think the very worst of the British economy and to justify, whatever the facts, his policy of piling up yet more government debt and adding to the deficit.
It shows his refusal to accept that he, as Gordon Brown’s thoroughly uncollegiate and partisan sidekick during all the ruinous years of New Labour (when the Brownites were treacherously foul about their Blairite colleagues), is largely responsible for our nation’s calamitous finances.
What does this tell us about his psyche About his suitability for high office What does it tell us about the feasibility of Ed Miliband’s Opposition Labour needs to start showing the electorate its plans for our finances. Is Mr Balls the right person to be in charge of Labour’s economic policy
I don’t think so. And after Wednesday, I suspect there are plenty of Labour MPs who share that view.
On Wednesday evening, after writing my parliamentary sketch for the Mail, I found myself thinking almost affectionately of this weirdly angry Balls. I hoped that he might have learned from his mistake.
Yet after listening yesterday to his disingenuous quibbling — actually, it was worse than disingenuous, it was downright dishonest — my opinion of him plummeted to a new low.
The base politics of false victimhood and grievance have no place in the British Parliament. Mr Balls is a bad man. I hope Ed Miliband screws up the courage to sack him before the year is out.