Ed Balls on his stammer, a double dip and Thatcher

Some of the highlights from the shadow chancellor’s first major interview.

Ed Balls's first major interview as shadow chancellor appears in today's Times (£). It's worth reading in full but I've selected some of the highlights for you below.

1. On his response to the negative growth figures

Balls makes it clear that he wasn't expecting the figures to be so poor: "My immediate reaction was shock and surprise, it was so unusual to have something that far outside expectations. It was a bit like being winded . . . It completely transformed people's view of politics, the country and the economy."

2. On the 50p tax rate

Balls sticks to the Miliband/Johnson line that the top rate should remain for the rest of this parliament but says nothing to suggest that it should become a permanent feature of the tax system.

He also avoids repeating his call for the starting threshold to be lowered from £150,000 to £100,000: "What Ed Miliband and Alan Johnson said, and I have inherited, is that we would definitely have a top rate of tax for all this parliament . . . I don't think it's sensible for people to go around saying as a matter of principle that a higher tax rate is better . . . But you have to find a way to have taxes which are fair."

3. On the possibility of a double-dip recession

He repeats his view that a double dip is possible, but not probable: "I don't think that's the most likely outcome but it is certainly a possibility . . . The most likely thing is that the economy will grow but it will be pretty anaemic."

4. On coping with his stammer

A revealing insight into how Balls manages his speech defect: "If somebody writes a speech for me I have to rewrite it or ad lib. If I use an autocue, I have to edit it in real time. The words will be in the wrong order. There will be certain consonants that I just can't say together. It would be impossible for me to start a sentence with an H. I often start sentences with 'look' or 'well' because the key thing is to get moving."

5. On why he prefers David Cameron to Nick Clegg

Asked to choose between the pair, Balls comments: "David Cameron. At least he is who he is."

6. Marx or Thatcher?

Elsewhere, in a transparent attempt to secure some "Red Ed" headlines, the Times asks him to choose between Karl Marx and Margaret Thatcher. Balls, no doubt through gritted teeth, plumps for Thatcher.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

0800 7318496