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  1. Politics
29 January 2011

Ed Balls on his stammer, a double dip and Thatcher

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

By George Eaton

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.”

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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.