Speaking Out: Ed Balls on the man behind the tango

Book review: Speaking Out: Lessons in Life and PoliticsEd Balls' memoirs contain some background on Britain's decision to abandon joining the euro, says Matthew Partridge.


Balls: chatty, clownish, with a jolly sense of his own absurdity

Speaking Out: Lessons in Life and Politics

by Ed BallsPublished by Hutchinson (£20)(Buy at Amazon)

During his two decades in politics Ed Balls had the image of being a dour political enforcer, caricatured as the dour Gromit to Ed Miliband's Wallace. However, since he lost his seat at last year's election he's been on a quest to show his lighter side. As his former political opponent George Osborne points out in the Daily Mail, there's been "an appearance on Celebrity Bake Off, the chairmanship of a football club, and now, to cap it off, the star of Strictly Come Dancing".

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

So it's unsurprising that Balls's memoir is in a similar vein, aiming to reveal, "the man behind the tango", as Osborne puts it. This approach "makes for a breezy canter through the last 20 years of British politics", while the account of Balls' battle to overcome his stammer "makes for the most personal and moving part of the book". "I enjoyed reading it."

The MP for Tatton isn't the only person on the opposite side of the political spectrum to signal his approval. Balls comes across as "chatty, clownish, and with a jolly sense of his own absurdity", says The Spectator's Hugo Rifkind, while the political blogger and former Conservative candidate Iain Dale also likes the "wonderfully human anecdotes, often involving the chaos of the Balls family life". It proves "that politicians are actually just the same as the rest of us with the same foibles, aims, ambitions and experiences".

"For all that, the book is disappointing," says Philip Stephens in the Financial Times. Yes, it "makes for a jaunty read and humanises a politician who had a reputation as something of a bruiser". But there is a lack of detail and a failure to explain "why parties of the centre-left have borne the brunt of the backlash against liberal capitalism in the wake of the financial crash". This is frustrating since Balls "gave intellectual substance to Brown's instincts".

What MoneyWeek thought

He makes the observation that he could have resigned from the cabinet in response to the lack of promotion, but fails to answer the obvious question of whether he did seriously consider leaving. Focusing on policy debates rather than anecdotes about after-dinner speeches may have not done so much for his image, but it would made the book more relevant.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri