Arguably the most anticipated political memoirs of 2016 was from Ed Balls; the ex-Shadow Chancellor, shadow cabinet minister, Treasury adviser, and all-round extraordinary dancer. As the blurb highlights, on the 7th May 2015, Ed was one day away from possibly becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer, but instead he woke up the next day without a job. Ed’s book looks at the highs and low of his life and career so far, from his early days being right hand man in the Treasury to Gordon Brown, all the way to his appearance on Celebrity Great British Bake Off.
There were so many reasons I was hyped for this book. Firstly, I’m a big fan of the man himself. Ed is a great character, a bright mind, and a big inspiration for me in both politics, and the Labour Party. Another draw was my keen interest in politics, and the stories behind the scenes. There’s been many a time that I’ve thought of entering politics over the past few years, being able to help those up and down the country who need it, and this book could offer a great insight into the front line. And finally, arguably the biggest reason of them all, the Gordon Brown anecdotes.
Balls’s autobiography looks over his life in an unconventional format. Rather than following the events of his life chronologically, each chapter focuses on one lesson or subject, and Balls reflects on how this subject has touched his life in politics. Some of the subjects are quite personal, deep, and moving; for example, the chapters that focus on vulnerability, mistakes, and purpose. Other chapters such as markets, spin, images, and opposition are much more applicable to his life, and offer the key insight and knowledge into the workings of parliament.
Arguably, this is a better way for autobiographies to be written. The writer can focus on the subjects and memories they remember most vividly, and gloss over those that are less clear. By the end of the book I didn’t feel I knew any less about Ed’s life then I would have if he’d wrote the book in a traditional A to B format, and those who have a keen interest in politics will appreciate the increased detail. They can feel as if they are more informed about what goes on behind the scenes, and what the life inside the political sphere is really like.
As someone with a passion for politics and a curiosity into the life of a politician, this format certainly engaged me more. It allowed the book to focus more on the meaty subjects of politics, the subjects I wanted to read about, and made it hard for me to put down. I was pleasantly surprised by not only how informative the book was, but how emotive it became, and the lessons it taught. Ed manages to touch on many personal topics; most notably his stammer that plagued him for years, and how with help he managed to slowly overcome the problem.
No stone feels left unturned throughout, but somehow it leaves you wanting more. This doesn’t mean that the book lacked stories, anecdotes, or content. But Ed’s fantastic writing, along with his niche of telling tales wets the appetite, and you turn the page hoping there will be another Gordon Brown yarn to leave you smiling. Personal highlights included the Blair and Brown stories and their famous relationship, as well as the relationship between Balls and Miliband, which arguably mirrored the former pair. It’s surprising how the two comrades, and close friends, arguably grew apart when united in leadership, showing what the pressure of the roles can do to anyone who takes them up.
Like most books that I read and review, it can be argued that this is one where casual readers would struggle to feel engaged, and only readers with a keen interest in would enjoy. I understand the premise, as the bulk of the content does focus on politics, and the inner workings. But as I mentioned earlier, Ed does focus on many core values and subjects, and the politics chit chat also acts as lessons for the reader, helpful guidance at times.
What did the book teach me? Well, as I hoped, I was able to extrapolate a lot of new knowledge and lessons from the book, especially into the life of a politician, and just what politics looks like from the inside. It has arguably amplified my hunger to enter such world, even from the outskirts, and try to make my mark where I can. I believe it can do the same for others, improve their thirst for political insight and knowledge, make politicians seem more human, something which in this book, Balls shows he’s always sought to do.