Overcoming My Stutter, Ed Balls

Today in The Times, Ed Balls has begun to open his personal life to the wider world and to eradicate the wrongful image of being Gordon’s hatchet-man.
In the article, Balls tell us that he saw the hit movie, “The King’s Speech” an uplifting Oscar nominated account of George VI undergoing speech therapy to overcome his stutter. Ed tells us that he found the film, “incredibly stressful to watch. I’ve had a stammer and I still do; a really serious one. I’ve spent three or four years really working on it so it’s much better now, but it’s really hard.”
He complements the actor, Colin Firth, for brilliantly portraying the emotions of the struggle with a stammer. “The emotion is tension, the feeling that you might let people down. It’s a worry that being yourself might not be good enough.” He continues, “The fear is I’m not going to be able to speak. Most people think a stammer as being overt, that you stutter, but what I have and what the King has in the film is what’s called interiorised disfluency. It’s an inability to get the works out.”
He speaks about his coping mechanism: “If someone 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 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.”
He says that the biggest issue is to accept your handicap and work with it. “The biggest problem is concealment. It’s like an iceberg. There’s a little bit you see on the surface but the issue is a massive thing underneath.”
I worked on the Ed Balls leadership campaign doing some photography and also hitting the phones to canvas party members. I had no idea that Ed had overcome such adversity or had such a great journey that could have been shared with audiences of Labour members up and down the country.
I left the campaign team before the ballot, as we had our own selection for a mayoral candidate in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and this to me, was a greater priority.
On the polling day for our mayoral candidate, I was taking a break from canvassing outside our constituency office, by having a coffee across the road, when I saw I saw Ed’s New Media Campaigner, Ellie Gellard next door outside York Hall. Some of you might know Ellie as “Bevanite Ellie” on Twitter.
I called out to her and asked her why she was here in the east end. She told me Ed was giving a talk to the British Stammering Association in York Hall. I asked if they were members of the Labour Party. She said “No, but he’s always had a stammer and we had a free morning to speak to them.”
It was always a frustration on the Ed Balls team that his complete lack of preparedness for a major selection process left them without the simple tools needed to operate, such as a list of CLP secretaries to approach and offer to speak to their members.
However, surprised that I was that Ed had time to do this, I was even more surprised that he had a story of a personal journey that he hadn’t shared with the Labour members during hustings. I told Ellie that the reason there was about 100 people outside the Tower Hamlets Labour offices, across the road, was because we were having our vote to choose a mayoral candidate. It would be a terrific canvassing opportunity, so I offered to introduce Ed to the members right there on the pavement. It seemed that he had a BBC interview shortly after, so they didn’t take me up on my offer, which was a shame.
Do you remember the photos from inside Gordon Brown’s office, just before they left No10? The finger painting pictures of his kids plastered across the walls in that scruffy but charming way of proud parents. The surprise to us as Labour members was that these photos hadn’t been released during the election. The man whose image was Stalin or Mr Bean or any other dehumanising image, was in fact, a proud dad more than anything else. These photographs showed that, but they were never released.
It’s often a frustration to people like myself who understand that media is about personal contact more than anything else, but that this is often the last thing that a professional politician will see. Ed Balls has worked behind the scenes at the highest level of government for many years now, but his Wiki page barely gives us a glimpse of the man. There is no published biography, and virtually no published articles on one of the most powerful Labour politician of our times.
It seems that Ed Balls is now recognising that it’s time to show us the husband, father, and an ordinary guy behind this intimidating reputation for intellect and conviction. He’s showing us that he’s a lot like you and me. We’ve all had to overcome adversity at some point in our lives. Ed’s story is timely due to the current hit film, but it’s also tangible and recognisable for all of us who have known a young man with a painfully difficult speech impediment.
He shows us what it’s like to be on the other side of that handicap. He gives us empathy. He offers us the chance to be a little more tolerant and a little more human, by showing us the humanity in himself.

One Response to Overcoming My Stutter, Ed Balls

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by sara sproates and Dan McCurry, Dan McCurry. Dan McCurry said: Blogged: Overcoming My Stutter, Ed Balls: http://t.co/Yw2roYM @fellowsjack @shibleylondon @rachaelsaunders […]

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