Is Ed Balls a sexy beast? Is he a long, slow burn? I don’t know, and I hope I never do. I don’t even want to speculate precisely what he might have meant by “long, slow burn” when he gave an interview to LBC. But I do know that he’s a fool for talking about his sex life on the radio. He’s a fool for allowing himself to be suckered into discussing his between-the-sheets self by an interviewer looking for a good story. And all, presumably, because he wants to present to the world a more human side - to come across as one of us.
When will politicians learn that interviewers are mostly smarter than them? Maybe not more intelligent, whatever that means, but sharper, and with sharper teeth to match. It doesn’t really matter what people think of journalists but politicians care deeply – I guess it’s part of the job description. For all their skill at evading questions, they’re embarrassingly easy pushovers when they think they’ve spotted a chance to appear normal. The other lesson to be drawn from this episode is that all MPs should resist the temptation to talk in public about their sex lives – always, without exception. Ask Balls, ask Nick “fewer than 30 lovers” Clegg. It doesn’t humanise them, it makes them come across as icky, creepy, desperate. You need a proper sense of humour to talk about sex in public, and that’s something most politicians don’t possess - they’re generally too terrified of saying the wrong thing.
And anyway, I don’t particularly want my politicians humanised. I want them good. If they crack a few half-decent jokes along the way, fine, but it’s not a deal-breaker. I want Ed Balls presenting a convincing plan for improving our lives and making the world a better place, not shifting uncomfortably in his seat talking about what he’s like in bed.
Quite apart from the pre-election desirablity or otherwise of MPs expatiating about sex (sexpatiating?), Balls has forgotten one of the golden rules of manhood: sex as a topic of conversation is played for laughs. Womenfolk may roll their eyes, though I suspect that a fair proportion of all-distaff chats about sex are less oversharing confession sessions, more a platform for one-liners and witty apercus.
I know we’re supposed to live in an era of tell-all unburdening, but leave me out of it. And that goes especially for public figures: I don’t want to know what pops Yvette Cooper’s cork; I don’t want to know that Evan Davis has pierced nipples (I don’t even want to know if any of my friends have pierced nipples). Let’s all just get on with our jobs, shall we?
I’m trying hard to recall ever having a conversation with another bloke about sex that was in any way serious. None is coming to mind. Is this reprehensible in the modern age? Am I a buttoned-up caveman with a stiff upper lip? Possibly so, but I can live with it.
Last year Michael Gove raised eyebrows in a Cabinet meeting with Joanna Shields, UK Ambassador for Digital Industries, when he told her that part of the attraction of London to young entrepreneurs is the opportunity for “loads of hot sex”. There was an awkward silence broken only by a gasp from Theresa May and a warning from David Cameron that the remark should not be minuted.
Gove was clearly cracking a joke – and whatever one thinks of him, it must be admitted that he is one of the more human politicians (then again, he is an ex-journalist). But the silence, as they say, spoke volumes.
And that silence should be instructive to Balls and any other MP who might feel the need to get down to the nitty-gritty. Don’t talk about sex unless it’s a policy matter; definitely don’t talk about your own sex life. Don’t let smooth-talking journos and broadcasters take you where you don’t want to go. I want Ed Balls and his colleagues to realise that though we may live in an era of personality politics, policies win elections, not limp jokes about sex.Reuse content