Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children.
Salary: £142,000 pa
Claimed expenses: £21,429 last year
Outlined above is the official nature of Ed Balls’ job spec and remuneration.
But Ed also has a hobby: tweeting on Twitter. And this tells us quite a bit about what Ed was really up to over the last few months.
Mr Balls so far has 558 tweets to his name since he became a Twitterman on June 18th this year: and while he’s not quite up there with Stephen Fry yet, but Ed spent roughly five of the hours available to him tweeting. Overall, Ed’s Tweet emissions are primarily about how hard he’s working and things he’s been opening. You could call it a right load of old greenhouse methane, but for fairness sake, let’s take a closer look at the audit of content re this one before rushing to judgment.
In the 154 days painstakingly following his every emotion and physical movement, the Minister of State seems to have spent his time tweeting in rough percentages as follows:
Travelling to places ranging from Edinburgh to Cornwall: 24.9
Referring people to his own speeches and articles: 13.2
Doing Media interviews: 13.1
Visiting and opening schools, scout troops, youth clubs etc: 12.9
Attending Social occasions as part of government/politics: 9.8
Slagging off Opposition policy ideas: 9.8
Attending debates: 8.6
Making specific reference to policy: 8.5
Now of course, we didn’t have a milometer or thinkometer attached to Balls (or any other part of his anatomy) ensuring that all this might be deadly accurate. What we can say with certainty (unless – perish the thought – Ed was fibbing) is that the Minister of State responsible for children spent a quarter of his days travelling. Was this, we ask ourselves, the best way to frame policy?
Other tweets offer obvious clues as to what was important to him during the five-month period. Self-aggrandisement came second after trains and cars. This involved directing people to speeches, transcripts and interviews by the Great Ball of Fire. As for the interviews themselves, these used up almost exactly the same amount again – or another quarter of his capacious brain. That left just half available for the other stuff.
Sadly, almost another quarter (22.7%) focused on the importance of cutting tapes at various schools, youth clubs, and scout troops….on top of barbecues, concerts, brass bands and a trade union’s summer party.
So then, did Eddie B spend that remaining 25% thinking about the policy road map going forward? Not entirely it seems: 8.5% of Tweetballs contain references to what he might or might not want to do about kids, education, and child protection. (Secret Courts and Rocking Horse Nurseries don’t get a single mention). The appalling inadequacies of the Opposition, however, get just under 10%. Oh, and I forgot – as a Minister responsible to the Sovereign Power of Parliament – Ed Balls lavished just 8.6% of his valuable time sitting in Comons debates.
Now before cries of ‘Unfair!’ ring across the Land, I should point out that I have very kindly screened out one sixth of his quality Twitter time. This was spent on personal stuff, and his favourite footie side, Norwich City. I could carp about the taxpayer coughing up for his Blackberry to be used for that kind of shit, but I won’t. Nor will I embarass Ballsy still further by reprinting extracts from these his Twittoirs: but if he tempts fate by having a go at me, then these my remaining decencies will take flight through the nearest window. Suffice it for me to record that not much of it suggests a cerebrum as yet undeveloped beyond skimming the surface of existence.
“Ah ut, ah but…” gulp all those who see a right-wing extremist blogger at work here, “This is no different to the diary of every Minister in the Cabinet – or indeed any other Cabinet for decades past”.
Is the correct answer…and yet, no answer at all. My issue is much bigger than Edward Balls MP, as is almost everything and everyone on the planet.
I ask but two questions on the basis of this survey:
1. Was this the best use of a highly-paid Government strategist’s time?
One must surely ask whether Stuart Rose spends a quarter of his time opening new M&S stores. It may well be that he does – but if so, if I was you I wouldn’t tell the shareholders, Stu: otherwise your feet wouldn’t touch, Squire. End of.
2. What amount of time did EB actually spend thinking about what might be the best way to stop social workers, paedophiles, cops and a narrow, dumbed education system from destroying the lives of Britain’s kids before they’ve properly begun?
This is the real no-brainer here: and it’s damned hard to refute. Between coffee mornings, trains, Humberside, Sky News, the Armed Forces Parade, Doncaster, the Radillon School, cars and Radio Leeds, when on earth would he have been in the a state – never mind the right state of mind – to have ideas?
A senior communications mandarin with whom I worked for a year or two when I was an adman once remarked to me, “The keys to controlling your Minister are travel and distraction”. The aside was pure Sir Humphrey, but based on the Tweeting of Ed Balls, the principle is alive and well.