tv Political Thinking with Nick... BBC News December 28, 2021 12:30pm-1:01pm GMT
more young children are being forced work on the streets, as afghanistan's humanitarian crisis deepens — we'll bring you a special report from kabul. heavy snowstorms batter western states in the us, leaving thousands without power and causing travel chaos. now on bbc news, it's time for political thinking with nick robinson. "oh, my god, how do you know ed balls?" someone said to me the other day, assuming the only reason you might know my guest on political thinking for this christmas special is because of his dancing on strictly come dancing, winning the celebrity best home chef, or making all those
documentaries on bbc two. i gently pointed out to someone who was about my children's age before all of that stuff he actually was a serious politician, being when i first met him the adviser to the shadow chancellor gordon brown and then to the chancellor himself, before becoming education secretary, shadow chancellor and a candidate for the labour leader. all that feels though like a very long time ago. welcome to political thinking. a long time ago. it's christmas after all and while we're recording this before christmas it's being broadcast afterwards. given you just produced a cookery book or at least a book about christmas cooking, reflections, tips, people are sitting there wondering what they should do with the christmas leftovers. what is the ed balls recommendation? the most important thing for post—christmas leftovers is chips — homemade chips.
my mother in law is brilliant at making homemade chips, cut some potatoes, double cooked in a pan, and you can get quite a lot of cold turkey or cold goose if the chips are good and crisp and nice and salty. the other thing i learned over the years, in our family nobody wants leftovers so therefore you have to cook thinking, "let's not have too much to hang around in the days afterwards." i assumed you were going to come up with a recipe for turkey lasagne, or the man who used to be my book agent used to recommend turkey hash you could have after christmas. doesn't it make you feel a bit gloomy? turkey lasagne. .. let's just move on from the turkey. there are lots of people thinking, "thank god the christmas cooking is over." i get a sense it's a highlight for you. the idea of cooking for christmas for the family is a pleasure for you. i love christmas cooking and i love
new year cooking as well. right now i'm looking forward to three days through new year's day. every year for the last 20 years we have the same 18—20 people, and when they first arrived our children were tiny, their kids were tiny, these days, they're 20—somethings, beyond teenagers, they come back because they know it will be fun, with everybody together, fourfamilies, and the food will be good. we have in front of us the house of commons... gosh. ..mince pie. eating on camera is not a good idea, is it? it's a terrible idea but it also depends on what you eat. and you learn this over the years. spaghetti bolognese — disaster. pizza — disaster. bacon and eggs with a knife and fork cut discreetly — good idea. bacon sandwich? if only he'd asked me.
it's a terrible idea because the trouble is the bacon is chewy and the bread chewy and it's never quite clear what is eating what — is the bacon sandwich consuming you or are you eating the bacon sandwich? i think a mince pie, you can pull it off but what i would do is i would not go... i would break and then take a morsel. the trick is asking a question while you have a mouthful. you only have a small mouthful. you know the story about ed miliband eating that bacon sandwich which caused him so much hell is i know for a fact cos my cameraman was filming at the time that ed miliband was told seconds before, "don't eat on camera," by his senior press aide at the time and he decided to ignore it. he was probably hungry. the problem was it was not that it was just on television, there were cameras there. i played football for the house of commons against the press every year for 15 years and all these
press photographers are behind the goal every time the top premier league football players play, but of the thousand pictures they take they pluck out the best one which would show wayne rooney in his pomp as he heads the goal, but if you're a politician, of the thousand pictures, they pick out the one which will make you look worst, that's just the nature of the game. you were bloodied when you played football. they were able to pluck out the one picture which made him look completely... it was unfair because i'm sure it was a nice discreet bite but if you have got still photographers, it is never going to look good. don't do it. i remember you playing football and there would be photographs of you appearing to be bloodied as if you were some lunatic version of roy keane, or occasionally you will go for a header and there would be some gut coming out. as yvette said to me at the time, the gut pictures struck a chord
with middle—aged men and their wives across the country. so that's connection and authenticity. those people i mentioned in the introduction who think you are lovely and cuddly. you are of course a dancer. that was not quite the reputation in politics. politics is a very physical cartoon thing and there's always caricature and if i had been lighter or smaller it would never have been the same caricature, the cartoonists in the newspapers find something to make it bigger, but the truth was also if you're going to do government well it's about having the argument. and i have been teaching for the last few years at king's in london and we would look at different prime minister chancellor relationships and how they work and if they had good or bad outcomes. part of good government is challenge and there was a constitutional role for the chancellor,
especially with a large majority, to challenge and argue and vice versa but when people did not like that, it feeds a caricature. what is fascinating is many of us have watched back now, this brown blair documentary, and i originally resisted doing it on the grounds it was too much like a busman�*s holiday, and there was bits of me in it because i was a reporter at the time. looking back, isay exactly the same. —— looking now, i'd say, exactly the same. but what struck me as i was watching it, and thatjust reflects on the fact we have grown up in the same generation together, it's just how young you were. my goodness, you are plotting the independence of the bank of england, one of the most important economic decisions taken since the war, and you are my children's age. when i wrote the paper
and presented it to tony blair and gordon brown in 1995, i was 28. but the thing is we worked intensively for years and i think i essentially spent seven, eight years of my life thinking about that moment by the time we arrived in 1997. the moment you actually said, and it's shown in the documentary, you say to the permanent secretary of the treasury, the bank of england, which had not been independent but always been under the government, the chancellor of the day, with the prime minister's involvement had set interest rates, and you said that era is over. you planned all that time. for years and years. i had a job at the treasury to go to in 1988 and deferred it because i went to harvard for two years and i worked there for the summer in 89 with nigel lawson as chancellor and i was studying in harvard and we were studying central—bank independence and the case for it and how you could do it differently, and four years at the financial times writing
about it, a pamphlet in 1992 about how you could do it in a labour way, talked to gordon brown five years before we did it, so the intensity of the preparation was quite something. was it ever as good again? i look back sometimes at myjournalistic career and the first big story i covered was the fall of margaret thatcher. i was not on screen, or behind the microphone, i was a producer, but there are moments i think there will never be a story as exciting, as important as the felling of margaret thatcher when i was very young and inexperienced. do you ever look back at that period and think it never got as good as that again? i think that in a positive way. but i do think that. different generations have different experiences. some generations can spend years and years in politics and never get into government. we were there for 13 years and it
just happened that it started when i was 30, for tony blair and gordon brown in their early 40s. we had a large majority, the country was looking for change and it was an era when things were opening up and it was an opportunity to do new and different things, and those, for me, eight years in the treasury, they were undoubtedly the period of my life where i had the most influence and the most clout. we did budget after budget and spending review after spending review. the hardest thing i did politically was being a cabinet minister. the most satisfying was that but also the treasury years. but you have to be celebratory about that. i think to myself what an honour to have had the opportunity. we referred to it earlier that you were seen as a bruiser, often the word bullying was used, and you were seen as very aggressive for gordon brown against tony blair,
is this a process? you talked about how when labour left government in 2010 you talked about how you almost had to consciously think, "i might have a midlife crisis, i have been going at 150 mph and my life is changing, even though i'm still important in politics, shadow chancellor, wanting to be chancellor," you had to make a conscious decision, is that how it worked? yes, because we had been in government for 13 years and then we lost. and we were all exhausted and you were then plunged into this long labour leadership election and then that autumn i think by that point we were absolutely shattered. and going into opposition when you have been in government for a long time is really difficult because you know what you are missing and you feel those frustrations. but i think when i was shadow chancellor it was a time to reassess and think about the past but also what was important
in my life, the things i was doing and so although there were things i have done since 2015 which have carried that on, i think i actually started before. but in a conscious way. i know you took up the piano, for example. the other day, people who follow you will know you did a piano concert with other people. so scary. but do you really think, "ok, i'm out of government now, i need to give time to other things in my life to have some ballst," and to have what dennis healey famously called a hinterland? i think genuinely i thought i'm in danger of having a midlife crisis. so therefore i should plan it. i have always been somebody who likes to think about having a view, a plan, sort things out and i thought this is a time to start thinking about things which are important and devote more time to them. is there a bit of you that thinks you'd be a better politician now? because you have had
that broader life. 0ddly, i'm not asking if you want to go back. i'm saying if magically they put you back that you'd be better at it, you've got a broader perspective? of course that is the case. because you continually are learning and getting perspectives and having time to reflect and when you're away from the intensity you have more time for that. i have slightly blanched at that because i get a lot of, "we always knew that you were a politician and it's great to see you now become a human being," and i don't like that because politicians are human beings and i think i was one even when i was in the cabinet. it's hard for me to disconnect how i have changed my perception with the way in which politics has changed over the same period because i look at the nature of political discourse now and it's so much more confrontational and so much more entrenched, and you have to...
each side, often to spur your group on, you have to hate the other side and think they are not just wrong but evil, and i don't feel that way about politics. was that always true? people who know you on television have seen that you are interested in people who have different views from yourself. you go and meet trump voters, which many of the people you were in politics with would never want to meet any of them and would never want to hear any of them and would want to shout at them about what they are doing. but what i found fascinating about your television work is you want to hear them. that is absolutely not a post—politics learning. i think i learned that... a big change happened for me in 2005. i'm elected for a safe labour seat, the boundaries change and suddenly within a year i'm going to be
fighting a very marginal constituency, so marginal i end up losing it in 2015. it was a seat which had the largest british national party membership in the country, and elected a bnp councillor in the run up to 2010. it was a seat which ended up voting clearly for leave in 2016. and if you are a marginal seat mp and you're going to do it well, or if you are a marginal seat candidate, and this is important for current politics as well, if you write off people because it looks like they have a view that people like you disagree with, then you never understand and you can't persuade, but you don't persuade because they don't hear anything you say. the word you keep using which i
think is strong is persuasion. it's not berating. it's not lecturing. it's not even orating, in the way of a jeremy corbyn. it's persuasion. "you think this — we think you should think that." i think you have to start a step before that, which is to talk about what you think and what you feel and what you value. that's what we were doing in the trump land programmes and to understand that, and say there's choices we face and to get what you want... i would find 5%, 5 in 100 people in a public meeting on immigration who wanted to close the borders, and it would be even less who thought free movement was a good idea. free movement? a free—for—all. most people wanted it to be managed and controlled, they thought migration was important and british people going to work germany or spain was important, but they wanted it to be controlled,
and if you listen and you hear then you can start a conversation when you say we agree, but sometimes it means we have to change what we say and sometimes you have to expose that the other side's not got an answer but if you don't listen first... and then it's ok to agree and it's ok there are things which the government does which are good and things they do which are bad, and in politics the only things which last are the ones which become consensual. the things george osborne and i agreed on are things that last like the minimum wage. let's reflect on a few... before we come back to some recipes. this has all got quite political. i am not used to this. we'll do some reflections on your relatively new documentary. let's turn to the documentary you made, inside the care crisis. this is a personaljourney for you because your mother has dementia and is in a care home.
was it also a journey looking at yourself thinking, why didn't, not necessarily i, but why didn't the system do more to deal with this crisis? what is it about british politics which means a knowable problem, a crisis that people on your side of politics or on the other side of politics have privately talked to me about for a quarter of a century but have not managed to solve. i very consciously went into it wanting to ask the question why has it taken politics so long to sort out social care? and in the very first conversation i had with the bbc, with expectation, months before we started filming, i said i feel guilty we did not do more, and that became a starting point for the film. i absolutely did not intend to go in talking how i did about my mum. clearly that was a motivation for me doing it but i never wanted to do "ed balls — my care story".
but there was a learning i had in those first couple of weeks about the nature of care and its skill and complexity which suddenly made me realise, and the same thing was true for my brother and sister, that we did not understand how hard it was, the job that was being done to look after my mum. i think what it does is the viewer comes in with me and they see what i see and i think lots of people who don't work in care or have not seen it... i've got a mum in care and i did not know. and you think, goodness, that's what it is and why aren't we valuing this? what are we doing? it's interesting hearing you talk about it, you're still trying to persuade. not as a criticism. i think it's an interesting observation. you are not saying, i've done politics and all that and now i'm a tv star. you are still using television to say to people, understand,
see what i can see and come with me on a journey and how you can think of things how i think of things. i've done some tv that was just really fun. strictly, best home cook, experiences you'd never expect to have in your life. and if you simply make people smile that is really good. but the parts of television i really enjoyed and found fulfilling are when people say that they saw things they had not seen before. and if i had gone in making a current affairs documentary about social care and i'd said, "i have come to tell you what the problem is and what the answer is," there would be some people who would say brilliant and some people would say, "i hate him and i will not listen to what he says," and we would not have advanced. whereas if you actually go in and say, come with me and let's go and see, you go and listen in the way
in politics you should listen to what the voters say first then you see things and you learn things but also it changes your view. it is christmas. we will have a christmas quiz. my goodness. strictly — favourite dance? how could you not say gangnam style? because even now i get e—mails every week from people saying "i was feeling down and they watched gangnam style and it cheered me up." isn't that lovely? and particularly teaching michael gove gangnam style. every time my mum watches it she sees it for the first time and she rolls her eyes and inside she is thinking, "what's he doing ? " but katya would say our cha—cha—cha, the mad scientist to love potion number nine. that was a great dance and i think we did a laurel and hardy sketch to a quickstep to help by the beatles and that was the one time where where craig said actually
it's improving and i thought, "yes!" and there is a part of me which is like always, it's nice making people smile but i wanted to get better. favourite music? billy bragg, isn't it? i do like to sing saturday boy. go on. i remember the first time i met her, that september evening clear and fresh, the way she walked and laughed at myjokes and the way she rubbed herself up against the edge of my desk. # she became a magic mystery to me and we'd... # sit together in double history twice a week...# and i can't remember. i really enjoyed playing bach on the piano and i love handel opera and joshua redman the jazz saxophonist, absolutely brilliant. nina simone. i'll end with my favourite ed balls anecdote which for me, and i will prompt you to tell it, cos it's because it's very christmas. gordon brown and the beef.
my mum and dad were living out in italy and we were going out, yvette and i, for christmas, flying out, and my mum said the beef in italy is not as good as you can get in an english butcher, can you bring out a sirloinjoint? so i buy one and we are staying with yvette�*s mum and dad, drove up from hampshire to heathrow and as we are driving into heathrow, yvette�*s dad driving, me and yvette with the beef, my phone rings and it's gordon brown on his mobile phone and he said... "ed," he said, "peter mandelson has resigned," and this is when peter mandelson was exposed for the geoffrey robinson loan, and after a couple of days in 1998, this would be... so for people of a certain age, gordon brown is the new chancellor. and peter mandelson is very close to gordon brown and tony blair at the time, in theory at least. and a cabinet minister,
dti secretary. but he had taken a loan that he had not declared, from geoffrey robinson, and after 48 hours... back in those days people resigned and he resigned quickly. so he rings me and as he rings me on my mobile to say peter mandelson has resigned, i realised we have left the beef in yvette�*s parents�* fridge at home and i turn to yvette and say, "where's the beef?" and gordon said, "i don't think you heard me — peter mandelson has resigned." and i said to yvette, "is it too late?" and gordon said, "what do you mean is it too late? he's already resigned." and i said to yvette, "can we turn back?" "there is no turning back now," echoed down the phone. but i got off the phone with gordon, having lamented the resignation, and rang yvette�*s mother and she drove in from hampshire and we got checked in
and the sirloin was handed over, through security and the beef made it to italy. the moral of the story, ladies and gentlemen, is even when you are the advisor to the chancellor of the exchequer, it is your mother's roast sirloin that matters most. they would've been so upset. thank you forjoining me it's been a pleasure. thank you. i was sat next to david dimbleby on the bbc election night set when i heard the news that ed balls had lost his parliamentary seat. the truth is i was still rather emotional, i had lost my voice and i'd had cancer and came back and was struggling to broadcast and ifound myself saying on air exactly what i thought, which i don't always do. i said many people regarded balls as a bully or a tough guy, as someone who is obsessed with politics, but i knew a person who loved football, piano, karaoke and loved to cook, and i predicted people would see him in a few years�* time very
differently from how they did at that time. most of my predictions were rubbish — that one turned out to be pretty good. thanks for watching political thinking and have a great new year. 0ver over the next few days it is going to be exceptionally mild for the time of year, potentially we could break the new year's day record for the daytime temperature. you can see on this chart, temperatures compared with the average, the king is at the top, so above average as we go south, but across the board temperatures higher than we would
expect at this time of year. today, an area of low pressure, the weather front pushing rain west to east, on the southern flank quite windy, especially with exposure on the west coast of wales and the english channel but inland it is pretty windy as well. the rain clears away, some sunshine in parts of northern scotland, northern ireland and a few parts of england and wales, particularly into the south after we lose the drizzle this morning. temperatures 6—12 north to south. this evening and overnight, these clear skies across scotland, a few breaks in the cloud across england and wales, before this next system comes in from the waist bringing more rain. it will be a colder night in scotland, some frost, patchy mist in scotland, some frost, patchy mist in fog, the odd bit of frost a little further south into england as well. tomorrow, the weatherfront continuing to come from the
atlantic, pushing north and east, brighter conditions ahead of the rain moving in, eventually lingering across the far north of scotland. behind that, a lot of cloud, patchy like rain or drizzle in some southern areas, and a blustery day. temperatures, seven in lyric, 16 in london. thursday, some rain to start the day in the north—west of scotland, more rain swinging and across western areas, more dry to the east, thursday,... again it will be a blustery day. by night it will be a blustery day. by night it will be mild, it will be a start to the day which is unseasonably mild as well, brighterskies day which is unseasonably mild as well, brighter skies in the east as well, brighter skies in the east as well, rain and the north—west, temperatures are still way above average on new year's eve.
ministers say the evidence doesn't support the need for more covid restrictions in england. as the booster push continues, the hospitality sector calls the decision not to add further measures in england a "lifeline" for pubs, bars and clubs. a new campaign is launched calling on people to stop smoking as new figures show teenagers whose parents smoke are four times more likely start. a special report on the kids in kabul, working to survive, as afghanistan's humanitarian crisis deepens. and england's ashes hopes are over as they are crushed by australia in the third test in melbourne.