Why do I waste whole evenings tweeting about Ed Balls on Strictly while the world is falling apart?
The short answer is, of course, sheer exhaustion and the need to renovate myself in some way shape or form. When you look at the horrible horrible year of 2016 that was and still is, then you need some kind of excuse (any kind of excuse) to contemplate getting out of bed in the morning. For those of us who have domestic responsibilities – despair is never an option.
So what is it that Ed Balls does for us? Well, he does one important thing, which is to present us with the weekly spectacle of someone who really isn’t good at something, by sheer dent of bloody-minded dedication and a resolute refusal to endure public humiliation, becoming slightly better at that thing. Nobody will ever say of Ed Balls’ dancing – “you make it look effortless”. No, it is the very effort that we cherish, and as we gaze at him from our couches, we can empathise with every mental and physical demand that is made of him.
When I was young I was in a few musicals. Now I can remember lines, and I can carry a tune, but choreography is something that I find exceptionally frustrating and confusing. Though I have no real difficulty recalling words and cues – remembering what to do with my arms and legs and what order to do those things is something which brings back truly chilling memories. And, partly because my ability to organise my body properly elegantly and rhythmically was so suspect, I remember the physical exhaustion of having to do this again and again and again. As a consequence, I can’t watch Ed Balls without feeling that he is sort of doing something on my behalf.
But there is one other potentially positive function attached to the spectacle of Ed Balls dancing, a function that might possibly justify my spending/wasting hours of my life applauding it. When we watch a former front bench politician capering about with visible effort, we are reminded that politicians are, after all, human. Why is it so important to humanise politicians? Well, normally it wouldn’t be, were it not for the fact that we are now in the grip of “anti-politics”, which is, needless to say, the cruelest, most ruthless, and most cynically effective form of politics on the market right now. Anti-politics is leading not to egalitarian anarchism but the rule of demagogues and “strong men”. By contrast, the wave of public affection that has embraced Ed Balls is a recognition of the fact that the mere professional necessity to solicit votes, organise party programmes and scrutinise proposed legislation does not make you a bad person. There can be no democracy without politics and no politics without politicians. There are good politicians and bad politicians. It’s not that Strictly Come Dancing has the capacity to redeem any politician whatsoever. I do not, for example, have warm and fuzzy feelings about the politics of Ann Widdecombe. It’s more that the show has demonstrated that there is nothing about the exercise of politics itself that is particularly dehumanising. If we’ve learned anything this year (and there’s an “IF” that deserves to be chiseled in letters of granite roughly a mile high), then it’s that the dangers of dehumanising all politicians outweigh the dangers of humanising horrible politicians.
Ed Balls was a very traditional politician. He did everything that a traditional politician does. Doubtless he is politically wrong about a great many things. But he seems no more “contaminated” by the actual process of politics than other people are contaminated by the exercise of their respective professions. And without a shadow of a doubt, the earnest and possibly misguided cavortings of Ed Balls evidence more authentic humanity than you’ll ever see from “anti-politicians” like Nigel Farage or Donald Trump. If Ed Balls manages to somehow inculcate the notion that you can enter the political arena while remaining a fairly decent human being, then all of his pain and suffering in the name of art will surely be worth it.
So… there’s my forlorn hope for this evening. I should probably just go back to howling at the moon.