How is it that Ed Balls survives week after week on Strictly Come Dancing when he is clearly the worst dancer?
I don’t mean he’s the worst dancer ever on the show- step forward Scott Mills, John Sergeant, Ann Widdecombe and quite a few others. In fact, he can keep time and some of his moves are pretty smooth. I just mean better dancers have been thrown out. Five out of seven of the weeks so far, he has received the lowest judges’ score but he’s yet to end up in the dance off.
I realise I am revealing that I know far more than I should about a bit of Saturday night entertainment, so let me return to my question: why is he so popular with the public? Politicians are among the least liked members of society, along with journalists and estate agents. As a politician, Ed couldn’t even retain his seat at the last general election.
I think the reason is that, in contrast to the god-like actors, TV presenters and athletes on Strictly, a politician seems like an ordinary person. It may be ironic but the people we normally revile are the most like us, particularly if they show they are trying. He certainly gets my vote.
This House at Chichester
This House, a play seen at the National Theatre and most recently at Chichester Festival Theatre’s Minerva, shows politicians as human beings. It’s set in the 1970s when Labour was running minority governments and ends at the moment the Tories returned to power. But it’s not about Wilson, Callaghan or Thatcher. The play is set in the Whips’ Offices, the people who organise their party members’ voting.
These were dramatic times as Labour struggled to maintain its majority and govern. I would never have thought day-to-day politics could be quite so tense, especially when ‘pairing’ is suspended. This is the agreement whereby members absent through government business or illness have their missing vote cancelled by someone from the opposition not voting. To go behind the scenes and see that our democracy can only work by co-operation and compromise is an eye-opener, especially as our politics seems to be becoming more emotional and populist.
Many people- some of the Brexit voters and Trump supporters, for example- seem to be rebelling against the perceived cosiness of the establishment. This House shows that there is a purpose to this comity. We only have to look across the Atlantic to see how the extreme differences between Republicans and Democrats have brought government to a halt after decades of working together.
Politicians Are People
But more than that, in This House, we meet the real people behind the parliamentary constituencies. Plays and other forms of storytelling need characters and This House is packed with flawed human beings with feelings. They are sometimes bullies, sometimes desperate, and most movingly they show compassion. We see that in many cases these are people who care passionately but still respect their opponents and act honourably.
Politicians often try to show their human side in PR exercises- a pint down the pub or an appearance on Have I Got News For You- but a play like This House or an ex-politician like Ed Balls on the journey that is Strictly shows them as flawed human beings, just like you and me.
This article is written by Paul Lewis, owner of the Winchester-based business Seven Experience. Paul provides marketing consultancy for Theatre Royal Winchester, Hampshire Workspace, The Walcote Practice and other businesses.
This House is transfers to the Garrick Theatre in London from 19 November.