‘It’s not easy to transit out of politics, especially if you’ve been well known’ - Ed Balls on life after Westminster

“Our oldest daughter’s first word was Grantham, because she used to look out the windows and see the train signs every weekend.”

With the weeks split between Westminster and West Yorkshire, life for Ed Balls in years gone by was far from what most would probably expect from their own day-to-day experiences.

But, of course, politics for him was a family affair.

The former Labour Minister and the MP for Morley and Outwood between 2005 and 2015 is married to Shadow Home Secretary and Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford MP Yvette Cooper.

Former Shadow Chancellor Ed BallsFormer Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
Former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
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In 2008, the pair became the first married couple to feature in the same Government.

The two Labour heavyweights spent their time in the Noughties and 2010s between the capital and their northern constituencies, something that Ms Cooper still does.

“Everything had to revolve around these jobs we were doing,” Mr Balls tells The Yorkshire Post.

But the couple were determined to ensure their children “weren’t the children of politicians”.

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Speaking from the family home in North London, he says: “I think one of the advantages we had because we were both doing similar things is that we were together able to be quite protective of time for the family.

“We made very, very strong decisions about not having the children in photos.

“There are no pictures of our children in the public domain with us, and they were never used in any political setting at all, because that would have been wrong.

“So we had clear lines, the children had to be their own people.

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“They weren’t the children of politicians.

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“You know, our daughter said to us how important this was to her because she said when she walks across the playground, she wants to be seen as her first rather than, you know, the daughter of Cabinet Ministers.

“And that had a big impression on both of us.”

Mr Balls says of his children: “From the very beginning of all of their lives, they all got the train, every week, to and from our home in Castleford.

“Castleford was where they were born, and we were in London only for a few days a week.

“So the routine of our lives absolutely revolved around these journeys and being in two places and having two of everything.”

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(He think his eldest daughter’s first word was Grantham because it sounded like grandma).

Family figures often sit in the background when it comes to politics.

While constituents may be able to name their MPs, or the Minister appearing on television, the spouse who stands next to them in the occasional photograph will probably be harder to recall.

Ms Cooper was elected to Parliament almost a decade before Mr Balls in 1997, and he says that the partners’ and relations’ work in the community often goes unnoticed.

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He recalls: “I did lots and lots and lots of fundraising dinners over the years, especially when I was the Shadow Chancellor.

“And I would always make a point – because at these events you thank the constituency and the chair, and the candidate – and I would always

make a particular point of mentioning the wife or husband, partner of the MP.

“Because, you know, they do so much work.

“Once I just said, you know, I wanted to thank Bill for a huge number of years of public service, but also his wife Jean for everything that she had done for the constituency as well.

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“And she came up to me afterwards and said that is the first time in decades of her going to these meetings that anybody ever mentioned her name.”

Since leaving Parliament in 2015, when Conservative Andrea Jenkyns won the Morley and Outwood seat at the General Election, the former Shadow Chancellor has forged a successful career elsewhere.

Lecturing at Harvard has taken up space in his diary, alongside writing two books, and starring on some of the most popular television shows.

But he says that for anybody leaving that sphere of Westminster: “It’s not easy to transit out of politics, especially if you’ve been very well known.”

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“Some people plan it very well, but I didn’t do any planning,” he explains.

“And so it actually took a long time, a lot of learning.

“I thought quite a lot about lots of things I might do, which actually weren’t motivating.

“The problem is, once you’ve been a Cabinet Minister, it’s hard to think: ‘What would I like to do, which will be as good as that, as hard as that and as important as that.’” A stint on the BBC’s hugely popular Strictly Come Dancing show in 2016 brought him back into people’s living rooms, but this time as the Saturday night entertainment.

Did he feel like he was leaving his old life behind?

He says: “It is one of the biggest TV programmes in the world.

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“So nothing kind of competes with that in weirdness and difference and people seeing you differently.”

He adds: “Every time I walked down the stairs at the beginning of the Strictly evening it was always ‘Former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls’, and there’s no escape from that.”