The Sun mocks Ed Balls on a maths question. But George Osborne wouldn’t even guess.

For the Sun, anti-Labour bias is as easy as one, two, three


It comes to something when shadow chancellor Ed Balls answering a maths question correctly can be made into fuel for the anti-Labour fire. Today the Sun published a short piece, ‘Simple sum stumps Balls’, after the shadow chancellor was quizzed by a journalist. Here’s the story:

“Ed Balls took ten seconds to answer a basic maths calculation during a live TV ambush.

The shadow chancellor stumbled over 6 x 7 during yesterday’s press conference in Leeds.

Mr Balls eventually gave the correct answer of 42.

But he admitted: ‘It’s always a dangerous thing for politicians to answer those questions.'”

However, Mr Balls is not alone in his view of the danger of answering a maths question on television.

In July 2014, a similar question was asked of the current Tory chancellor, George Osborne, who refused to even hazard a guess.

When asked on Sky News to answer 7 x 8, Mr Osborne said:

“I’m not going to get into a whole string of, er… I’ve made it a rule in life not to answer a whole load of maths questions.”

Balls may have hesitated, but at least he answered the question.

You might think the Sun would have included Osborne’s sum-shy response in their story, for the sake of balance or interesting context. But the chancellor is left out of the story.

However, the Sun does give the example of another Tory minister having trouble with the same maths question as so worried the Tory chancellor:

“Tory education secretary Nicky Morgan was left embarrassed on ITV in February when she refused to answer what 7 x 8 is.”

Shame they forgot George Osborne’s response from a few months before. (Note also how Tory Morgan was ‘left embarrassed’ by her own refusal to answer. Isn’t it odd how the power of lucid prose escapes the Sun when it comes to the Conservative party?)

But wait, the paper’s bout of amnesia is even more severe that that. On the same day that Ms Morgan dodged the times tables question on ITV, another politician wriggled out of answering maths questions: the prime minister, David Cameron.

When asked on 5 News to answer 9 x 8, Mr Cameron said:

“I’m going to plead the Nicky Morgan defence, which is I do times tables only in the car with my children on the way to school.

“I’m going to stick to that just in case I get one wrong on your excellent television programme.”

Extraordinary that the Sun would mention Ms Morgan but not the prime minister or the chancellor, isn’t it? Or perhaps they thought it would ruin the rest of their spread, which chirps that Conservative voters are more ‘happy’ than Labour voters (yes, seriously) and praises the prime minister’s ability to eat food neatly.

The possible excuse of not having enough ‘space’ won’t cut it either, as the Sun ran a long Buzzfeed-style piece on its pathetic election website all about Balls, with nothing about the Tories. And if they had space for Morgan, why not Cameron or Osborne?

The ability to answer maths questions in public doesn’t mean much. Anyone could make a mistake under the pressure, and it’s understandable for politicians to want to avoid looking foolish. But for the Sun, it seems the problem is not so much mathematics as the ability to read and write.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

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