back to top

11 Times Politicians Have Forgotten The Names Of People They Really Should Know

Ed Balls just couldn't remember the surname of Labour's key business supporter. He's not the only one to have suffered a brain freeze.

Posted on

1. Ed Balls forgot the name of the man who helped Labour draw up its small business policies.


In an interview with BBC Newsnight, he was asked whether Labour was anti-business following criticism from Boots boss Stefano Pessina.

Balls said he had just been at a dinner with business leaders including "Bill...who is a big supporter of ours". When host Emily Maitlis asked what Bill's last name was, he said: "It has just gone from my head, which is a bit annoying at this time of night…"

He later tweeted:

I know, I know. Bill Thomas, our Small Business Taskforce Chair, will never forgive me. It's an age thing! @Newsnight

Ed Balls@edballsmpFollow

I know, I know. Bill Thomas, our Small Business Taskforce Chair, will never forgive me. It's an age thing! @Newsnight

11:05 PM - 03 Feb 15ReplyRetweetFavorite

2. Boris Johnson forgot the name of the Tory candidate in a key by-election.

View this video on YouTube

The London mayor was being quizzed about the Clacton by-election on LBC radio. Despite the race being incredibly high-profile – thanks to former Tory MP Douglas Carswell switching to UKIP – Johnson just couldn't remember the name of the Tory candidate.

He guessed that his name was "Stirling" or "Girling", before telling presenter Nick Ferrari: "What’s he called? You tell me. Come on, stop sitting there like a great big fat Buddha and tell me the name of this guy."

Eventually he was told the candidate's name was Giles Watling. "I knew it," Johnson said. "Something to do with ling. Tingaling.”


The Lib Dem leader was asked by the Press and Journal about his party's hopes of beating Salmond in Gordon, Aberdeenshire. He accidentally referred to candidate Christine Jardine as Justine.

He said: "I was speaking to Justine…" Corrected by the newspaper, he continued: "Christine, sorry, Jardine."

4. Ed Miliband forgot the name of Swindon's Labour leader.

Jane Barlow/PA Wire

In a cringeworthy interview with BBC Wiltshire last May, the Labour leader was caught out on local politics.

Asked whether he thought Jim Grant was doing a good job, he said: "Lots of Labour representatives are doing a good job right across the country." Pressed on whether he knew who Grant – who leads the opposition Labour group on Swindon Council – was, Miliband replied: "You'll enlighten me, I'm sure."

5. Ed Miliband also forgot the names of all three candidates in the 2011 race to be leader of Scottish Labour.

BBC Scotland

He floundered in an interview with BBC Scotland. "I think we have got three great hitters," he said, "we've got three people who are determined to show that they can make a difference, that they can make a difference to the people of Scotland."

Asked if he could name all three candidates, Miliband said: "There is Tom Harris, there is Johann Lamont, and a third candidate who is also putting himself forward." After being reminded that Ken Macintosh was also standing, Miliband added: "Look, Ken Macintosh is going to be an excellent candidate."

6. George W. Bush forgot the names of several foreign leaders.

View this video on YouTube

Months before he was elected US president, George W. Bush struggled his way through a surprise quiz on foreign affairs.

In a 1999 interview with WHDH-TV in Boston, the then governor of Texas was asked if he could name the president of Chechnya. Bush replied: "No, can you?"

Bush was also asked to name "the general who is in charge of Pakistan". He said: "General. I can name the general. General."

"And the prime minister of India?" asked the reporter. Bush replied: "The new prime minister of India is – no."


7. Diane Abbott forgot Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy’s name.

Veteran Labour MP Diane Abbott called Labour's high-profile Scottish leader "John Murphy" in an interview with BBC Radio 4 in January.

She was angry about his plan to hire 1,000 extra nurses in Scotland using the proceeds of a mansion tax in the southeast of England. She said: “I’m very surprised John Murphy is making these boasts. I support the mansion tax in principle but there are to big problems."

Murphy hit back: "It’s hard to take this argument seriously. I mean, she didn’t even remember my name at the start of it, and I don’t have to consult Diane Abbott about what I do in the Scottish Labour party."

8. The Indian prime minister forgot David Cameron's name.

Kerim Okten/PA Archive

Back in 2010, the then Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, just couldn't recall Cameron's name, according to the Financial Times.

He was trying to list the leaders of the permanent five UN Security Council members. Singh started with US President Barack Obama and France's then-president, Nicolas Sarkozy, – but stumbled when he came to the UK. Eventually he opted for the "UK's prime minister" and moved on to China and Russia.

9. Barack Obama struggled to remember the name of his vice president's wife.

View this video on YouTube

The US president just couldn't remember the name of Joe Biden's wife during a speech in 2013. He was trying to praise the efforts of Michelle Obama and Jill Biden to help wounded veterans, but the latter's name escaped him. "Michelle and vice president .... uhh ... the ... uhh ... Joe Biden's wife, Dr Jill Biden," he said.

10. Philip Hammond confused Labour's Liz Kendall with her colleague Rachel Reeves.

View this video on YouTube

Tory minister Philip Hammond accidentally called shadow care minister Liz Kendall, a fellow panellist on the BBC's Question Time, "Rachel" – confusing her with Rachel Reeves, the shadow secretary of state for work and pensions. In a nod to the Tories' apparent woman problem, Kendall hit back: "I know we all look the same."

11. Chuka Umunna forgot the names of almost everyone in Scottish Labour's shadow cabinet.

BBC Newsnight / Via

The shadow business secretary was asked on BBC's Newsnight last September whether he could name three members of Labour's shadow cabinet in Scotland.

He named Johann Lamont and Kezia Dugdale – but failed to describe the latter's portfolio. Asked whether he could name any more members, he said: "Not off the top of my head, no. I’m not a Scottish MP and I’m not a member of a Scottish shadow cabinet.”

Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Emily Ashton at

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.