SKETCH: The End of an Error. New Balls, Please.

Don’t let’s forget the way Ed Miliband was looking up at his bellowing shadow chancellor.

The look started out supportive and attentive, then went objective and cool, and then passed into dreaminess. Procedural analysts agree he was choosing the exact spot, between which two hairs, the ice pick would sink most easily into.

Balls is a phenomenon. Everything he has predicted has turned out to be wrong. He is like the 364 economists who wrote to the Times in 1981 warning that austerity would cripple the economy. They were wrong. He followed their lead. And now he’s wrong.

He stood up into the famous wall of noise that 200 Tories can produce, and he roared that the chancellor was “in denial”.

That was the beginning. But in another sense it was also the end.

Just out of camera shot, his front bench buried themselves in their Blackberrys. Behind him, his party slumped in a sick funk. The big argument of the last three years had been lost. The big bet had failed.

Their champion was flailing around like a punch-drunk, black-eyed, broken-ribbed, flat-nosed heavyweight swinging too hard to keep his balance.

The sound coming at them was fantastic. And so was the fury.

Hoarse with roaring, red with humiliation, Balls swung and punched his way into the fray with jokes poor enough for Tories to jeer at, and laughable accusations – of “letting the market rip” for one. Oh, if only!

The Speaker had lost the House. Every now and again the Balls paused, panting. Paused to point satirically or accusingly or primly with his pursed little lips – but actually to recover the strength to launch himself back into the fight.

Osborne’s peroration is worth quoting in full – it just kept coming, a relentlessly personal attack.

Get him on the ropes and pound him:

“They can’t talk about their record because they had the biggest recession ever. They can’t talk about the deficit because they’ve got no plan to deal with it. He can’t talk about infrastructure and his much vaunted plan for a cross-party consensus because he was the person who tried to break the consensus on the biggest project of all. He can’t talk about housing because there were 420,000 fewer affordable homes at the end of the Labour government. He can’t talk about business rates because they went up 71 per cent under Labour. He can’t talk about support for business because he wants to put taxes up on business. He can’t ask about standing up to the powerful because this is the week they caved in to the trade unions. He can’t ask about jobs because he wants more jobs taxes. And he can’t ask about banking and financial services because the person they hired to advise them was the Reverend Flowers.”

And Balls’ only response was to point and go “Ooooo!” as if to suggest Osborne and Cameron had taken cocaine themselves.

It was far from a complete response to a massive reputational attack.

Can Labour go into an election with a liability like this? Osborne must be hoping they can.




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