Early to bed for a week for you, Mr Balls
23:41 GMT, 11 December 2012
Labour's Ed Balls again did his boiling-milk impression. He is not having a happy time. Last week he had a stinkeroo of an Autumn Statement.
Yesterday he came over all unnecessary when facing a suave George Osborne.
The day began with Treasury Questions, when ministers answer questions for 45 minutes off a set agenda. They then take 15 minutes of less rigid, ‘topical’ questions. Mr Balls stayed out of the fray for the first part but he had brought along his heavies.
Clash: Topical questions arrived yesterday and Mr Balls (pictured) and Chancellor George Osborne had a ding-dong about Labour's attitude to benefits payments
Last week Mr Balls squealed like a goosed virgin about Tory hecklers making his life howwible.
Yesterday it was the turn of Labour hecklers to blast forth.
Argy-bargy was supplied by Brownites such as David Wright (Telford), Helen Jones (Warrington N), Ian Lucas (Wrexham), Kevin Brennan (Cardiff W), Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd), rare bird Fabian Hamilton (Leeds NE), posh, cerebral charmer Dave Watts (St Helens N) and Stephen Doughty (Cardiff S), who has only just taken his seat but is already behaving like an experienced toughie.
Mr Doughty has the black suit and red tie of an authentic zealot in the Church of Gordon Broon.
What a grisly galere. Treasury ministers tried not to lose their thread. The one who managed best was Sajid Javid, who has a gift for savage, loud repartee and wears the most enormous wristwatch.
A real Big Ben job, it is. I am never entirely sure about shortish men who wear big watches but it shows what a broad church the Cameron Tory party is, to contain both Sajid Javid and Jacob Rees-Mogg (NE Somerset), who wears an antique timepiece on a fob in his waistcoat.
Quite early in the hour, Richard Graham (Con, Gloucester) had to be declared absent when a question in his name sprang up. Mr Graham came scurrying into the Chamber two minutes later. Oops! He went and apologised to Speaker Bercow. Next he made his way to the Chancellor’s bag-carrier, Amber Rudd (Hastings) to offer further sorrys.
Strop: The Government wants to keep welfare rises to 1 per cent but Balls wants state handouts to be higher
Snorter Rudd did not look impressed. A cat surrendering a half-dead mouse might have received a warmer reception.
On we cantered. Topical questions arrived and Mr Balls and the Chancellor had a ding-dong about Labour’s attitude to benefits payments.
The Government wants to keep welfare rises to just 1 per cent. Mr Balls (who regards welfare claimants as his client vote) wants state handouts to be higher. Not all Shadow Cabinet members are too thrilled about this tax-and-splurge policy of Mr Balls. They wish Ed Miliband would exert control over his free-spending sidekick.
Mr Balls essayed a new tone of slowly-spoken statesmanship. This soon evaporated.
Then, in answer to a topical question from Brooks Newmark (Con, Braintree), Mr Osborne talked about an announcement he had just made in a written statement.
The Treasury was having to put right a clerical foul-up dating to 2008. Some 270million must be paid to Northern Rock customers. Another triumph for Whitehall and the Brown/Balls Government!
The way Mr Osborne made this announcement was a little untidy but Mr Balls’s over-reaction was bizarre. You sensed that here is a man who is almost permanently on the verge of hysterical rage.
He went into a strop, hissing and scowling and glaring. Perhaps he was simply cross with himself for not having spotted the original written statement. Perhaps he feels vulnerable.
As for Mr Newmark’s involvement, I understand it came about only because a planted question on Northern Rock earlier in the session had inexplicably failed to detonate. Can that explain the frosty reception given to the hapless Mr Graham
Yvette Cooper (aka Mrs Balls) arrived briefly at her steaming husband’s side.
Soft words were cooed but they may not have done the trick. Mr Balls later started hurling paperwork across the Commons Table and had to be told by Deputy Speaker Dawn Primarolo to get a grip of himself.
That child needs early bedtimes for a week.
Or maybe Labour just needs a new Shadow Chancellor.