The build up was immense. The Labour benches looked unusually full. The government benches were packed too. The first clash between chancellor and his combative new opponent had been hyped – perhaps over-hyped – in recent weeks. In the end it was over in a flash – a forceful but somewhat predictable skirmish, almost insignificant in the wider war.
Balls ploughed in to the chancellor, asking him what the difference is between US and UK snow that can justify the vast gap in growth between the two economies. It was a good question, but one that seemed a little past its sell-by-date. Osborne, who has clearly been taking lessons from his boss, talked the question out by throwing around some of his preferred jibes, including – of course – deficit denier. He also welcomed Balls to his new role, through gritted teeth, his face a mask of false sincerity.
With only two questions available to him, There wasn’t much Balls could do with a man who won’t answer a straight question with anything other than “it was them! Look! Over there!”. In future tussles he’s sure to face the same problem over and over again.
In fairness to Osborne, he did have the best joke of the session, suggesting that both Eds are “second choice”, ignoring, of course, that Osborne himself was 3rd choice (without even getting into the fact that Ed Miliband received the most votes in the leadership contest…). A funny (pre-prepared) joke might win some laughs from an admiring backbenches (and they do admire him more than Cameron, that much is clear), but those losing their jobs, their homes and their lives to what could be a double-dip recession would presumably prefer straight answers, not gags, from this most political of chancellors.