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By Joseph Watts
Thursday, December 6, 2012
When the laughter finally died down you could hear George Osborne’s heart hit the floor as he realised he might get the sort of spanking that leaves one unable to sit even on the bouncy green Commons benches.
The gag that left them rolling on the Commons floor was “the British economy is healing”. It doesn’t sound that hilarious I know, but it’s the way you tell them; in George’s case with -0.1pc growth.
But just as it seemed his political plane was about to fly into the mountain, something happened which saved him.
It wasn’t good news, in fact he piled the muck high and wide. The economy had shrunk by 6.9pc during the credit crunch. Growth was lower than expected, borrowing higher.
He even admitted he had been guilty of “over optimism” is those gleeful early years of coalition when meetings were held in sunny rose gardens.
But there was something about all this bad news that seemed familiar, it had not come as a shock. And then it dawned on me - the chancellor had performed that deftest of political moves, the ‘reverse omnishamble’.
Think about it. At the budget all the good news came out early, when the speech was made everyone had already reported it and so concentrated on the bad news.
So this time the horrendous news that he would miss his debt target and push austerity on for an extra year was floating about at the start of the week before the speech. When it came up yesterday everyone knew about it.
And once that bad news had been spelled out earnestly (It wasn’t me gov, I was just being over optimistic) George spewed a string of Tory-pleasing measures; fuel duty cut, corporation tax cut, a regional growth fund boost, capital allowances, falling borrowing etc.
During the speech Ed Balls sat opposite him looking so eager to get up and speak I thought he might burst all over the despatch box, but then when it came to the time he inexplicably sank without trace.
Where were the big arms swings, Mr Speaker, those cheeky eyes, those anecdotes that the Labour benches lap up, that leave Tories wanting to bludgeon him with the Queen’s mace.
Balls is supposed to be the most annoying man in British politics, according to David Cameron. He is supposed to be as disconcerting as a sort of chicken pox that drives Tories to distraction. But he was not even a mild rash, not even a bit of chaffing.
So conspicuous was his fail, that it looked as if he had done it on purpose, like a boxer paid to go down in the third, hitting the mat without being touched.
Balls’ connivance was the final boost that somehow allowed Osborne to make a success of a speech in which he admitted he had got all his predictions wrong.