Ed Balls-up: crisis, what crisis?

by Stephen Tall on March 13, 2008

Back in June 2007, when Ed Balls was appointed secretary of state for Children, Schools and Families, I did suggest he might come a cropper some day:

I’ll be interested to see how long it is before Balls’ tone-deaf touch lands the Government in hot water.

That day came on Wednesday, with his heckling of David Cameron’s budget response, when it is alleged he shouted “So what?” when the Tory leader argued this country’s tax burden has never been higher.

Such tone-deafness would be enormously embarrassing for Labour. Indeed, PoliticalBetting.com’s Mike Smithson today argued it might lose the party the next election.

But fortunately for Mr Balls, anarcho-blogger Guido Fawkes has proven himself to be Mr Balls’ true friend, coming to his rescue by uploading to YouTube the House of Commons exchange.

Watch carefully – and impartially – and it can clearly be seen that M Balls does not bawl out, “So what?”. In fact what he says is just as is recorded in Hansard:

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): ..As this country enters troubled times, it could hardly be worse prepared. We have the highest tax burden in our history.
The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): So weak!
Mr. Cameron: “So what?” says the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. I know he wants to be Chancellor so badly it hurts. I have to tell him that another Budget like the one we have just heard and he will not have to wait very long.”

But the damage is done for Mr Balls – and personally I’m with Lynne Featherstone: serves him right for indulging in such boorish behaviour in the first place.

Rather like Jim Callaghan – who famously never said, “Crisis? What crisis?” (it was The Sun’s paraphrasing) – or Peter Mandelson – who never mistook mushy peas for guacamole – or Gordon Brown – who never said he liked waking up to the Arctic Monkeys – I suspect “So what?” is a legendary remark which will stick to Mr Balls like dirt to a shoe.