Osborne lands some low blows against Balls

The Chancellor’s attempt to mock Balls’s stammer was a crude joke.

If today's Treasury Questions was anything to go by, the Commons clashes between Ed Balls and George Osborne should become compulsory viewing. Of the two, it was Osborne who struck the lowest blows. He welcomed Balls to the despatch box by joking that he now knows "what it feels like to be the people's second choice", referred to Ed Miliband as "the man he did the photocopying for" and, in an apparent reference to Balls's stammer, declared: "He clearly had a lot of time to prepare that but I'm not sure it all came out as he expected."

In a recent Times interview (£), the shadow chancellor explained: "There will be certain consonants that I just can't say together. It would be impossible for me to start a sentence with an H. I often start sentences with 'look' or 'well' because the key thing is to get moving." Osborne's decision to highlight as much in the Commons felt like a joke too far.

On economics, it was Balls who got the better of his opponent. Labour's Keynesian pitbull begun by joking that he was glad he didn't have a breakfast meeting this morning because he would have missed the Chancellor's "rather hurried mini-Budget". He went on to contrast the performance of the US economy with that of the UK economy. Both suffered heavy snow in December, but one expanded (by 0.8 per cent) while the other contracted (by 0.5 per cent). Balls quipped: "Is there something different about snow in Britain?"

Osborne, buoyed by encouraging data on services, retail and manufacturing, wasted little time in damning Balls as "the City minister who knighted Fred Goodwin", as the man who "has no plan at all" and (inevitably) as a "deficit denier".

But, as Balls suggested, Osborne could soon found himself back on the defensive. There is a strong possibility that the Chancellor will be forced to downgrade his growth forecast for this year in the Budget on 23 March. Growth last year was 1.4 per cent, well below the OBR forecast of 1.8 per cent, and is unlikely to be much higer this year.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research predicts growth of just 1.5 per cent in 2011, below the OBR forecast of 2.1 per cent.

Should the economy remain stagnant, Osborne's insults will be of little use to the government.

Update: Courtesy of Left Foot Forward, here's some footage of the clash.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Let's face it: supporting Spurs is basically a form of charity

Now, for my biggest donation yet . . .

I gazed in awe at the new stadium, the future home of Spurs, wondering where my treasures will go. It is going to be one of the architectural wonders of the modern world (football stadia division), yet at the same time it seems ancient, archaic, a Roman ruin, very much like an amphitheatre I once saw in Croatia. It’s at the stage in a new construction when you can see all the bones and none of the flesh, with huge tiers soaring up into the sky. You can’t tell if it’s going or coming, a past perfect ruin or a perfect future model.

It has been so annoying at White Hart Lane this past year or so, having to walk round walkways and under awnings and dodge fences and hoardings, losing all sense of direction. Millions of pounds were being poured into what appeared to be a hole in the ground. The new stadium will replace part of one end of the present one, which was built in 1898. It has been hard not to be unaware of what’s going on, continually asking ourselves, as we take our seats: did the earth move for you?

Now, at long last, you can see what will be there, when it emerges from the scaffolding in another year. Awesome, of course. And, har, har, it will hold more people than Arsenal’s new home by 1,000 (61,000, as opposed to the puny Emirates, with only 60,000). At each home game, I am thinking about the future, wondering how my treasures will fare: will they be happy there?

No, I don’t mean Harry Kane, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker – local as well as national treasures. Not many Prem teams these days can boast quite as many English persons in their ranks. I mean my treasures, stuff wot I have been collecting these past 50 years.

About ten years ago, I went to a shareholders’ meeting at White Hart Lane when the embryonic plans for the new stadium were being announced. I stood up when questions were called for and asked the chairman, Daniel Levy, about having a museum in the new stadium. I told him that Man United had made £1m the previous year from their museum. Surely Spurs should make room for one in the brave new mega-stadium – to show off our long and proud history, delight the fans and all those interested in football history and make a few bob.

He mumbled something – fluent enough, as he did go to Cambridge – but gave nothing away, like the PM caught at Prime Minister’s Questions with an unexpected question.

But now it is going to happen. The people who are designing the museum are coming from Manchester to look at my treasures. They asked for a list but I said, “No chance.” I must have 2,000 items of Spurs memorabilia. I could be dead by the time I finish listing them. They’ll have to see them, in the flesh, and then they’ll be free to take away whatever they might consider worth having in the new museum.

I’m awfully kind that way, partly because I have always looked on supporting Spurs as a form of charity. You don’t expect any reward. Nor could you expect a great deal of pleasure, these past few decades, and certainly not the other day at Liverpool when they were shite. But you do want to help them, poor things.

I have been downsizing since my wife died, and since we sold our Loweswater house, and I’m now clearing out some of my treasures. I’ve donated a very rare Wordsworth book to Dove Cottage, five letters from Beatrix Potter to the Armitt Library in Ambleside, and handwritten Beatles lyrics to the British Library. If Beckham and I don’t get a knighthood in the next honours list, I will be spitting.

My Spurs stuff includes programmes going back to 1910, plus recent stuff like the Opus book, that monster publication, about the size of a black cab. Limited editions cost £8,000 a copy in 2007. I got mine free, as I did the introduction and loaned them photographs. I will be glad to get rid of it. It’s blocking the light in my room.

Perhaps, depending on what they want, and they might take nothing, I will ask for a small pourboire in return. Two free tickets in the new stadium. For life. Or longer . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times