As Britain’s national debt passed £1 trillion for the first time, Chancellor George Osborne fled the country — or at least he went to Brussels, which in Tory circles counts as the same thing. George should have been taking it on the chin at Treasury Questions in the House of Commons but instead was spotted lunching it with the enemy at the very meeting he and Dave said they wanted nothing to do with just last month.
But the opportunity to be a silent observer at the talks to try yet again to resolve the EU’s economic difficulties must have seemed a far more attractive position than being lumbered with the explanation of the £1,000,000,000,000 debt.
These are the sorts of headlines that, 19 months into a Government facing the worst economic crisis since 1929, an Opposition could only hope for but yet again today it is Labour that finds itself out in the cold. Those who managed to translate last week’s clash with the unions and the latest re-launch into a good week for Labour and its leader Ed Miliband had a 5 per cent lead for the Tories in the latest opinion poll to explain away.
Much more worryingly was the revelation that 51 per cent of Labour supporters did not think their own party had a credible alternative for tackling the deficit and 59 per cent of them still find it difficult to imagine Ed M running the country.
All of which helped to put a playful smile on the lips of George’s Coalition coat carrier Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander called in to cover his tracks. Danny was the late draftee to replace David Laws and spent the first six months looking as if he had taken the wrong turning on the way to school. But no longer and he now has taken to his job with all the passion of a convert.
No nods towards his Lib Dem past from him who is happy to out-Tory the Tories in his defence of the Government. Buoyed up no doubt by the opinion polls, he was happy to pass the blame for the £1 trillion straight back to Labour as part of the Coalition’s continuingly successful campaign to persuade the public that all their present troubles were inherited. And slumped in the seat opposite sat the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls who had all her look of someone who agreed with the charge.
Despite the absence of his usual sparring partner, Ed had turned up to see if anyone else wanted a fight but you could tell his heart was not in it. Was Danny aware the IMF had just downgraded Britain’s growth forecast, he asked. “Am I bovvered?” seemed Danny’s reply. Tomorrow the Office for Budget Responsibility is believed to be confirming that under George’s watch we are now formally back in recession.
More bad news for Labour.