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Sunday 8 July 2012

George Having A Balls Up

[Updates, three so far, at end of post]

Partisan politics is de rigueur in the House of Commons. But last week’s failed attempt by the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet, to pin the LIBOR affair on the previous Government, and particularly his Labour shadow “Auguste” Balls, has taken matters to a new low, and moreover has undermined his own position – perhaps fatally.

This has been superbly highlighted by the apparent agreement on the newly lowered status of the bum-nosed Chancellor between the deeply subversive Guardian and the Tories’ house journal, the Maily Telegraph. At the latter, Charles Moore, disliked by the paper’s editor Tony Gallagher but still the authentic voice of Telegraph land, put it directly: Osborne has his priorities wrong.

Moore has no problem with the Tories giving Balls, and Pa Broon, an industrial quantity of stick over their record, but he does have a problem with a Chancellor who is not prioritising his job, and the task of getting the economy going again, above all else: “He should spend all his waking hours trying to put things right”. And he concludes that “morally, it looks dreadful”.

What looks a degree worse is when the report in the Guardian is added to Moore’s concern: “George Osborne has trawled the City of London for damaging information about Ed Balls as part of an operation to prove that the shadow chancellor exerted inappropriate pressure when he was a Government minister” is the opening paragraph of Nick Watt’s article.

The central thrust of Watt’s piece is that Osborne’s team went looking for dirt on their predecessors last Tuesday and Wednesday, but ultimately came back with nothing. Tory MPs were then led to believe that the Chancellor would administer the coup de grace in the Commons debate, but he had nothing to show other than nudge-nudgery. And his stock, as a result, has now fallen badly.

How badly? Badly enough for his party to now consider that, if Young Dave were to fall under the proverbial bus, Osborne would not be the man to succeed him. That default choice would now be William ‘Ague, which would be the most delicious irony for the Foreign Secretary, having been leader perhaps too soon and then departed from office after his electoral humiliation by Tone in 2001.

Add to all that the suggestion by the Independent that Cameron has distanced himself from Osborne, and it doesn’t look good for the Chancellor. And it was notable that, after all the arguments, Andrew Tyrie, who will lead the Parliamentary inquiry into the banks, took time to have a quiet chat with Balls on the floor of the Commons as both men left the chamber: doing the decent and courteous thing.

Osborne is said to be a very clever fellow. Perhaps he is a little too clever.

[UPDATE1 9 July 1125 hours: it gets worse for Osborne, as the Guardian has told today that the contact with the Bank of England in 2008 which the Chancellor is trying to pin on Ed Balls appears to have come from Jeremy Haywood, the Cabinet Secretary. If Osborne is trying to accuse a career Civil Servant of partisan political activity, he will be on potentially very serious ground.

And that may be losing ground. It is looking more and more as if neither Pa Broon, nor "Auguste" Balls, was involved. Nor, it seems, was Shriti Vadera. This is a bad move by Osborne, and he may very soon come to regret it]

[UPDATE2 9 July 1835 hours: following the appearance of Paul Tucker of the Bank of England before the Treasury select committee this afternoon, it appears that Osborne, or somebody on his behalf, is going to have to consume a rather large portion of humble pie.

Tucker effectively exonerated any Minister in the LIBOR rigging affair, which means Pa Broon, "Auguste" Balls and Shriti Vadera are all in the clear. Balls is now calling for a public retraction. The Chancellor's amateurish smear has backfired.

The consensus from the media is that Osborne is in trouble. That's come from Michael Savage of the Murdoch Times, Ian Katz of the Guardian, Mark Kleinman at Sky News and Faisal Islam at Channel 4. Time to say sorry, George]

[UPDATE3 10 July 1255 hours: now one of his fellow Tory MPs has said Osborne should withdraw his comments. Andrea Leadsom, who sits on the Treasury select committee, said on Radio 4 yesterday evening "I think obviously he made a mistake and I think he should apologise to him".

The matter isn't going to go away, no evidence has been found to back up the Spectator article, and all the while Osborne is distracted from what he is supposed to be doing - looking after the UK economy. It really is time to say sorry]

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