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Commons sketch: Cameron wages an unEdifying war of attrition against Balls

By Andrew Gimson
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AndrewGBigBensketch David Cameron got the better of this bar-room brawl, but despite the involvement of the two Eds, the contest was not an Edifying one. It became all too clear from these scrappy exchanges that the Prime Minister is determined to seize every chance to kick Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor: to unEdify him, as it were. Ed Miliband performed respectably enough as Leader of the Opposition, but was reduced for much of the time to the role of a spectator.

Would Labour reverse the Government's cuts in the spare-room subsidy, or  bedroom tax, or whatever one wishes to call it? The question was put to Mr Balls, not Mr Miliband. Mr Balls's denial that the last Labour Government was profligate was treated as one of the most significant statements of the last ten years, and one that "is going to be hung around his neck forever".

One fears it will certainly be hung round his neck until the next general election in 2015. When I use the word "fears", I mean that to those of us who follow politics with some attention, this style of debate might start to become  slightly wearisome. But Lynton Crosby has never been a trainer who worries about such aesthetic questions as whether his man's mode of fighting is elegant. Mr Crosby clearly wants Mr Cameron to remind people at every turn that Labour cannot be trusted with the economy: a message to be conveyed by kicking, scratching and pummelling Mr Balls for week after week after week.

The curious effect of this concentration on Mr Balls is to make him seem a more substantial figure than Mr Miliband. Perhaps that too is part of Mr Crosby's cunning plan: to exploit the evident lack of harmony between the two Eds by building one of them up at the expense of the other.

One cannot say Mr Cameron's attacks are illegitimate: Mr Balls has heckled him so relentlessly from a sedentary position that he deserves everything he gets. And now that Labour is changing direction on the economy, the temptation to mock the inconsistencies in his evolving position is irresistible.

Yet I wonder whether this kind of street fighting is really to the Prime Minister's taste. He reminds me a bit of a cavalryman who has been told to dismount, and to take on the grim role of an infantryman. No longer can he fight a war of movement, ending perhaps in an exhilarating and decisive charge. Instead he finds himself scrapping from house to house. He will engage in this dogged and inglorious war of attrition because he accepts the calculation that it will lead to victory, which he is utterly determined to achieve. But I bet he sometimes misses his horse.


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