Matthew Norman's Diary: 'Blinky' Balls does the business on Cable

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The Independent Online

Anyone with a heart during Thursday's Question Time on BBC1 will have found themselves toying with the remote, pondering whether the act of watching constituted an intrusion into private grief. The post-Budget agony manifested by Vince Cable was better suited to a renaissance painting of Christ on the cross than a chat with David Dimbleby.

So far as the startling shift in the prices of the two political stocks on view, the eyes had it. Reminding Vince of such Lib Dem manifesto pledges as no VAT hike, Ed "Blinky" Balls wasn't blinky but gleamingly wide-eyed, resembling the demonic killer dummy, Chucky, from the Child's Play films. Vince screwed his own mince pies so tightly shut that he appeared catatonic.

Some have posited that he was transcendentally meditating in a quest for Zen-like acceptance of the VAT-inspired vat of Branston in which he was drowning. More likely, I think, he was fantasising about a jollier engagement in a nearby studio. Strictly Come Dancing returns in the autumn and the Business Secretary, like his predecessor, makes no secret of his hoofing ambitions. Strictly execs should keep their eyes on Vince's in the coming weeks. He hasn't been himself since taking a hiding from Andrew Neil (see elsewhere) and is now less himself than ever.

The day that such a proud and clever chap is duffed up by Chucky Balls is surely the day for him to weigh the delights of collective responsibility for a brutal Budget he transparently despises, against the lure of the sequin blouse and the arms of Erin Boag.

* Rather than dwell on the alien parasite still hibernating on Andrew Neil's scalp, a word of praise for its host. Neil's demolition on This Week of Diane Abbott, whom he battered into explaining away her son's private schooling in terms of the uniquely powerful West Indian maternal instinct, matched Chucky's battering of Cable on BBC1 an hour earlier. Neil has worked with Abbott for years and seems fond of her, but he dismantled her with the same forensic aggression he unleashed a few weeks ago on Cable. There are various words for such ruthlessness, many of them short and brutal, but the two that come to my mind are proper journalist.

* Incidentally, Labour leadership voters impressed by Ed Balls's tour de force on QT should be aware of this. Judging by the hairline, artfully arranged though it was, he'll be Head Bald by the next election. Not since Churchill in the pre-TV age 1950s has any bald man won a general election. The contrast with the Milibandroids, whose positronic circuitry includes a proceeding hairline master chip, speaks for itself.



* Hats off to Channel 4 for proclaiming victory after a bodyguard, Matt Fides, abandoned his libel action against it. Fides had claimed that a production company owned by the documentary-maker Stephen Lambert (whose film The Queen cost BBC1 controller Peter Fincham his job) faked a film about Michael Jackson's family moving to Devon. Here was libel's answer to Germany vs Argentina, with the one glorious difference that both sides could lose, and did. C4 boss Julian Bellamy's insistence that he was "totally delighted" by the result induces vertigo at the thought of what heights of ecstacy he'd have scaled had his legal bill been £5m, and not a mere £2.5m. Pyrrhic doesn't come close.



* Political satire heralds an unlikely new star. Sir David Eady, once the Judge Jeffreys of libel but much friendlier towards newspapers of late, cracked a Budget gag. When a certain QC told him: "I don't think we'll need to come back for a third time to Your Lordship on the issue of meaning", the red-robed Tom Lehrer reduced the court to such dangerous mirth that his usher had to be stretchered out and given oxygen. "That is like saying 'we have no present intention of raising VAT'," said Eady J. So seldom do titans of the bench train their comedic guns on governmental duplicity that you marvel at his boldness. Perhaps it's to do with his semi-retirement next month. Not so much demob happy, Eady old horse, as demob delirious.

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