You're on your own: PM tells Osborne to fend for himself in clash with Balls

Chancellor feels the heat in row with Balls over allegation that Labour counterpart condoned interest rate-fixing

Downing Street moved to distance David Cameron from the behaviour of his Chancellor yesterday after George Osborne's ill-tempered and personal dispute with Ed Balls over banking regulation.

Senior Labour and Conservative MPs expressed concern that clashes between the two men in the House of Commons on Thursday had been unseemly and driven more by personal animosity than policy differences.

One MP said that Mr Balls and Mr Osborne appeared to have a "disproportionate obsession" with each other while another described their clashes as "unedifying".

Yesterday Downing Street failed to back Mr Osborne's charge that Mr Balls had somehow known about or condoned Libor fixing in the run-up to the financial crisis – the claim that was the initial cause of the dispute.

Asked how the bitter exchanges in the Commons helped the cause of an all-party investigation into the banking system, the Prime Minister's spokesman said: "There is always political debate in the House of Commons."

But privately, one Downing Street official described the Commons exchanges as "a stupid slanging match". The spat between Mr Osborne and his opposite number began in an interview in The Spectator magazine on Wednesday, where Mr Osborne suggested, without evidence, that Mr Balls and his former colleagues in government were potentially complicit in fixing inter-bank lending rates at the height of the financial crisis.

But it soon transferred to the Commons. In scenes that provoked public and private criticism of the Chancellor, Mr Osborne labelled Mr Balls "the man who smeared his way through 13 years of Labour government", adding "half the people who ever served with him think he was a disgrace in his post." But he did not repeat allegations of wrongdoing.

The shadow Chancellor hit back at the "cheap and partisan and desperate way in which you and your aides have conducted yourselves in recent days does you no good [and] it demeans the office you hold".

The dispute left a number MPs disappointed. Andrea Leadsom, a member of the Commons Treasury Select Committee, said the name-calling was "a great shame". She added: "I don't think it's helpful."

Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, said: "I have to say to both front benches, this has not been the House of Commons' finest hour." Andrew Tyrie, who will the chair the cross-party committee of MPs and peers that will now investigate the Libor fixing, said all parties needed a cooling-off period. "It began with a pretty bruising encounter and possibly even a bit of blood around," Mr Tyrie said. "I think what we need now is a cooling-off period for a few days and then the front benches need to do some work to decide whether and how they want the inquiry to go ahead.

"And I made clear that, if it does have the support of the whole House, I'll do everything I possibly can to help an inquiry succeed."

How they compare, by Oliver Wright

Ed Balls:

Economic pedigree 18 (out of 20)

Economic credibility 10

Personal charm 4

Political effectiveness 16

Personal ambition 20

Loyalty to leader 4

Respected by his colleagues Balls is fiercely ambitious and tribal. Despite impeccable economic credentials, his reputation has suffered due to his relationship with Gordon Brown and the economic crisis.

George Osborne:

Economic pedigree 5 (out of 20)

Economic credibility 12

Personal charm 8

Political effectiveness 12

Personal ambition 17

Loyalty to leader 15

Before the budget, Osborne was portrayed by his colleagues (and the media) as a master strategist who outwitted Labour on the economy, a successor to David Cameron. But his stock has tumbled.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before