Labour's John Mann sure knows how to kick a man when he's down. Just ask (Labour's) Ed Balls

Our Monday diarist on Labour rentaquotes, Boris's sister, and Romney on the ropes

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Now more than ever in this season of goodwill, one hates to begin on a sour note. Yet I am rendered apoplectic by the Labour rentaquote John Mann, who interprets Ed Balls’s Autumn Statement meltdown as death to his leadership hopes.

One had assumed that persecuting the disabled was the Government’s preserve, but apparently not. Mr Balls held his stammer solely responsible for the catastrophe, as you know, and this we must take this on trust – for there is no fiercer foe of phoney excuses than Mr Balls. He lashed the “excuses culture in British schools” in 2009, demanded “action, not excuses” from the Government a year ago, and only in September said of the Coalition’s economic policy that “the time for excuses is over”.

Whether the victim of a disabling condition he self-admittedly cannot control under pressure is suited to such a stressful post is another matter. Even its advocates accept that positive discrimination has limits: even the mischievous Michael O’Leary would not hire a blind person as a Ryanair pilot. It is not this column’s way to kick a fellow when’s he down. If it were, I would remind Big Ed Miliband of the previous advice that the most crucial step to winning the election is replacing Mr Balls with Alastair Darling. But it isn’t. So I won’t.

Please put a sock in  it, Mr Paterson

The rentaquote role traditionally reserved for backbenchers like Mr Mann infiltrates the Cabinet. Barely a day now passes without the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, saying something daft. In the past week, he told TV cooks to offer recipes involving leftovers (a nice look-after-the-little-folk touch from the owner of his own shoot); virtually demanded secession from the EU (part of his ongoing scrap with Liam Fox for leadership of the Euronutter right) and responded to Alan Titchmarsh’s criticism of the Government’s countryside policy by calling the novelist-gardener “a complete muppet”.

I yield to nobody in appreciating how garrulous buffoons add to the gaiety. Yet the latter was clearly a coded dig at Danny Alexander, whose resemblance to the accident-prone Beaker from The Muppets is a matter of public record, and such disloyalty is unacceptable. From Mr Paterson, a period of silence would be most welcome.

Big-mouthed Brucie treads on a few toes

Into the rumbling row about sexist ageism on TV shuffles Sir Bruce Forsyth. “For them, it’s been very, very bad,” he tells The Daily Mail of middle-aged female presenters. “I’m all for older women as long as they really don’t look that bad. I mean, women can still be attractive from 50 to 70. If they’ve got a nice bone structure and can talk pleasantly, it’s fine.” Always a delight is Brucie.

No love lost between Cable and Osborne

Might Vince Cable, who says he is close to earning a diploma to teach ballroom, be free to join Sir Bruce for next year’s Strictly? If his contempt for the Chancellor grows by an iota, he will. Vince’s dismissal of Little Osborne as a Bullingdon Mitt Romney for painting everyone on benefits as a feckless wastrel was a joy. But how much longer can he treat Obsorne with Blackadder’s lip-curling disdain for the imbecile Prince Regent and remain his Cabinet colleague?

BoJo’s sister and her raisin d’être

The London mayor Boris Johnson’s sister, Rachel Johnson, illuminates her inaugural Mail On Sunday column with glad tidings. She has finally found a raisin-free muesli after “years picking them out of cereal and giving them to the dog”. Please don’t try this at home. As the Telegraph reported on Saturday, and as some dog owners already knew, raisins are toxic to canine kidneys and potentially fatal. The Mail’s corrections column might clarify this before the paper suffers its gravest medical embarrassment since Mad Mel Phillips helped to revive measles by proselytising the imaginary link between the triple vaccine and autism?

Las Vegas visit leaves Romney on the ropes

The forgotten man of US politics retains that Midas touch. On Saturday, Mittens nipped into Manny Pacquiao’s Las Vegas dressing room to wish him luck in his fight. “Hello, I’m Mitt Romney,” he said. “I ran for President. I lost.” So did the Filipino legend, knocked out cold by Juan Mauel Marques in the sixth.

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