Matthew Norman: An embarrassing game of political football

It's anyone's guess if their row was any more edifying than John Terry's badinage with Anton Ferdinand

Share

"The Chancellor of the Exchequer."

"Mr Speaker, may I begin by advising the House that the Rt Hon gentleman opposite, the member for Morley and Outwood, is a fat c***?"

"Order. Order. There is nothing the public hates more than raucousness of this kind. Right, where were we? Ah, yes, the Chair is grateful to the Community Secretary for the aide memoire. The Chancellor was calling the Shadow Chancellor a fat c***. The Chancellor."

"Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I further state that that he's s***, and he knows he is. And... all right, I'll give way to him this once."

"Order, order. ORDER! Ms Clare Perry, cease giving the Shadow Chancellor the finger, and sit down. Mr Ed Balls."

"Mr Speaker, we on this side of the House will take no lectures on faecal self-awareness from the party opposite. May I inform that f****** knobhead the Chancellor that he is going home in a London ambulance?"

Well, we haven't quite got there yet. Hansard has thus far failed to record such phrasing, as loosely adapted in part from evidence given a brief walk from the Muthah of Parliaments on Monday to the Westminster magistrates. But it may not be long. Besides, it's anyone's guess whether last week's Osborne-Balls Socratic dialogue – "great theatre" to some pundits; a repulsive two-way toddler tantrum to this one – was any more edifying than John Terry's badinage with Anton Ferdinand.

The similarity between the cases is striking, each turning not on the words, which in neither case are disputed, but on their construction. Mr Terry insists that he reiterated the term "black c***" ironically to refute a false charge laid against him by Mr Ferdinand. Mr Osborne claims that, in accusing Mr Balls of being "involved" in the application of pressure on Barclays to diddle the Libor rate, he was in no way implying that Mr Balls encouraged Barclays to diddle the Libor rate. Like every footballer in trouble for saying something contentious, in other words, and as Mr Terry asks the bench to believe of him, he was taken entirely out of context.

The disappointment with the analogy is that Mr Balls follows not Mr Ferdinand's QPR, but Delia Smith's Norwich City, begging the question of why he failed to slur "Let's be 'aving you" across the Dispatch Box. But Mr Osborne has followed John Terry's Chelsea since the mid-1990s, or so he claimed after starring in the Champions League trophy ceremony in Munich in May. Even if you take his word for this – the only Blues I pictured him caring about were those awarded by Oxford for Real Tennis – what was he doing? He had as much business on the Bayern Munich pitch as Mr Terry did, who despite missing the game due to a disciplinary ban, arrived at the ceremony in full kit. Right down, hilariously, to the shin guards.

Even Mr Tony Blair didn't leap from the dugout when Man Utd won the Champions League in 1999, though he did, of course, knight Alex Ferguson within 0.07 seconds of Solksjaer's injury time winner going in. Osborne's piggybacking on Chelsea's victory established that football's cultural dominion over politics has come on since then, with Thursday's screaming match the zenith so far.

This wasn't a debate about a banking scandal. This was a pair of emotionally stunted, tribal loyalist thugs chanting imbecilities at each other. If John Bercow had been mysteriously substituted on the day by Ken Bates, who'd have objected had he reprised a brainwave he abandoned when Chelsea's chairman, and separated the bleeders with an electrified fence?

If Balls is the personification of the "my side right or wrong" mentality that violently disputes a penalty given for the lopping off of an opponent's head with a scimitar, Osborne drolly fancies himself as a master tactician in the Sir Alex mould. As such, he was engaging in the babyish taunting known in football as "mind games". By reacting to the Libor allegation with such incontinent rage, Balls adopted the Kevin Keegan role in our best-loved most "mind games" farrago. He'd love it, really love it, if Osborne apologised.

They both should. The Speaker should compel them to recite a joint mea culpa for a uniquely nauseating display of egomaniacal self-indulgence. It has been said before, but, as a champion stater of the obvious, I say it again: if ever there was a moment for a Chancellor and his would-be replacement to treat our economic future as a game, this is not it. Their reduction of a grave crisis to a studs-up grudge match, on the lines of an early 70s Chelsea vs Leeds scythefest, may thrill the halfwits in the stands. But it is an abhorrence to anyone not cushioned by an obscenely padded MP's pension, and living in mortal dread.

If politics has mutated from showbiz for ugly people into football for portly schlumps, so be it. But the lads had better get used to the rest of us chipping in with some terrace chants of our own. One that leaps to mind, not for the first time and doubtless not the last, is the chorus directed at supernaturally useless coaches by their own supporters, which simply contends this: you don't know what you're doing.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A solar energy farm in France  

Nature Studies: For all the attractions of solar power, it shouldn’t blight the countryside

Michael McCarthy
Supporters of New Democracy wave Greek flags during Antonis Samaras pre-election speech.  

Greece elections: Where does power lie? This is the question that ties the UK to Athens

Steve Richards
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project