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


"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.

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