Simon Carr: When candour is on the menu, it's time for Hannibal Lecter to eat himself

Sketch: He paces his short boundaries reminding the world of Hannibal Lecter
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The Independent Online

He prowls around his confined space, Ed Balls, projecting enormous unused capacity. Patient but implacable, he paces his short boundaries reminding the world of Hannibal Lecter – however he may lack the original's charm.

Generally speaking he has managed to close down interest in education. But yesterday we'd hoped at least for a bit of a colour story.

Last year had produced one of our annual fiascos when the Sats papers hadn't been marked. The chair of the quango, one Ken Boston, had resigned and Ed Balls publicly feasted on his brains. Mr Boston returned to the fray last week rejecting the smears and claiming ministers had taken very little interest in the fiasco at the time: "I was not asked to meet the minister, nor was I being pressed for answers by email," he testified.

So, we'd come in hope. The Tory Toy, Michael Gove, spoke very quickly and loudly asking a series of damning questions. Unfortunately, the answers were merely purgatorial. How many times had Balls actually met Boston in that crucial month? "Answer! Answer!" the backbenchers cried, malignantly. For some reason, Gove had elected to ask this of Balls's junior Jim Knight, and a most reassuring answer came back.

Gove was up again with another flurry of statements and accusations. "If he's not lying, who is?" he demanded. That is a question we rarely hear and I'm sure we paid attention to the answer.

Jim Knight said he had "a whole list of meetings between Balls and Boston", an extended calendar, he implied with dates, times, agendas, confessions. Ed was smiling and nodding and holding up three fingers most complacently.

Gove had used up his time. His passion spent, his evidence exhausted. Balls rose on a planted question to add detail. He shouldn't have done that. It seems there had been just one meeting. And one letter asking Boston to reassure a constituent that all was in hand. And a letter in reply from Mr Boston on 16 June. "Regularly pressed"? Halley's comet is regular too, but that doesn't mean it comes round three times a day.

But crucially, this wasn't apparent in the House. I blame Michael Gove. He just hasn't got the measure of his man. Balls was talking eponymously but we all walked out despondent that he was in the clear with his "whole list of meetings". Only on reading the transcript did Gove's point of view become persuasive. One meeting!

I don't think it's just the trappings of office that gives Balls the conviction, the solidity, the sheer psychotic ability to give these hallucinations weight.

Gordon has the same talent; he taught it to Balls of course.

One Lecter will have to eat the other in the end, with or without the fava beans. As Lenin said of politics: Who, whom?