The Sketch: Balls trying to turn on the charm is like an elephant trying to foxtrot

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The Independent Online

It sounded like the Labour backbencher was accusing the Prime Minister of "a New-Turn". She said that after so many New Turns, "It's hard to know which way he is facing". Always towards Disraeli, is the answer; don't confuse the man with the measures.

Ed Balls spent a highly entertaining Opposition Day debate urging one New Turn after another on the Chancellor. He pleaded for George Osborne to be "prudent" and "cautious", and to "abandon complacency". He yearned for him "to put economics before politics".

Each of these were greeted with shouts of parliamentary (that is, fake) laughter from the Government. But Balls's greatest New Turn came when he declared with a bellow of virtue: "I do my politics on the record!"

After a beat of incredulity the Tory laughter became real. They had just heard a defining moment of Ed Balls's career. This most daring assertion showed him at his most indomitable. There is no fact so obvious that he cannot assert the opposite.

After a generation of side-knifing, infighting, and back-biting, Balls declared himself the most honest, open and healing man in British politics.

George Osborne replied the claim "would be right up there with 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman' and 'No more boom and bust'". The Labour benches were quiet during these exchanges; too quiet. There is concern in the party, it is said, that the Eds announced an unfunded £51bn tax cut without telling the shadow cabinet first (as if it was any of their business).

Anyway, Balls twitted Osborne about his nautical imagery, Russian oligarchs and a yacht off Corfu. He laughed as he said Peter Mandelson had taken over as "the most annoying man in British politics" and added: "He's a friend of mine; I know him well."

What on Earth was he up to? "I think he's being charming," someone speculated. That may have been right. It looked a bit like a rhino doing the foxtrot.

But you'll want to know about the economy and so on. Osborne said Britain had the largest structural deficit in the G7; Balls said we probably hadn't had a structural deficit at all.

Take your pick. Economists arguing about the economy: they're like angry astrologers arguing about the effect of Saturn. But to their credit it was clear they were wrestling rather than dancing, and that Balls, for all the absurd things he says, is not an embarrassment.

As a side-note, it can be said that Ed Miliband improved his performance at PMQs remarkably, to Unremarkable.

Anyway, all this "too fast too far" line on deficit reduction will become irrelevant if and when Greece defaults. The after-shocks will sweep away all the arguments (and possibly Ed Miliband) and leave the Government with a whole new world to play with.