The Sketch: Ed Balls: the dull thud of a party next door

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The Independent Online

Can't they put Ed Balls into law? Make him the subject of a Guarantee? Can't he be a right that every parent has? If for the first time Balls was put on a statutory basis millions of people would be certain of access to him.

Maybe that's for his second term. As it stands, the Ed Balls rebuilding program continues. Is it worth the money? How can you put a price on it? Is it working? Much done, much to do.

Enough sarcasm. When Ed first became a minister he was grounds for justifiable homicide; now he's just a noisy party in the house next door. Try as you might you can't get off to sleep while he's talking. The thump thump thump of his bass line makes the walls of your eardrums bulge but you can't make out any words, or the tune. It's just thump thump thump, like an abstract form of corporal punishment.

Through his speech I was wondering how he thinks he could be a leader of the Labour party. And why does he think there'll be a vacancy after the election? Gordon's calculating Cameron will fall into the spending traps that have been left for him and a grateful nation will recall him from the wilderness as the recovery gets under way.

Anyway. I can tell you what Balls said first and last.

His first sally set out to prove exams weren't as dumbed down as Michael Gove claimed. He asked a GCSE maths question. It was a sum involving fractions. "I don't know the answer myself!" he said, matily. 33/4 - 12/5. To be frank, I can't do it either but I could have at the age of 12 when my lot learned these things. Twelve-year-olds then knew what 15-year-olds know now. Can you work out how many years of lost learnings that is? Well done, children!

Balls continued with his speech. Three days of thump-thump-thump until we sensed he was about to finish and we all woke up. He summarised the Conservative education policy as saying to parents: "Set your own school up or let your children wither and decline." I'm not sure that's a complete summary of what they're offering.

His opponent has any amount of material. The minister had argued for a cut of £2bn and is now being rebuffed in his call for a £2bn increase. There are all those Further Education colleges in opposition constituencies standing like bomb sites. There are those insane instructions to parents for a 10-year process to improve their local school.

All good stuff but the notes towards a speech rather than a speech, the way it was put across. Much done, yes, much to do.

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