The Sketch: George lost his voice but he didn't lose the argument

Nick Clegg chewed his lip at the return of Right to buy... Ken Clarke fought against a pre-lunch nap
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The Independent Online

According to each other, the Chancellor was "absolutely catastrophically wrong" and the shadow Chancellor had "a stupid plan". Government backbenchers were shocked about the enormous debt they inherited ("Shame! Shame!"). Opposition backbenchers were shocked how borrowing had soared ("Shame! Shame!"). Balls roared the IMF was insisting the Government change course and Osborne croaked the IMF was insisting it didn't.

Leaving aside the Periclean standards of public speaking – many people find themselves taking opposite sides on these matters, so at least they can agree on this: economics is largely a matter of taste.

Nick Clegg chewed his lip at the return of Right to Buy. Stewart Wood masticated gruesomely in the peers gallery. An exuberant Tim Farron seemed to feel his time is approaching, Ken Clarke felt the opposite as he fought against a pre-lunch nap. George's voice started packing up, Ed's bellow was ever more bullish the more bearish he was.

But louder still and louder wasn't enough; in truth, he got the worst of the exchanges. "He complains we borrow too much and urges us to borrow more," Osborne charged. That accusation will always be stronger than its defence. "He clings to the illiteracy that low interest rates are a good thing," Balls said, illustrating an iron law that says anyone using the phrase "economically illiterate" sounds economically illiterate.

Osborne returned – if that were so "Italy is a success and Greece an economic miracle!" This was as deft a reply as he could have hoped for – and it had only taken six weeks to manufacture. Balls found himself on the wrong end of the laughter, most seriously perhaps when he claimed the markets had decided Plan A lacked all credibility with the markets. Whatever the plebs, proles and general public think, the markets are great admirers of Plan A.

For all his stature, Balls lacks one quality leaders need: the talent to attract support. More than 60 per cent of people agree with Balls's suggestion that "the cuts are too fast and too deep". And yet less than half that think he'd do better with the economy than his rival.

Indeed, Osborne was able to finish with: "The Labour Party will never have economic credibility while he is shadow Chancellor."

So there's the consensus proposition. Labour wants Ed Balls in post – but not as much as the Tories do.