The Sketch: To their huge relief, Balls and Miliband lose the vote…

A judge-led inquiry into rate-fixing would have been a disaster for the former Treasury team
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The Independent Online

It was like medieval football. Whole villages turning out to fight over a ball, losing the ball and just fighting.

Ed Balls bellowed about the need to be humble – he roared at us how humble he was, how honourable, how apologetic. He was appalled at how partisan the debate was (cheap, smears, utterly false, appall, despicable – were some of his favoured terms mixed and matched into sentences of incomparable consensuality). "Why don't you have some respect?" he demanded furiously. There's not space to answer properly.

They slugged it out across the despatch boxes. Balls denying, denouncing, demanding Osborne's evidence. Osborne eventually standing up to repeat his charge that "ministers knew". Balls expostulating: "He has impugned my integrity!" (Laughter). Osborne squealing: "I have never seen the Labour Party so rattled!"

Helen Goodman was sitting where Fiona Mactaggart sits and screeching like... Fiona Mactaggart. Ian Austin was shouting so much he got shouted back at by Deputy Speaker Evans. The chamber had a terracotta army of MPs standing with their hands out, shouting stupidly, "Apologise!" and "Say sorry!" and, with great disgust, "light touch regulation!" Either side, both sides, all sides were accusing each other of their own most obvious fault.

Labour was terrified it was going to win the vote. You could tell that because Balls felt the need to shout in conclusion: "We want to win this vote for the British people!" What an odd thing to say. A judge-led inquiry would have been a disaster for Balls, Brown and Shriti Vadera – they'd suffer a triple breakdown.

Osborne's final line amid the battlefield barracking was telling too. He said: "The Brown cabal is alive and well." Ed Miliband, who'd been quite chatty with his shadow Chancellor, suddenly went very still, face setting like quick-dry cement. He felt the jackals' breath from behind.

The lamentable fact is that David Cameron has allowed himself to be dragged down to Miliband's level. Or Miliband has achieved the remarkable feat of dragging himself up. If the PM weren't so fettered into his personal antipathy he might have taken a breath and said: "A judge-led inquiry? Actually, that's not a bad idea. Can I pinch that?" Labour would then be really rattled rather than – as they were – hugely relieved at their loss.

PS: The shadow minister for Northern Ireland stopped off to tell me the names of six Hon. Members who'd been chosen for the new committee into the banking system. "Reckless, Banks, Barclay, Lloyd, Pound and Cash. And we're thinking of putting Purchase in the Lords." It was the only pleasant laugh of the day.