George Osborne 'in trouble' after Balls smear bid backfires
Telegraph columnists attack Chancellor for 'calamitous' point-scoring against Ed Balls
ATTEMPTS by Chancellor George Osborne to tie his Labour shadow Ed Balls to the Libor scandal have backfired, according to The Guardian today.
Last week Osborne told The Spectator magazine that allies of Gordon Brown, including Balls, had been "clearly involved" in the manipulation of Libor rates. But the revelation in the Mail on Sunday yesterday that it was Whitehall mandarin Sir Jeremy Heywood - now Cabinet Secretary - who contacted the Bank of England deputy governor Paul Tucker in 2008 to raise concerns about Libor has come as a blow to Osborne, whose aides are frantically rowing back on their claims of last week.
"It has been a truly calamitous week for George Osborne," blogs Iain Martin for The Daily Telegraph, "although I suspect that he will not yet realise it."
Many Tory MPs were upset by his ill-tempered dust-up with Balls in the Commons on Thursday when the Labour man repeatedly demanded that Osborne apologise for his allegations.
Martin quotes an unnamed Tory MP telling him: "This is not what I got into politics for. What did George think he was doing?" Another told him: "It looked like university debating society bravado and game-playing at the worst possible time."
Martin concludes: "At a moment such as this people seek reassurance. They want to know that grown-ups are calmly trying to sort out the mess."
John Rentoul in The Independent on Sunday was not so sure: "George Osborne is neither a master strategist nor a bumbling idiot. Last week, he found his level. He is not bad, but he makes mistakes. Many people thought he made another mistake in his bitter clash with Ed Balls, although the net effect was probably a Conservative win.
"Osborne was utterly cynical in provoking a row, but effective in reminding us that Labour was in charge at the time the inter-bank rate was manipulated. A story that could simply have been about the Tories' rich friends in the City, became one about Labour's weakness in regulating predatory cheats."
In The Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore is scathing about the Chancellor. "We have had a credit crunch for nearly five years. We have endured scandal after scandal in British banking. We are in a double-dip recession. We are threatened by the calamity of the eurozone. We have rising unemployment, punitive taxes and a crisis of confidence. Our Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to think that the best answer to all this is to attack Ed Balls."
Moore goes on: "Run-of-the-mill politicians don't mind much what happens next. Perhaps, as he rolls around the floor of the House of Commons locked in combat with Mr Balls, Mr Osborne just thinks 'Après moi, le déluge', and aims another punch at his tubby opponent. But outside, it is raining hard already."
Writing for Conservative Home, Paul Goodman demands that Osborne should be backed rather than briefed against for attacking Balls. "I am not claiming that Mr Osborne is a perfect strategist, or even a top-notch one. But his flaws only point to a frightening truth: there simply aren't any others at the top of the Conservative Party.
"Labour is packed with politicians who do little else than seek to frame the Tories as untrustworthy: Tom Watson, Chris Bryant, Lord Prescott (still campaigning from beyond the grave) - Mr Balls himself. The trade union production line rolls them out on a conveyor belt. Where are their Tory equivalents? Where are the blue attack dogs?"
Since no-one else is taking the fight to Labour, surely backing the Chancellor is the right course to take, Goodman suggests.