Like one of Henry V’s archers, George Osborne drew his longbow and loosed a couple of missiles at his enemies. The first of his verbal arrows was fired at Ed Miliband, the second at the SNP.
Almost exactly 600 years after the battle of Agincourt, the Chancellor used the forthcoming anniversary of an English king’s victory over the French to attack the Labour leader. He said £1 million would be spent on marking the occasion and, in doing so, he recalled Shakespeare’s dramatisation of the battle.
Quoting the bard, he said it had been a “band of brothers” that had defeated the French army. “Sadly not an option available to the party opposite,” Osborne quipped, referring to the act of political fratricide that saw Miliband jnr ascend to the top of the Labour Party at the expense of his brother David.
Reaching again into his quiver, Osborne then took aim at the small SNP detachment in the Commons, hoping to wound them before reinforcements arrive after the general election. “It [Agincourt] is also when a strong leader defeated an ill-judged alliance between the champion of a united Europe and a renegade force of Scottish nationalists. So it is well worth the £1m we will provide to celebrate it,” he said.
Mercifully, he refrained from adding “Cry God for Harry, England and St George” – presumably taking the view that self-sanctification might be a bit off.
Getting down to the nitty gritty, there were the inevitable pre-election crowd pleasers. For the drinking classes, there was a penny off a pint of beer and 2 per cent off spirit duties. Helping first-time home buyers, extending the fuel-duty freeze and a relaxation of pension rules were among other sweeteners. Overall, however, Osborne was trying to present himself as a disciplined Chancellor determined to get a grip on the deficit. Even so, he was unable to resist the temptation to mock Miliband. The recent revelation that the Labour leader has a house with two kitchens providing the richest seam of material.
Trying to explain incentives for an inexplicably complex technological miracle called the “Internet of Things”, Osborne said: “Should, to use a completely ridiculous example, someone have two kitchens, they’ll be able to control two fridges from the same mobile phone.”
Laughter erupted from the Tory benches, even though this was about the sixth variation on the same joke told in the Commons that day. At Prime Minister’s Questions earlier, David Cameron had told Ed Balls that, as shadow chancellor, he wanted to be in the kitchen cabinet “but didn’t know which kitchen to turn up to”. Then turning to Miliband, Cameron told him he “literally did not know where his next meal was coming from”. Finally and with a certain inevitability, the PM told Miliband that if he “can’t stand the heat, he should get out of the second kitchen”.
There are fewer than seven weeks to the election, but with jokes like this, it already feels like the Hundred Years War.