“That was the worst reply to an Autumn Statement that I have ever heard in this house,” said the Chancellor in a voice dripping with contempt.
George Osborne did his best Flashman impression as he pounced on Ed Balls like a public school prefect admonishing a squit who had just burnt his toast.
A smirk replaced the Chancellor’s sneer as he suggested that Balls’s Commons performance had been so lamentable that the shadow chancellor should lose his job.
“If one thing changes as a result of this Autumn Statement, it might be a shadow cabinet reshuffle,” Osborne said.
Gloating about a potential job loss was certainly a novel approach to a parliamentary occasion at which rhetoric about saving jobs is normally the order of the day. But the truth was that Balls had earlier made a bit of a balls-up, when he had attempted an instant economic analysis of the baffling array of figures that the Chancellor had laid before him.
“The national deficit is not rising … is rising … is not falling … the national debt is…” said Balls, as the roars from the Tory benches crescendoed.
“I will say it again,” Balls said, desperately trying to repair the damage inflicted by his false start.
“I will say it again,” he said (again). “Our economy is contracting this year. Government borrowing and the deficit is revised up this year, next year and every year and the national debt is rising. It is not falling.”
Responding to the “Freudian slip” by Balls in saying the deficit was not rising, Mr Osborne said that was “the one thing he said that was true”.
As Balls floundered, he was reduced to borrowing insults from that desperately thin volume: “The Wit and Wisdom of Nadine Dorries”. Osborne and David Cameron were, he said, “two arrogant posh boys who don’t know the price of milk”.
Dorries’s reality TV exploits were also a pre-occupation as he made a bizarre reference to snakes and spiders in the jungle.
“Yes, he’s the Chancellor... can’t someone get him out of here?” cried Balls after a denunciation of Osborne’s budget.
Confused? The shadow chancellor certainly seemed to be.