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Could Balls have just lost Labour the election?

March 13th, 2008

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    Will his “So what” to higher taxes heckle come to haunt him?

The most electorally significant moment of the 2008 budget might come to be seen as a heckle by the School Secretary and the man who is said to be Brown’s chosen successor, Ed Balls, when the leader of the opposition was making his formal response.

It came after Cameron had told the house that Britain had the highest tax burden in its history when Balls blurted out in words what sounded like “So What”. Apparently there was a damage repair effort after the speech and Hansard was persuaded to report it like this:-

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): ..As this country enters troubled times, it could hardly be worse prepared. We have the highest tax burden in our history.

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (Ed Balls): So weak!

Mr. Cameron: “So what?” says the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. I know he wants to be Chancellor so badly it hurts. I have to tell him that another Budget like the one we have just heard and he will not have to wait very long.”

I am grateful to Chris A on the previous thread for digging this up because those two words could prove to be highly significant. The Tories want a narrative on tax that does not leave them open to the “billions of pounds of cuts” attacks that Labour has deployed so successfully at previous elections.

What the Balls “So What” could do is provide Cameron with the ammunition to present the “tax and spend” argument not in terms of numbers but in terms of the differing philosophies of the parties.

    The ambitious school and children’s secretary’s heckle might just have let Cameron and Osborne off the hook.

Whatever this one will be played time and time again.

It might be recalled that Balls was one of the primary architects of the abortive November 2007 election plan. He was the most aggressive briefer and the Labour figure who created the coverage that Brown was going to do it.

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Mike Smithson






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